The case of the missing snipers

Hillary Clinton, touting her experience over Barack Obama, has been saying that President Clinton would send her overseas to places that were “too dangerous” for him to go to. Mrs. Clinton specifically has been telling about how she landed in the Balkans under sniper fire:

“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”
–Hillary Clinton, speech at George Washington University, March 17, 2008.

Since then, the comedian Sinbad, who was on that trip along with singer Sheryl Crowe, has disputed the story, saying that that they were never shot at and that the trip was pretty uneventful. So fact checkers from the Washington Post investigated.

Not only did none of the people on that trip report getting shot at, CBS had footage of the landing! Mrs. Clinton was greeting by dignitaries and a little girl read her a poem. (The article links to the footage so you can see for yourself.) No snipers were in attendance.

But this is what gets me:

According to Sinbad, who provided entertainment on the trip along with the singer Sheryl Crow, the “scariest” part was deciding where to eat. As he told Mary Ann Akers of The Post, “I think the only ‘red-phone’ moment was: ‘Do we eat here or at the next place.'” Sinbad questioned the premise behind the Clinton version of events. “What kind of president would say ‘Hey man, I can’t go ’cause I might get shot so I’m going to send my wife. Oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.”

Replying to Sinbad earlier this week, Clinton dismissed him as “a comedian.” Her campaign referred me to Togo West, who was also on the trip and is a staunch Hillary supporter. West could not remember “sniper fire” himself, but said there was no reason to doubt the First Lady’s version of events. “Everybody’s perceptions are different,” he told me.

Mr. West was on the trip and didn’t remember getting shot at, something that MIGHT stick in one’s memory, but THERE WAS NO REASON TO DOUBT THE FIRST LADY? “EVERYBODY’S PERCEPTIONS ARE DIFFERENT”? That’s pure postmodernist dogmatism at its most idiotic. Either she was shot at or she was not. This is a question of fact, not “perception.” And everybody’s perceptions were not different, since no one else–including the person who said this–perceived bullets flying and having to run for cover.

What is the best–or only–construction that we could put on Mrs. Clinton’s speech? Help me out, tODD.

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  • Kyralessa

    She probably got it mixed up with another trip. Perhaps she was under sniper fire during one of her historic trips to single-handedly bring peace to Northern Ireland.


  • Bruce

    Just tryin’ to get a little separation from the Kid from Illinois. Telling the truth along the way has never been emphasized in the Clinton Little Book of Campaign How-To’s.

    Unfortunately for Hillary, every little trick in the book is backfiring on her. Now she’s labelled as a liar.

    I do love Sinbad’s characterization of her story though: “What kind of president would say ‘Hey man, I can’t go ’cause I might get shot so I’m going to send my wife. Oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.”

    That’s pretty funny.

  • fwsonnek

    Wow. Dr Veith, I appreciate your very christian approach to evaluating what candidates are saying.

    I have been trying for a while now to practice the 8th commandment with this election and the Clintons.

    It has not been easy. It seems that Senator Clinton is claiming the legacy of the Clinton presidency as her own. I am not sure as a first lady what part of that makes her “vetted and ready to go on day one.”

    It is hard to see how being a first lady meets that qualification, which is what she is claiming actually. I find her overall claim therefore more surprising and troubling than this example you present to us here.

    I see the Clinton presidency surprisingly in many ways more conservative than the following Bush administration. While GW did put some dignity back into the office, his only conservative legacy seems to be his solid anti-abortion stance. Period. The rest is kind of scary from a conservative viewpoint with torture and erosion of civil liberty protections and disrespect of separation of powers and constitutional checks and balances. When truly bad men get power some day, what Bush has wrought will be used as a precident for great harm. I am not saying democrats are not complicit in their acquiescence.

    What Bill C did with welfare reform and a balanced budget and other areas looked like change in a conservative direction actually and I was pleased with all that.

    At the same time, the genesis of the lack of gentility, win at all costs, calculating, karl rovian us-vs-them politics seemed to start during the Clinton era. Yes republicans had their part with the absurd impeachment thing and all. But still. I am not sure I want another 8 years of Clinton/Bush fight.

    So how to look at what senator clinton is claiming in a balanced and fair way…. I am truly stumped.

  • Apparently you don’t know how to recognize if you’re being shot at if you happen to also be funny.

    Yeah. That’s logical.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    “That’s pure postmodernist dogmatism at its most idiotic”

    ta idion = pure postmodernist dogmatism?

    I’m not sure but, I sure like this line.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    “ta idion” is greek for “peculiar to oneself”

  • CRB

    Wasn’t it the psalmist who said, “all men are liars”?!
    I would presume that he would include women, as well?!

  • Bruce

    CRB: “Wasn’t it the psalmist who said, “all men are liars”?!
    I would presume that he would include women, as well?!”

    Actually House M.D. said that.

  • “What is the best — or only — construction that we could put on Mrs. Clinton’s speech?” I’m not sure why you singled out me for a response, especially given that I am no fan of Clinton (you once wrote a post about that).

    My recent references to “the best construction” were responses to use of that phrase by other people against me. In those cases, I had criticized a Republican and was decried for not putting the best construction on things. I have noted, however, that such arguments from the 8th Commandment are much more frequently in defense of Republicans than Democrats. This entry notwithstanding, Hillary rarely gets the benefit of the doubt because, well, we all know how she is, right? All of which makes me wonder if the overall concern is for our neighbor’s reputation or ideological purity.

    Anyhow, the answer to your question, should anyone actually be interested in it, would seem to appear in the article you linked to, especially in the updates. Note especially Lissa Muscatine’s account, given that she was also there:

    We were put on a C17– a plane capable of steep ascents and descents — precisely because we were flying into what was considered a combat zone. We were issued flak jackets for the final leg because of possible sniper fire near Tuzla. As an additional precaution, the First Lady and Chelsea were moved to the armored cockpit for the descent into Tuzla. We were told that a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac might be canceled because of sniper fire in the hills surrounding the air strip. From Tuzla, Hillary flew to two outposts in Bosnia with gunships escorting her helicopter.

    Assuming this account is accurate, it is understandable how Clinton would have remembered that flight differently — neither Sinbad nor Crow appear to have been given extra security, and it’s possible they weren’t given all the updates about “possible sniper fire”. Or that Clinton misheard that as being a report of actual sniper fire. I’m not saying that’s what I believed happened, but that is the answer to your question.

    As for me, it would seem that Clinton’s version of the story fits into a pattern of embellishing her experiences as First Lady in order to help out her candidacy. Now some would argue that my thinking so violates the 8th Commandment — I mean, I don’t recall reading any such arguments here in defense of actual Democrats, but it fits the logic of arguments used to defend Republicans, at least.

    But this gets down to a question I’ve asked here a few times — one that no one has ever answered. At one point does one’s putting the “best construction” on things become foolish or delusional? Should anyone bother to answer this question this time, please think of the reputation of someone you already dislike. It is easy, if you are a Republican, to think loftily of the 8th Commandment in defense of Bush, McCain, Reagan, or whomever. It is rather a different thing to similarly defend Clinton, Obama, Ted Kennedy, and the like.

  • Well ya know… at the subatomic level the law of noncontradiction breaks down. Science (and Doug Pagitt) even says so!

  • tODD — I tend to think that ‘putting the best construction’ on things has devolved from what Luther originally meant in his explanation of the 8th commandment, to “spinning and parsing what someone said to give the least offensive definition possible so I don’t have to deal with unpleasant facts…”

  • WebMonk

    Cogently put Paula! One can be so determined to do a “best construction” that the final product is not actually what was meant. “Best construction” also gets set aside when not useful for supporting a particular issue. It’s a good tool, but just like any tool it can be abused.

    As far as Muscatine’s account goes, those sound like typical security precautions that are taken anywhere there’s even the slightest possibility of anything happening. I’ve been through some of the preparation classes, and issuing jackets beforehand is pretty typical. (it consists of saying “here are where the jackets are kept in case you need them”)

    A very generous construction would say that Clinton was so impressed with the seriousness of the preparations that they became the actual happenings in her memory, and she innocently relied on her faulty memory during the speech.

    A realistic construction would say that Clinton built a mountain out of a molehill regardless of accuracy, but that this is typical fodder for all the politicians out there, so it probably shouldn’t be considered a particularly damning piece of anti-Clinton reason.

    A pro-Clinton construction would say that this is all just horrible slander by vast, anti-Clinton conspiracies and that Clinton truly was dodging bullets, and even covered the little girl’s body with her own as the Wash. Post fact-checker picture clearly shows.

  • tODD, nothing personal at all. It’s just that you caught me on not doing this a few times, especially in criticizing Mrs. Clinton. And the further question you raise is a good one: When is the “best construction” the “only construction,” and it is just not good! It seems to me that we can take Mrs. Clinton’s speeches about the snipers in one of two ways, neither of them being very favorable: She is not telling the truth; or, as those updates suggest, she was taking elements that were real and “constructing” them into a false memory of a situation being more dangerous than it actually was–a habit of reaction that we do NOT want in a commander-in-chief. I think those are about the “best construction” we can do.

  • Joe

    Here is the CBS report on this story – complete with footage from the actual landing. The reporter doing the story today was with her on the trip.

    Also, tODD is correct that we should give some weight to Lissa Muscatine’s account. But, we should also be mindful that Ms. Muscatine is a present-day Clinton campaign aide. And we should also give weight to the others who were there – and we should also consider their biases.

    And tODD, you raise a good question: “At one point does one’s putting the “best construction” on things become foolish or delusional?”

    I guess I would answer that you could dispense with a “best construction” when the truth is demonstrable. In a case like this she was either shot at or not. It appears that she was not shot at but I think in light of evidence that she was actually lying we should assume that she misremembered (and for the record that was hard for me to say).

  • Perhaps they were purely metaphorical bullets fired by the hostility of those against the perceived “western-meddling” of sending presidential wives into the Balkans. So, we could, in a way, say that she came under fire by mind-bullets. To her, they were as real bullets… and as the axiom states: truth is just what is true for you.

    About “best constructions” perhaps they are best introduced as a set: a “best” construction, a “median” construction and a “bad” construction, for it is likely that the truth lies somewhere between.
    Intended results and actual results are seldom similar, at least never wholly so on all levels. And the individuals motives can never fully be plumbed (especially not from our armchairs, but even not by those who have known the subject for many years).
    A foolish “best construct” is one that blinds itself to the “unknown variables” inherent in interpreting motives for another’s behavior.
    We ought to be civil and allow for the possibility of the “best construct”, but we must also push at the parts of those constructs that are weak to show to our audience that there are some structural weaknesses.
    Allowing doubt or uncertainty into a “best construct” allows the reader to reason for themselves. otherwise it’s propaganda (in a way).

    And, yes, it is possible that she misremembered. (I say possible but cannot say anything about whther it is probable. another good area to discuss when discussing biased or delusional “constructions”)

    I have totally been guilty of misremembering things myself… though not to the extreme of saying that I had once been shot at. But let me anecdotize: I recently was telling the story of how I had to ride a crazy, one-eyed horse whilst on my honeymoon. My wife overheard me and casually mentioned that she had been on the pirate-horse. I remembered distinctly that it had been me, so we went to go look at the pictures of the adventure.
    She had the one-eyed horse.
    My memory had appropriated the… ahem… “romance” of having a monoptic horse.
    I had been struck by mind bullets! or… memory bullets.
    It was a transference within my own convoluted mind that made her adventure, MY adventure.

    So, moral of the story: watch out for mind bullets.

  • You know, the Clintons have “misremembered” things so often, it’s hard for me to not assume they’re lying. Sheer probability dictates that a benign explanation of these ‘variances from the truth’ are not random, but planned.