Fact-checking Clinton's RFK comment

Set aside the controversy over what Hillary Clinton said about Kennedy's assassination -- do the analogies she used even apply to this race?

By Alex Koppelman
May 27, 2008 7:23PM (UTC)
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The furor over comments Hillary Clinton made referencing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy appears to have died down.

The executive editor of the paper whose editorial board Clinton was meeting with on Friday when she made the fateful remark put out a statement saying she was not, as many people believed, saying she was still in the race because Barack Obama could be assassinated, but was simply referencing the fact that RFK was still fighting for the Democratic nomination when he was shot in June 1968. One of Kennedy's sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has endorsed Clinton, issued a statement in which he said, "It is clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June ... I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense." And the Politico's John F. Harris wrote a sort of mea culpa for the media at large for being too quick to jump on every outrage of the campaign. Now, observers are taking a closer look at Clinton's full remark, in context, and pointing out that one part of it appears less than truthful.


The quote that set off the controversy was, "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it." It is true that Kennedy was assassinated in California in June, just after he had won that state's Democratic primary. But Clinton's comment about her husband's 1992 race is, at best, debatable.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an article by reporter Jim Rutenberg that is, for the most part, a fact check of the remark. In it, Rutenberg points out, "For weeks before that June 2 contest, few doubted that Mr. Clinton would be the party’s nominee, including those involved with the campaign of his remaining challenger, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California ... the Clinton campaign in 1992 used some of the same tactics that Mrs. Clinton and her supporters now decry, like declaring the nomination secure early and encouraging party leaders and the news media to climb on board."

Elsewhere, Taegan Goddard quotes a section of Bill Clinton's memoir, "My Life," that contradicts his wife's statement. Writing about the 1992 race, Clinton said, "On April 9, Paul Tsongas announced that he would not reenter the race. The fight for the nomination was effectively over."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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