Anatomy of a Gaffe

Rick Moran
The New York Times politics blog The Caucus has a great post tracing the history of Hillary Clinton's "assassination" gaffe and folding it into a narrative that shows Hillary's campaign on the ropes - dispirited, and with basically nowhere else to go.

Katherine Seeyle carefully lays out the timeline of events last Friday beginning with Hillary's appearance before the Argus Union Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where she uttered her now infamous words. What is fascinating is that the travelling press was already at another venue when she spoke those words and even though the paper was streaming live video of the interview on the net, reporters had only spotty access to the feed:


Her interview began while we were on the bus, but Internet access was so poor, we could only pick up bits of her comments intermittently. We did hear her bat back reports that her campaign had made overtures to Senator Barack Obama's campaign about some kind of deal for her to exit the race.

At the supermarket, we were ensconced in a café off the deli counter, where many reporters were writing about her denying the overtures while also trying to follow the live stream. Here, too, Internet access was spotty and the stream came over in choppy bursts.

Mrs. Clinton arrived from the newspaper in the midst of this, and began addressing a couple of hundred people who were seated adjacent to us, in the fresh produce section. Then our cell phones and Blackberries went off.

On the other end were editors who had seen a Drudge Report link to a New York Post item online. The Post was not with the traveling press _ and apparently had a decent Internet connection.

The piece also reveals this fascinating connection between big media and the internet; that when something goes viral on the net the big media outlets feel it necessary to cover it also lest they be left out of the feeding frenzy. Seeyle also shows how campaigns react to such gaffes and how real time responses to questions are almost always incomplete or wrong because the staff simply doesn't have all the information:

In the deli section, we were seeking reaction from Clinton aides. One of them, Mo Elleithee, who had been with Mrs. Clinton at the editorial meeting, said her comments were being distorted.

A usually mild-mannered man, he was noticeably angry. He gave an on the record statement, saying that any attempt to portray her comment as anything other than a timeline was "inaccurate." He came back again to add the word "outrageous."

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, was finishing up her short talk with the people in the produce section, where voters were asking her about her decision to pursue the nomination, often offering words of encouragement. One woman asked her about the once-arcane subject of superdelegates.

"I'm racing against the wind here," Mrs. Clinton said, noticing that Mr. Obama had the "establishment" endorsements in the state. Afterward, she posed for pictures with workers behind the deli counter and went into a holding room.

By then, the Obama campaign had issued a statement, linking to the Post item and saying her comment "was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign." Privately, we were told, the Obama camp was livid.


Still not quite caught up to the impact her statement was having, Mrs. Clinton herself issued an apology but it missed its mark because it failed to take into account any adverse impact on the Obama campaign itself. She was then off to her next stop - a listless performance in front of a couple of hundred supporters where apparently, the import of the gaffe was finally settling in.

Those who seek to dismiss Mrs. Clinton's comments as just more fodder for the media and much ado about nothing are probably correct. But that's what modern campaigns are about and railing against it does no good. She used the word "assassinate" to highlight the reason she was still in the race - not hoping it would happen but rather as an example of why she should carry on with the campaign. She was pointing out that the RFK killing occurred in June while the campaign was still very much in doubt. By virtue of the way she uttered the comment, she seemed to be saying she wanted to stay in the race "just in case."

She has angered so many Democrats with the remark that Seeyle suggests no one will now be inclined to help her exit the campaign gracefully, that she will go down to defeat and must deliver some kind of concession speech with no promise of anything in return.

That's what makes this gaffe a race changing mistake. She was going to lose anyway. Now it is virtually certain she will lose under the most humiliating circumstances.
The New York Times politics blog The Caucus has a great post tracing the history of Hillary Clinton's "assassination" gaffe and folding it into a narrative that shows Hillary's campaign on the ropes - dispirited, and with basically nowhere else to go.

Katherine Seeyle carefully lays out the timeline of events last Friday beginning with Hillary's appearance before the Argus Union Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where she uttered her now infamous words. What is fascinating is that the travelling press was already at another venue when she spoke those words and even though the paper was streaming live video of the interview on the net, reporters had only spotty access to the feed:


Her interview began while we were on the bus, but Internet access was so poor, we could only pick up bits of her comments intermittently. We did hear her bat back reports that her campaign had made overtures to Senator Barack Obama's campaign about some kind of deal for her to exit the race.

At the supermarket, we were ensconced in a café off the deli counter, where many reporters were writing about her denying the overtures while also trying to follow the live stream. Here, too, Internet access was spotty and the stream came over in choppy bursts.

Mrs. Clinton arrived from the newspaper in the midst of this, and began addressing a couple of hundred people who were seated adjacent to us, in the fresh produce section. Then our cell phones and Blackberries went off.

On the other end were editors who had seen a Drudge Report link to a New York Post item online. The Post was not with the traveling press _ and apparently had a decent Internet connection.

The piece also reveals this fascinating connection between big media and the internet; that when something goes viral on the net the big media outlets feel it necessary to cover it also lest they be left out of the feeding frenzy. Seeyle also shows how campaigns react to such gaffes and how real time responses to questions are almost always incomplete or wrong because the staff simply doesn't have all the information:

In the deli section, we were seeking reaction from Clinton aides. One of them, Mo Elleithee, who had been with Mrs. Clinton at the editorial meeting, said her comments were being distorted.

A usually mild-mannered man, he was noticeably angry. He gave an on the record statement, saying that any attempt to portray her comment as anything other than a timeline was "inaccurate." He came back again to add the word "outrageous."

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, was finishing up her short talk with the people in the produce section, where voters were asking her about her decision to pursue the nomination, often offering words of encouragement. One woman asked her about the once-arcane subject of superdelegates.

"I'm racing against the wind here," Mrs. Clinton said, noticing that Mr. Obama had the "establishment" endorsements in the state. Afterward, she posed for pictures with workers behind the deli counter and went into a holding room.

By then, the Obama campaign had issued a statement, linking to the Post item and saying her comment "was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign." Privately, we were told, the Obama camp was livid.


Still not quite caught up to the impact her statement was having, Mrs. Clinton herself issued an apology but it missed its mark because it failed to take into account any adverse impact on the Obama campaign itself. She was then off to her next stop - a listless performance in front of a couple of hundred supporters where apparently, the import of the gaffe was finally settling in.

Those who seek to dismiss Mrs. Clinton's comments as just more fodder for the media and much ado about nothing are probably correct. But that's what modern campaigns are about and railing against it does no good. She used the word "assassinate" to highlight the reason she was still in the race - not hoping it would happen but rather as an example of why she should carry on with the campaign. She was pointing out that the RFK killing occurred in June while the campaign was still very much in doubt. By virtue of the way she uttered the comment, she seemed to be saying she wanted to stay in the race "just in case."

She has angered so many Democrats with the remark that Seeyle suggests no one will now be inclined to help her exit the campaign gracefully, that she will go down to defeat and must deliver some kind of concession speech with no promise of anything in return.

That's what makes this gaffe a race changing mistake. She was going to lose anyway. Now it is virtually certain she will lose under the most humiliating circumstances.