The Misinformation Spectrum

Hillary Clinton catches a lot of flak for fudging facts. Sometimes it’s well-deserved, especially when she doubles down on untruths like the Bosnia sniper incident. Other times, her misstatements are innocent, but they get twisted into major offenses because they fit the Clintons-don’t-tell-the-truth narrative that’s been unspooling since the ‘90s.

A few recent instances fall in different places along the spectrum of misinformation:

Being wrong: Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake. In speeches across the country, Clinton has told a story about a pregnant woman in Ohio dying after being denied care that would have cost her $100. But it turns out to be untrue . The woman was not, in fact, uninsured, and she wasn’t denied care, either. Clinton had heard the story from an Ohio sheriff’s deputy last year but didn’t check before working it into her speech. Then again, it’s not a story you can easily check. Then again again, you might call it “too good to check.”

Fudging numbers: It’s official. Hillary Clinton is counting the votes in Florida and Michigan toward the popular vote tally. Everyone saw this coming; it’s a natural fit for her message that the two states’ primaries should count. But seeing as they don’t—and likely won’t in any significant way—it’s a stretch to factor those numbers into the popular-vote total, especially given that Obama wasn’t on the Michigan ballot. (The Clinton camp rebuts that Obama had ads up in Florida while she didn’t. In reality, Obama was airing a national ad on CNN that aired in Florida. ) Either way, Obama’s popular-vote lead looks a lot different if you count Florida and Michigan (94,000) than if you don’t (717,000). Gov. Jon Corzine, who suggested he would vote for whomever wins the popular vote, wrote Sunday that he would include Florida and Michigan in the tally. Other instances of Clinton stat-juking include Bill Clinton claiming that Hillary can still win more primary delegates , as opposed to caucus delegates, as well as Evan Bayh pointing to her lead in Electoral College votes in the states each candidate has won.

Misleading: ABC’s Jake Tapper reports a fairly egregious new claim by Clinton that she opposed the Iraq war before Obama did starting in January 2005 , when he became a senator. Not only is the metric preposterous—why not just start it one hour before some anti-war speech Hillary gave?—but Tapper also points out that even using that metric, Obama was first to criticize the war. (She made a statement on Jan. 26; Obama offered criticisms at a meeting on Jan. 18.) Parsing different statements on different days is an absurd exercise, but it only highlights the weirdness of Clinton’s claims in the first place.

Lying: Excuse me, politicians don’t lie —they misremember, fail to recall, or, in Clinton’s recent case, misspeak . But Clinton’s telling and retelling of the Bosnia sniper story qualifies as a good old-fashioned lie. Sure, the outrage that greeted the contradictions to her story was disproportionate to the offense. (And both sides have done their share of embellishing .) But Clinton’s decision to stick with her false account in the face of denials—albeit by Sinbad—sealed her fate. Now it looks like Bosnia hurt her more than Jeremiah Wright hurt Obama. (Still, she managed to joke about it on Leno last week.)

No doubt every candidate has wandered up and down the misinformation spectrum over the past year. Obama has “misspoken” about, among other things, his level of involvement in filling out a liberal survey as an Illinois state senator, his role in passing immigration legislation , the Kennedys’ role in helping his father come over from Kenya, and, most recently, his smoking habit . But those misrepresentations were spread out over many months. In the past few weeks, Clinton may have set a record.