(Click here to read Dahlia Lithwick's Dispatch from the Hillary campaign trail).
Tish Durkin of the New York Observer is the first reporter I've seen who even noticed the damning aspect of Hillary Clinton's "f------ Jew bastard" response. It's not her denial that she uttered the ethnic slur in a confrontation with campaign manager Paul Fray in 1974--a denial her husband backed up in his free-lance phone calls to the New York Daily News. It's that she professed not to remember the confrontation at all--and that this claim was effectively contradicted by the president, who told the News' Michael Kramer , "It got really bad, and he [Fray] and Hillary somehow got in a fight." President Clinton also said, "She might have called him a bastard. I wouldn't rule that out."
So there was a fight! Or was there? Whom are we going to believe on this question, Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Clinton? Answer: It's pretty obvious that a) Mrs. Clinton is dissembling when she suggests she doesn't recall the fight, and b) the president's phone call to the News really was a free-lance effort, since he forgot to get his story straight with his wife's and accidentally told the truth. ... The net effect is to confirm one of the worst charges typically lodged against Hillary: not that she's an anti-Semite, but that she has no compunctions about presenting a false public facade. Why couldn't she just say, "Yes, I was really mad at him, but I didn't say what he says I said"? Does she have to present herself as perfect?
P.S. (added July 19): Several readers have e-mailed to note that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton don't explicitly contradict each other, because Hillary didn't say there was no confrontation, just that she doesn't recall it. But if there was a confrontation, as Bill seems to remember, is it something Hillary would forget? This wasn't an argument over which restaurant to go to; it was a big clash with a key rival, and it occurred at a potentially pivotal moment in Hillary's career, the night her husband-to-be had just lost his first bid for office. Like the president's claim not to recall being alone with Monica Lewinsky, a memory failure on Hillary's part would be possible, but not very plausible.
Actually, Hillary seemed to contradict herself at her Sunday press conference. First (according to an unofficial transcript) she said, "And the president and I were the only other two people there, with the two people who were there, and it did not happen." Later she said, "I don't remember being in the room. If there was a meeting between the president and me and the two of them I don't have any recollection of what they're talking about." Was there a meeting or wasn't there? Was she there or wasn't she? If there was no meeting, what were the other "two people" who were "there" there at? If she can't remember being in the room, how does she know who else was present?
Hillary also said, "I've talked to the president. The president doesn't remember the meeting." That's hardly what he told Michael Kramer.
Photograph of Hillary Clinton by Brad Rickerby/Reuters.