Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Campaign 08: The Mother of All PR Beatings

When we last visited the Mother Jones blog (here), Mrs. Clinton's campaign communications director Howard Wolfson was taking an awful beating "for the team." In the recent debate, Clinton attempted to attach Barack Obama to William Ayers, a member of the 1960s radical group Weather Underground, and Obama made the obvious retort - Mrs. Clinton's husband actually granted presidential pardons to members of Weather Underground (Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans). In a press conference following the debate disaster, Mother Jones asked Wolfson (no less than three times) if Mrs. Clinton supported her husband's pardons? Of course, this was the obvious question to ask since - although her husband's administration was a virtual encyclopedia of pardon controversies - Mrs. Clinton has never once spoken a critical word of his historic pardon abuses. Indeed, she has rationalized and defended the behavior (see her words here). Wolfson eventually responded, "I am not an expert on the pardons .... I don't know what she said." The reporter then asked Mr. Wolfson if he could maybe use his inside connections with Mrs. Clinton's campaign and come up with an answer. Wolfson said, "Yes."

And it has only gotten uglier.

The Mother Jones reporter sent Wolfson an e-mail "reminder" of the promise that an answer would be forthcoming and an immediate response read, "It was a fair question and I know this issue does inspire a fair amount of passion." The reporter then waited another day, and asked, "Any answer to my question from yesterday?" Wolfson replied that he had, in fact, already answered the question, back in 2001. To demonstrate the point, he sent the Mother Jones reporter an excerpt from a news story which read:

"She thinks that it was a pardon made by the president," said spokesman Howard Wolfson. Wolfson provided the same response to questions about her view of the pardon of former Weather Underground radical Susan Rosenberg, serving a 58-year weapons-possession sentence and long suspected by law-enforcement officials of involvement in the 1981 Brink's truck robbery in which two New York police officers were killed. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has criticized that pardon.
The commentary by Mother Jones re the news clipping is classic:

Consider Wolfson's reply: She thinks it was a pardon made by the president. It's close to a non sequitur. Imagine if you asked Hillary Clinton what she thought of her husband's affair with an intern, and her spokesperson said, "She thinks that it was an affair." Did Wolfson believe he could get away with pretending this was actually responsive to the question of whether Clinton supported or opposed those two pardons?
So, another e-mail pursued Wolfson for an answer. No response. The reporter then asked the question during a Clinton campaign conference call. Did Mrs. Clinton support or oppose the pardons? Wolfson responded that he had sent the above mentioned clip! When it was pointed out the clip did not address the question, Wolfson said he was "not aware" that Mrs. Clinton "had an opinion" at the time the pardons were granted. That was followed with: "I don't have any more for you than what I've given you." The Mother Jones reporter summarizes his impressions of the episodes as follows:

Clinton's pardons for these two radicals--like Ayers' relation to Obama--is no big issue. But Wolfson had promised an answer. Instead, he sidestepped and then ducked. Wolfson makes about $450,000 a year working for the Clinton campaign. I suppose evading questions is part of the job. But absurd spin? She thinks the pardon is a pardon. Mischaracterizing questions to avoid answering them? If this is how Wolfson handles this not-so-tough question, what would he do as White House press secretary?
See the wildly entertaining post at the Mother Jones blog here.

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