Press Box

Who’s the Dumb-Ass, Mr. President?

The year-end issue of Rolling Stone (Dec. 28, 2000-Jan. 4, 2001) got a big bounce in today’s New York Times for its interview with President Clinton. In language that is less than presidential, Clinton says this on Page 91 of the magazine:

“And it was only then that I worked out with Colin Powell this dumb-ass ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing.”

Did Clinton actually say “dumb-ass”? Let’s go to the tape of the interview, which Rolling Stone posted on its Web site. Click on the six-minute portion called “Gays in the Military,” and at precisely the 1:31 point, you will hear Clinton say, “this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing.”

Sorry, no “dumb-ass.”

How does Rolling Stone explain the disparity between the text and the tape? At first, the magazine refused to fess up to its error.

“It could have gotten left out due to an editing thing,” Rolling Stone publicist Mike Cohen said. “It doesn’t appear in the audio bite, but it is verbatim from the interview. Parts of the tape that they received to do this, they weren’t good sound quality. Whatever words are left out, it’s just because of editing.”

An hour and a half after my conversation with Cohen, Managing Editor Robert Love called. “It was a mistake,” Love said. “Due to a transcription error, the words ‘don’t ask’ were printed as ‘dumb-ass’ in our interview with President Clinton. We regret the error.”