Friday, March 07, 2008

Olbermann on NAFTAgate: Innuendo and Truth

On Thursday nite, Keith Olbermann had this to say about NAFTAgate:

Olbermann: For a week now, Senator Clinton has bashed Senator Obama and even possibly won votes based on the story that Obama had publicly railed against NAFTA while a memo by a Canadian diplomat claimed Obama's campaign secretly assured them his stand "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans"

First of all, the memo Olbermann refers to was only brought to the public's attention on March 3, 2008 by the AP's Nedra Pickler - the day before Tuesday's primaries. Therefore, it isn't possible for Clinton to have been railing against Obama based on that memo before that time. (As an aside, Macleans' Luiza Ch. Savage published a copy of that memo on Thursday.)

Back to Olbermann:

Olbermann: In our fourth story in the countdown, Obama's adviser denied speaking those words and now we learn that a much higher source from Canada revealed late last month that the NAFTA promises came from a very different source, the Clinton campaign. According to an unnamed source speaking to that nation's equivalent of the Associated Press, the Canadian Press, it was Clinton's campaign that contacted the Canadian government to reassure them about Clinton's anti-NAFTA rhetoric. The Canadian Press reporting that the source heard the chief of staff to Canada's prime minister say in a room full of television journalists "someone from Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . someone called us and told us not to worry."

Olbermann then introduced his guest, Howard Fineman, and asked, "am I oversimplifying this or is this story now basically the opposite of what it seemed to be a week ago?" to which Fineman responds, "Yeah, it is 180 degrees different".

Except that it's not.

Take a look at the original CTV story:

Low-level sources also suggested the Clinton campaign may have given a similar warning to Ottawa, but a Clinton spokesperson flatly denied the claim.

That was in the same story that alleged that Obama's campaign "told a Canadian official not to take his criticisms seriously".

That's not "180 degrees different". It's exactly the same.

Fineman then said he "think(s) it was the Clinton camp that started the conversation with the Canadians about don't worry about NAFTA".

Except that no one has proven anything like that, Fineman.

Even after Olbermann pointed out that there was, as he put it, an "obscure reference" to the Clinton side in this, Fineman stated that he thought the Obama campaign didn't know about it until Thursday. Fineman then said the Obama campaign hadn't issued a "flat denial saying the story wasn't true". That's not true. The Obama campaign definitely fumbled its reaction to this story but it has issued denials since the story broke. Here's just one of them from this week:

When Mr. Obama's campaign and the Canadian government denied the allegation, a leaked document was obtained by The Associated Press written by a Canadian diplomat. It chronicled a conversation between Obama economic adviser Austan Goulsbee and diplomats at Canada's Chicago consulate.

The Obama aide has challenged the wording of the memo and says it characterized the conversation unfairly.

Meanwhile, as soon as CTV news broke the story last Wednesday, their television reporter Tom Clark said the Clinton campaign was giving the Canadian government "blanket immunity" to release the name of anyone on her staff who may have been in touch with them. That's why the allegations against her were dropped so quickly. The Canadian sources haven't released anything to back up that claim. Apparently, someone must have thought the release of the memo later that week could be used against Obama and that's why the story, as it related to him, continued to have legs.

Fineman then went on to say that he thought the Obama campaign believed it "has the upper hand in the NAFTA debate" as an excuse for not responding more forcefully. In other words, never mind that a foreign government might be creating the impression that his NAFTA promises aren't true, they'll just ignore it and hope it goes away. Does Fineman really believe that's what happened or could it be that their economic adviser Goolsbee, who wasn't straight with the media as soon as his meeting with Canadian officials was revealed, has created a PR nightmare for the campaign?

Olbermann then cited the NAFTA story as another one of the Clinton campaign's recent screw ups. The fact is that there's no "there" there - not with this story. Olbermann and Fineman should have done more research before they went on the air with this in the fashion that they did. If you watch the video, you'll see a shocked and surprised Olbermann acting is if what he's reporting is proof that the Clinton campaign reassured the Canadian government on NAFTA despite the fact that his very words belie that incredulity.

Keith Olbermann has a lot of pull with Democratic and so-called "progressive" viewers, many of whom, at places like Daily Kos, (nicknamed Daily Obama because of the overwhelming support for that candidate there) now believe that he has nailed Clinton to the wall on NAFTAgate when no such thing has happened.

Olbermann is not responsible for how his viewers react to what he says, but he owes them the truth, not innuendo backed up with an overly-emotional response along with a guest who doesn't even know what he's talking about. For Olbermann to act as if he believed the unnamed source who fingered Ian Brodie (an allegation that has yet to be investigated) is either lazy journalism or biased reporting against Clinton.

I don't support either candidate and I'm no Clinton apologist. I just expect responsible journalism - not hyperbole that can be interpreted as facts. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and I believe they have in this case.

Watch the video:


Here's the latest news from Canada on this story - Government will probe 'entire' NAFTA leak: PM.

US ambassador Wilkins has since backed off from his claims of "interference" as reported in the CBC story linked to above.

"I do think the term 'interference' is a little strong. It implies some intentional act. And I've got no way of knowing whether it was unintentional or intentional, or anything of that nature. But my statement of interference was not meant to mean intentional interference by the Canadian government, and unfortunately that's the way it got played."

How lawyerly of him.

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