Vetting Stories

I abstained from weighing in on the story about Clinton telling the story of a woman without health insurance losing her baby and then her life because she was turned away by the hospital for several reasons. Some were relatively small and inconsequential, but the first substantive reason was because I’m making a concerted effort to back off of the attack against Hillary, and the second was that I have mixed emotions about anecdotal evidence.

All politicans tell stories. One of the things that Digby touches on is that telling true to life stories helps take the healthcare debate from one that is mostly statistics and makes it more real and personal. This is further reflected in a post that Matt put up last night about Steve Harding. From a more cynical point of view, such stories help politicians build a narrative that they are “in touch” with regular people, something that seems to have become a heavy requirement with a high standard in modern politics (point of fact: I don’t necessarily want a politician I can relate to or feel I can have a beer with. I don’t want a “regular guy or gal” in the White House. I want someone who’s way the hell smarter and more collected than I am because if the country is led by someone like me, we’re all in deep trouble).

But I’ve soured greatly on anecdotal evidence in campaigns, largely thanks to our current president. Anecdotes can be great. Like analogies, they can be used to bring complex problems to a more accessible light, and can help us empathize with a problem we may not have been able to grasp before. At the same time, anecdotes can be greatly misused. They can be misleading in taking a rare instance to portray a norm that does not exist.

Now, a couple of days after the Clinton campaign took yet another hit for apparently telling another lie, Mrs. Clinton has found something of a half-way vindication as Anne Kornblut reports that the story Clinton told was partly true, and was almost verbatim as it was relayed to her.

The details of the story that are true and not true can be checked out in this fact checking of the story, but I think the greater lesson goes outside of these facts.

This cautionary tale preaches caution. On one hand, I want to side with Digby here in defending Hillary for trying to take the healthcare debate to the next level, on the other hand, one of the side effects of this episode is that the healthcare debate has suffered a wounding. That the mother in question actually had healthcare makes it worse.

Not that the story itself isn’t important. It is an important story, as is healthcare, but this is another instance of words mattering, and actions mattering. We must understand that many of these battles that we wage across ideological boundaries must be fought with care. It is possible to push so hard that you end up going backwards–a lesson Hillary should have learned when she first took up the healthcare challenge back in the nineties.

The point I’m trying to get to is that for me the mistake is not the story itself, but the lack of caution and prudence in its use. Keep in mind that this occurred not long after Clinton suffered a major blow from the Bosnia story that ended up blowing up in her face. To turn around and tell a pretty sensational story without taking steps to vet it strikes me as terribly careless.

That the campaign couldn’t even defend itself, but instead was saved by independent reporting only highlights this fact.

I’m not going to pounce on Hillary for not getting all the facts straight in her story. I’m not going to condemn her for an incident whose sentiment I suppose I largely agree with. But I will say that she needs to be more careful, and story vetting is probably something that all the candidates (or at least our candidates) should partake in more aggressively.

Especially in the world of permanent news cycles and an aggressive citizen journalist culture that is waiting at their computers around the clock for the slightest mistake.

More at memeorandum: JustOneMinute, TalkLeft, NO QUARTER, Daily Kos, Taylor Marsh, Swampland, The Jed Report, Political Punch and The Confluence,

(editorial blessing by DrGail)

One Response to “Vetting Stories”

  1. Angellight says:

    Media reports: Mark Penn steps down — which gives the false impression that he is no longer affiliated with the Clinton campaign. False. It is Missleading, a disservice and Dishonest for the Media to claim that Mark Penn has been fired or has stepped down or that he will not be affilated with the campaign. Maggie Williams’ statement is “After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. ” From the following statement it is accurate for the Media to say he has been DEMOTED!

    In a lack of their duty to inform, some in the media do not question Hillary, when they do an interview of her or her campaign staff, why he is still on the conference calls, and if he has stepped down what exactly is Penn’s role in the campaign since he is still on morning conference calls, but rather dismiss this question, as if he has really gone. This is a derelict of the Media’s duty to the Public!

    There are some true reporters, however, like Candy Crowley and Linda Douglas and others, who report this Sharade for what it is — a minor Demotion, in title only, yet his duties will still be the same. If they say he has stepped down, then he should step down for Real, not be on Morning Conference Calls. However, THAT IS NOT WHAT MAGGIE WILLIAMS SAID, “he has been asked to” GIVE UP HIS TITLE, BUT HE WILL STILL ADVISE!

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