Draft Letter to Vanity Fair (Ari Rides Again Dept.)

I was disappointed in the lax editorial standards that allowed former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to use your pages (George in Real Life) to lie to the public, unrebutted, yet again.

Mr. Fleischer is quoted as saying, “When Bill Clinton left office, he was a pariah.”

In fact, President Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings of any post-WW II President, something on the order of 66%. Any simple web search would have revealed this.

I think you owed your readers this fact — especially as it supports the suggestion, made later regarding a different assertion, that die-hard Bush fans are “delusional”.

Please invest in fact-checkers.

A. Michael Froomkin
Professor of Law
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL

Any point in sending it?

[4:50pm – light editing]

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13 Responses to Draft Letter to Vanity Fair (Ari Rides Again Dept.)

  1. Joe1 says:

    Hell, yes, Send it!!

  2. miamigrad says:

    Are you serious? I mean, is stating that someone was a “pariah” really a lie? Not really. It’s Fleischer’s opinion on how a lot of people thought about President Clinton; approval ratings aren’t the only factor one can use. Furthermore, it’s not as if the author portrays Fleischer as objective. In the previous line the author calls him a “Bush loyalist.” And although I see how the “pariah” reference supports the author’s calling Fleischer’s opinion “delusional,” that reference really refers to his belief that people will view Bush’s presidency differently in the future.

    I agree that newspapers often need to check facts better. (Remember Jayson Blair?) But this doesn’t call for a letter to the editor.

  3. michael says:

    Pariah: “one that is despised or rejected : outcast”. No way to square that with a 2:1 approval rating.

    It’s just part of the Bush m.o., like the minority Bolsheviks (lit. “majority”) before them, a minority trying to pretend it has popular support.

  4. miamigrad says:

    I guess that’s my point. I don’t think that authors need to point out to readers that President Obama isn’t a communist every time someone is quoted as calling him one.

    If the author wrote that President Clinton was a pariah when he left the Oval Office, or, even moreso, that President Clinton had a dismal approval rating on leaving the presidency, then I’d be inclined to agree with you.

    But a quotation from Ari Fleischer?

    Give it a shot, I suppose.

  5. LACJ says:

    Heh. Do it. Why not?

  6. Oh, come on, I would suppose it’s possible to be a pariah with respect to part of the population, and loved by another part, and that’s a good description of where Clinton stands; The popularity equivalent of the guy who fell into the camp fire in a raging blizzard: On average he was pretty comfortable. You lose a lot of detail by just averaging things.

  7. einstein says:

    Its all relative. To most adults, he was a philandering buffoon, lied under oath, bombed innocents in the Balkans, bombed a milk factory in Sudan, left us with Al Gore’s .com bubble to clean up….

    But to Hollywood he was so “in.” African-Americans called him the first black president. And he pardoned some really swell people on the way out who surely thought highly of him. He turned Lewinsky into a household name, who set a fine example of how women advance in the workplace. And he provided the coattails for Hillary, who would otherwise be just another fork-tongued lobbyist if it weren’t for his name.

    So, it all depends on who you ask! I say send your letter and invite slick Willie over for dinner. Why if he’s the kind of man you want your kids to grow up to be then why shouldn’t you sing his praises?! Just don’t leave him alone with your wife or the silverware.

  8. michael says:

    This last comment seems to suffer from the Ari problem of selective memory: How can it be “most adults” thought Clinton was so terrible if he retired more popular than Ike and Reagan? Indeed a 66% approval rating implies a maximum of 34% disapproval. How is 34% “most adults”? When we double-count Republicans?

  9. Joe1 says:

    Miamigrad, I only ask one thing when you talk in my courtroom or file papers in a matter in front of me: BACK IT UP. If Ari can’t back it up, he needs to shut up.

  10. einstein says:

    Ah michael. How ironic that to defend the man that governed by polling you cite to polls.

    Please join us back on earth. Gore lost to Bush because America was fed up with Clinton, much the same way Obama won. What a short memory you have.

    You can cite all the polls you want, they are all nonsense. Keep in mind even Bush’s post-office ratings are higher than when he was in office. Once they’re gone people tend to lighten up when asked.

    Has Clinton subsequently rehabilitated his image? Perhaps. But his departure was welcomed by all.

    Kind of strange how your two heroes, Clinton and Edwards, have soooo much in common. Why do you keep falling for the same schtick?

  11. michael says:

    As I recall, Gore lost in part because he ran away from Clinton.

    On the more general issue, I suppose if one is peddling a position that is contrary to fact, one must sneer at facts.

    Bill Clinton certainly was never my hero, much as he was fun to listen to — his judicial nominations alone saw to that, and there was plenty more about his administration that was as you say too given to ‘triangulation’ than principle. I agree that he governed too much by poll.

    But the fact remains that polling, properly done, is a snapshot of belief. Thus, for someone to say the public believed Clinton was unpopular at a point in time when polling reveals the overwhelming believed Clinton did a good job, shows the speaker is not reality-based. Or is lying. That is Fleisher’s problem, and also that of his supporters who claim to know better than the poll data what people must have thought (which of course happens to be what they thought). To be fair, the DC press corps had the same problem: they hated Clinton, so the nation must hate him too. Many of them never did quite wrap their minds around the poll data: how could it be that the country cared more about economic policy than a Presidential infidelity? What’s wrong with people, anyway?

    Clinton’s strategic error was to underestimate the power of leadership to move polls. Obama, like Reagan before him, seems to understand that.

  12. miamigrad says:

    Joe1: The question is whether Vanity Fair has an obligation (a) to research whether President Clinton was a pariah when he left office and (b) to point out to its readers that President Clinton was not a pariah, as Ari Fleischer claims he was. At least that’s how I interpreted Professor Froomkin’s query. As to both questions, I don’t think that Vanity Fair has any such obligation. I don’t doubt that Professor Froomkin is correct in pointing out that, according to polls at the time, Fleischer was wrong. But again, I fail to see why a snarky letter to the editor is in order.

    As I wrote before, if the *author* of the article wrote that President Clinton’s approval ratings were dismal when he left office, then I’d agree with Professor Froomkin. But the author wrote no such thing. It was Fleischer’s quotation. As a former fact checker myself, I wouldn’t see the need to drop a footnote after the quotation to alert the reader that a “Bush loyalist’s” account of President Clinton may not be true. My guess is that the editors of Vanity Fair–and many other newspapers–agree.

    (On an unrelated note, I do appreciate Professor Froomkin’s changing “which” to “that.” Fitting, on this fiftieth anniversary of Elements of Style.)

  13. Joe1 says:

    Miamigrad, your loose interpretation of the first amendment leads you to your answer that Vanity Fair has no obligation to verify the truth of what they print. I don’t believe that’s true. Once the parties agree on the definition of pariah, then it’s easy to see that Clinton doesn’t fit the definition. (The present republican party may well fit that definition, but that’s another discussion.) You don’t have to agree with a “snarky” letter to the editor; that is your right. I’m not sure what kind of facts you checked in the work that you referenced earlier, but I hope that you didn’t let your biases interfere with your objectivity.

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