Whoppers of the Week: Ari Fleischer (A Doubleheader!)

Whopper No. 1:

“It’s not always practical, possible, or desirable to invite members of Congress; they don’t always want to be able to leave the Hill to come down to the myriad of events at the White House where citizens are honored. And that’s the case in this event as well. … And there are no slights when events like that happen. Members of Congress don’t expect to spend all their time down at the White House.”


–Ari Fleischer, explaining during the May 23 White House press briefing why Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords wasn’t invited to an April 23 White House ceremony honoring teacher of the year Michele Forman. (Forman teaches high-school social studies in Middlebury, Vt., and Jeffords was at the time chairman of the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee.)


It gets laughable at times, and you get upset with it–like Vermont, the national school teacher, those kind of things. …”

–Jeffords, at his May 24 announcement that he will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent, thereby putting Democrats in the majority in the U.S. Senate.

(Thanks to reader William Klein.)

Commentary: This first whopper is itself a double whopper, combining Fleischer’s false general proposition with his false assertion about a specific incident. Broadly, the notion that members of Congress don’t always crave White House invitations, even on those rare occasions when their schedules are too busy to allow them to attend, is so obviously untrue that refutation would be superfluous. Narrowly, Fleischer is trying desperately to convey that Jeffords took no offense over the teacher of the year incident. (He later emphasized, for example, that “the President has not heard any complaints from Sen. Jeffords on that account,” which may itself be a lie.) Jeffords, though, makes clear that he did take offense. (To be fair, Jeffords also said that bad personal treatment from Dubya had “nothing whatsoever” to do with his decision–a probable lie.)


Whopper No. 2:

“[N]obody played hardball. …”

–Fleischer, in the May 23 press briefing.


“Q: Ari, the White House chief of staff, out of the blue, called the AP reporters in Vermont during the pendency of the budget resolution and said, just wanted to let Vermonters know where the president is and where Sen. Jeffords is on this. Isn’t that putting the muscle on Sen. Jeffords in a rather crude way?

“Fleischer: Terry, the White House is always going to reach out and talk to reporters in the various 50 states.”

–A later exchange from the same press briefing.

Got a whopper? Send it to To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.


Whopper Archive:

May 18, 2001: York, Pa., Mayor Charles Robertson

May 11, 2001: Ted Olson

May 4, 2001: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley

April 27, 2001: Ben Affleck

April 20, 2001: South Carolina state legislator Chip Limehouse

April 13, 2001: Gray Davis

April 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

March 30, 2001: Spencer Abraham

March 23, 2001: George W. Bush, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, and/or the Treasury Department

March 16, 2001: George W. Bush

March 9, 2001: Russ Freyman, spokesman, National Association of Manufacturers

March 2, 2001: Paul O’Neill

Feb. 23, 2001: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Feb. 16, 2001: Oscar spokesman John Pavlik

Feb. 9, 2001: Lynne Cheney

Feb. 2, 2001: Bobby Thomson

Jan 26, 2001: Denise Rich