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."

Advertisement

--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

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 16 2014 6:00 AM Can of Worms Prudie offers advice to a letter writer who wants to blackmail a famous ex with tapes of his fetish.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.