Whopper of the Week: Barbara Olson

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 3 2001 3:13 PM

Whopper of the Week: Barbara Olson

"I wish to apologize to President Clinton and his family for my insensitivity. My choice of words was very unfortunate. I did not intend to demean Virginia Kelley or her memory [italics Chatterbox's] and I regret having done so."

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--Republican activist Barbara Olson, as quoted by Lloyd Grove in his July 31 "Reliable Sources" column in the Washington Post.

"Look at Bill Clinton's mother, as opposed to George W.'s mother. Is your mother a barfly who gets used by men? [Italics Chatterbox's.] Or is your mother a strong woman who demanded respect for her ideas and always received it?"

--The statement Olson was apologizing for, quoted approvingly by Toby Harnden in the July 25 London Telegraph and disapprovingly by Grove in his July 27 column.

Commentary: This is a superb example of the Insincere Apology. Barbara Olson said something deeply unkind (though fairly accurate) about Bill Clinton's late mother in order to make a specious comparison between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The context in which she did so was an outburst of naked class snobbery. Olson had no option but retreat. But she couldn't say, "I'm sorry that I said something gratuitously mean about Bill Clinton's mother." That would acknowledge previous malign intent and might damage the reputation of her husband, Solicitor General Ted Olson. Instead, Olson took the common dodge of stating that her intent was misconstrued. She meant well; clumsily, she just chose words that failed to convey her true feelings. But of course, it simply isn't possible that Olson meant well, since there is no nice way to say that someone is "a barfly who gets used by men."

Got a whopper? Send it to chatterbox@slate.com. 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:

July 27, 2001: Jeffrey Archer

July 20, 2001: George W. Bush

July 13, 2001: George W. Bush

July 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

June 29, 2001: David Brock

June 22, 2001: Edmund Morris

June 15, 2001: George W. Bush

June 8, 2001: Nepali Prince Regent (subsequently, King) Gyanendra

June 1, 2001: Mary McGrory

May 25, 2001: Ari Fleischer

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