Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Birth of a false meme: Hillary Clinton and driver's licenses

Much has been raised about Tim Russert's absurdly stupid "moderating" of the Democratic debate on October 30. Russert's standard tactic is to ask somebody a question and then, as if he was the Great Creskin himself, reveal that--gasp!--they said something slightly different about that subject 10 years ago! OMG!! His only interest is in the "gotcha" question, and it rapidly grows tiring, particularly when we have 10 debates before the first primary. But, as mentioned, his main focus in the past debate was to get Hillary Clinton to stumble over her words on a variety of issues--Social Security, the Charles Rangel tax plan, and of course New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's thoughts about extending driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Here's exactly what Russert asked Hillary Clinton:

Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. He told the Nashua, New Hampshire, Editorial Board it makes a lot of sense. Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license?
Note the actual question: "Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license?" He was asking her to explain Governor Spitzer's thinking, and she did that. However, that is--no surprise--not how the national press is reporting on the debate. CNN's "Political Tracker," for example, reports the following:
At the end of a televised Democratic presidential debate last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton hedged on whether she supported a plan by her home state governor, New York's Eliot Spitzer, to issue licenses to illegal immigrants.
Of course, she was not actually asked "whether she supported" the plan, she was just asked for reasons why it might make sense.

My suggestion is this: continue to watch the news on this issue. Whether or not you support Hillary Clinton, you will notice that virtually every media outlet will claim that she was asked if she support Spitzer's plan. She was not--go back and read Russert's question. He asked why it would make sense to issue licenses to illegal immigrants. Now, as a friend of mine pointed out, Hillary's only fault here was not realizing the game that Russert was playing: he asked her why the plan made sense, but when he was actually asking was "do you support the plan?" The rest of the media was in on his game, but unfortunately, Clinton was not.

For reference, here are only a few of the many media sources who have already started reporting that Hillary was asked "if she supported" Spitzer's plan:

Opinion Journal
"Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked during a debate this week if she supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."

New York Daily News
"Both polls were done while Clinton was getting hammered over her less-than-clear answers in last week's Democratic debate, including on whether she supports Gov. Spitzer's driver's license plan and what she'd do to shore up Social Security."