In a speech last week at George Washington University, Hillary Clinton recalled a 1996 trip to Bosnia and said she remembered "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." Subsequent accounts by members of her party took exception to her recollection, and the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" blog reports that "A review of nearly 100 news accounts of her visit shows that not a single newspaper or television station reported any security threat to the First Lady." The Post also reprinted a photo of a relaxed-looking Clinton greeting an eight-year-old girl who'd been trotted out to the tarmac to read a welcoming poem.
This isn't the biggest story on the campaign trail right now, nor should it be. But there's something creepily revealing about Clinton's apparent ginning-up of the sniper-fire anecdote, and about her reaction to being caught out. First things first: Claiming she was in more danger than was actually present is baffling on the face of it. It doesn't even make tactical sense, because it isn't the sort of exaggeration that pads her foreign-policy experience; it's the sort of tall tale guys tell girls in bars. Besides, it's unnecessary: Even without sniper fire, what she did was impressive, at least to me. I mean, I didn't get on a C17 and fly into Tuzla in 1996. The riskiest thing I did in 1996 was eat at Johnny Rockets.
Clinton's initial reaction to getting caught in the fib isn't going to help her much either. This YouTube piece starts with a CBS report from the day of the incident, showing a smiling Clinton strolling across the tarmac as if she were headed to lunch, and pausing to be greeted by the little girl. Then it cuts straight to Clinton being asked about the discrepancy and stonily sticking to her story: "There was no greeting ceremony and we were basically told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened." There's something particularly Clintonian about the grim-faced refusal to amend a story, even when the preponderance of reportage refutes it, and there's video besides. All she had to say was "You know, I may not have recalled this one exactly right. I made a lot of trips as First Lady and some of them were pretty dangerous." A campaign spokesman finally acknowledged today that Clinton "misspoke." Gee, you think? But that doesn't obviate the questions: What does it say about the character of the candidate that she felt a need to puff up her tough-guy credentials, which are wholly separate from her foreign-policy credentials, and that she couldn't back off the story even when it was pretty decisively discredited? There's message discipline, and then there's this. This feels like desperation.