In a bitter election year when basic facts seem open to question, vital statistics can offer cold comfort. Though birthers may falsely claim that President Obama was born in Kenya, the nation can, one would hope, agree that Donald Trump, 70, was born in Queens in 1946 and that Hillary Clinton, 68, was born in Chicago in 1947.
Astrologers, however, remain suspicious about the details. For years, those who search the skies for clues about the future haven’t been able to agree on Clinton’s birth time. And now, a rogue astrologer has put forth information that threatens to upend decades of investigation into the possible future president’s destiny.
“Astrologers, as you can see, get very attached to the charts that they work with,” said Shelley Ackerman, who runs the website Karmic Relief. “There’s an emotional and psychological and even spiritual attachment.”
Ackerman, who famously (in some circles) secured Bill Clinton’s birth time during the 1992 election, appeared in a recent video from the International Society for Astrological Research, a professional organization for astrologers. Citing different sources, these seers have long thought Hillary Clinton was born at either 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. — but the new video featured Marc Penfield, an astrologer who claimed to have confirmed that Clinton was actually born at 2:18 a.m.
If true, this was big news. Astrological charts are based on the position of the planets at the moment of birth. If one minute can make a big difference, what about six hours and 18 minutes?
But some thought Penfield’s new claim on Clinton’s birth time was ridiculous.
“What makes the 2:18 time laughable is that the sources are so spurious and unreliable and nebulous,” said Patrick Watson, a Phoenix-based astrologer who is among those disputing Penfield’s claim. “This is not to be trusted.”
Watson also thought it was not the “eminent chart” of a senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate.
“The 8 a.m. chart indicates someone who is very career-focused, ambitious, someone who could really rise to a high rank,” he said. “The 2:18 a.m. time doesn’t have those kind of classic strengths. It’s not a chart that looks like someone who is going to rise to a high degree of prominence.”
Indeed, as it turns out, Penfield’s claim might not survive scrutiny. In the video, he explained that he went to the source: the records office in Springfield, Ill., where he said he entered into a deal over the telephone with a willing state employee.
“I knew that she could not give me the information verbally over the phone,” he said in the video. “So we worked out a deal — which a lot of reporters do — whereby if I am wrong, you tell me so; if I am right, say nothing. … We saw that in ‘All the President’s Men.’ Woodward and Bernstein used that device as well.”
So Penfield offered up some possible times to the employee, he said. And when he got to 2:18 a.m., she said nothing.
Or not. In an interview with The Washington Post, Penfield retracted his claim.
“I tried to, she wouldn’t play along,” he said of trying the “Woodward and Bernstein” on the Illinois state employee.
Penfield, who said he was 75 and in ill health, said he saw the 2:18 a.m. birth time reported on the Internet in 2007, but his comment in the ISAR video about confirming it was “a bit of an exaggeration.”
“It’s part of my personality,” he said.
Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said an employee would never provide birth time information over the telephone. “A definitive no,” she said.
Whatever Penfield’s interpretation of Clinton’s chart, his 2:18 a.m. birth time was promoted as part of an ISAR conference this weekend in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Asked about the discrepancy, Ackerman, who is doing press for the event and will appear there to discuss Clinton’s 2:18 a.m. chart, wondered whether Penfield was protecting someone in the Illinois health department.
“What I’m thinking happened is that someone in that office got their head handed to them,” she said. “I wonder if Marc is taking steps back to protect whoever this person was.”
Raymond Merriman, the president of ISAR, was surprised to hear on Thursday that Penfield had walked back his claim.
“That’s a stunning bit of information to me,” he said.
But Merriman said the 2:18 a.m. time still could be correct, calling Penfield “an honorable person.”
“I can only assume he’s given that info because he doesn’t want the stress” related to the controversy, he said.
Ackerman said there are many reasons people might wish to conceal their birth time.
“If people know what is going on in the angles of her chart, they know … when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not vulnerable, what’s going on in your life,” Ackerman said.
Watson, the Phoenix astrologer who disputed Clinton’s birth time, said Penfield’s bad data shows why birth charts of public officials should be public information, a popular position among astrologers that Ackerman supported in a MoveOn.org petition.
“I guess what’s important is that this shows we should always be vigilant about the integrity of our birth data sourcing,” Watson said. “Unfortunately we have vital record laws to contend with,” he later said.
Clinton’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.