“So who is all for women until she isn’t? When Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault, Mrs. Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed.’ But when another Bill [Clinton] was accused of sexual assault? Not so much. … She savaged their dignity and shamed them. [Shows a video clip of Clinton saying] ‘Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for.’”
–Voiceover and video clip in political ad by pro-Donald Trump group Rebuilding America Now
This political ad by a pro-Trump super PAC attacks Hillary Clinton over her response to women who made sexual allegations against her husband. The ad begins with a reference to a post on Twitter by the Hillary Clinton campaign, noting it was published “when Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault.” The ad goes on to say that she reacted differently to allegations about her husband.
“She savaged their dignity and shamed them,” the narrator says, as the following text appears on screen: “The Clinton effort used words like ‘floozy,’ ‘bimbo’ and ‘stalker.’” Then a video clip airs of Clinton saying, “Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for,” and gives the impression that she was making those comments in response to the women who had made sexual allegations against her husband.
We looked at two problematic elements in the ad: the misleading impression about Clinton’s tweet, and the misleading use of the video clip.
The ad claims: “When Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault, Mrs. Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed.’” (This is a common comparison being made among Clinton’s opponents, including by Trump himself — drawing attention to similarities between allegations made against Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton. For more, see our guide to the sexual allegations against Bill Clinton.)
The tweet includes a link to her plan to address campus sexual assault. It makes no reference to Cosby or the women whose sexual assault lawsuits were pending at the time. Clinton’s campaign said the tweet was posted to coincide with the national premiere of CNN’s “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assaults. The tweet was posted nine minutes after the premiere was scheduled to air, at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Supporting information provided by the super PAC doesn’t make the direct connection, either. A representative said “it is impossible to imagine that Hillary Clinton was unaware of the Bill Cosby scandal, which had [been] playing out on the news for months, on exactly the same topic as her tweet, when she tweeted out ‘women had a right to be believed.’ It is fair to assume she understood her tweet would read in that context of the larger story about sexual assault not just a specific instance of campus rape.”
Many Twitter users responded to Clinton’s tweet at the time by pointing to the women who made sexual allegations against Bill Clinton. If the super PAC wants to make the argument that Clinton tweeted this during a time when there was public interest in the Cosby case, that needs to be made clear in a way that doesn’t mislead viewers to believe that the tweet was in reference to the Cosby lawsuits.
Less than two weeks after the tweet, Clinton was asked during an event about the women who made sexual allegations against Bill Clinton, and whether she holds the same view that sexual assault victims deserve to be believed: “You say that all rape victims should be believed, but would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and/or Paula Jones? Should we believe them as well?”
All Clinton offered in response was: “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.” That second part — that women should be believed “until they are disbelieved based on evidence” — was not mentioned in her tweet.
‘Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for’
As the narrator claims, “She savaged their dignity and shamed them,” the ad shows text from a January 2016 article by the New York Times about Hillary Clinton’s feminist supporters struggling to reconcile her “leadership on women’s issues with her past involvement in her husband’s efforts to fend off accusations of sexual misconduct.” The specific words shown on screen (“floozy,” “bimbo,” “stalker”) are attributed to the “Clinton effort,” though not directly to Clinton herself:
Over the years, the Clinton effort to cast doubt on the women included using words like “floozy,” “bimbo” and “stalker,” and raising questions about their motives. James Carville, a longtime strategist for Mr. Clinton, was especially cutting in attacking Ms. Flowers. “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find,” Mr. Carville said of Ms. Flowers. (Mr. Carville has maintained that earlier reports indicating that he had made the remark about Paula Jones, another Clinton accuser, were incorrect.)
Then, a clip is shown of Clinton saying, “Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for,” apparently discrediting the women. Again, there is problematic juxtaposition of information presented to viewers.
A reading of the full Jan. 27, 1998, interview on “The Today Show” makes it less clear that Clinton is referring to the women when she talks about “some folks.” This interview was conducted a week after the president was accused of having an affair with Lewinsky, but Lewinsky denied it at the time through an affidavit from her lawyer. (For more details on the timeline, see our earlier fact-check on this issue.)
Clinton refuses to answer specifically about the alleged affair with Lewinsky. She repeatedly says the matter needs to be placed “in context,” and places the blame on people in a “vast right-wing conspiracy” who have tried to discredit her husband for 25 years.
This interview certainly was pivotal to saving Bill Clinton’s presidency, as his wife forcefully backed him. While this interview often is referred to as a political attack on Lewinsky and Jones, by Hillary Clinton’s account at the time her husband had not yet admitted the Lewinsky affair to her. The full context of her answer (claim used in the ad is in bold):
Matt Lauer: “Let me take you and your husband out of this for a second. Bill and Hillary Clinton aren’t involved in this story. If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?”
Clinton: “Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.”
Lauer: “Should they ask for his resignation?”
Clinton: “Well, I think that — if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true. I think we’re going to find some other things. And I think that when all of this is put into context, and we really look at the people involved here, look at their motivations and look at their backgrounds, look at their past behavior, some folks are going to have a lot to answer for.”
One reading may be that Clinton was referring to the women. But in the context of the earlier questions leading up to that question, she appears to reference her husband’s political opponents, not Lewinsky or any other woman.
The super PAC representative said “it is fair to interpret that as a threat that she was going to exploit the ‘past behavior’ and ‘backgrounds’ of those women who accused her husband.” In particular, the super PAC cited descriptions of the organized effort surrounding the Clintons to “destroy” the women, as described in Barbara Olson’s 2013 book “Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The Pinocchio Test
This ad employs sound, video and text editing to create quite a misleading impression to the viewers. First, the narrator says that “When Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault, Mrs. Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed.’” Yet the tweet did not mention Cosby. It includes a link to her plan to address campus sexual assaults, and apparently coincided the airing of a documentary on the issue.
Later in the ad, the narrator says Hillary Clinton “savaged their dignity and shamed them,” and immediately shows a clip of Clinton saying, “Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for,” implying Clinton was referring to the women. But in the context of the full interview, that’s not exactly clear; Clinton appears to be blaming political opponents of her husband.
We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios. As regular readers know, editing jobs in political ads that risk misleading the public almost automatically qualify for Two Pinocchios under our standards. The group says it’s “fair to assume” that Clinton would have known that her tweet would read as a commentary on the larger issue of sexual assault, and that it’s “fair to interpret” that her claim in the Today Show interview was a “threat that she was going to exploit” the women. We find that a stretch, and admakers deliberately made assumptions and interpretations to arrange audio, text and video in a way that misleads viewers. That tips it to Three Pinocchios.
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