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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton Edits ‘The Truth’

A Clinton mailer quotes Obama's praise for free trade, but it omits his criticisms.


Hillary Clinton, stung by an Obama mailer that painted her as a supporter of the North American Free Trade agreement, is responding in kind with a barrage of postcards saying, "Ohio needs to know the truth about Obama’s position on Protecting American Workers and NAFTA." But the mailer gives less than the whole truth.

It quotes two news reports of Obama praising NAFTA, but it fails to mention that both are from the same event and leaves out his calls for "fair trade" and increased enforcement – and his criticism of trade agreements negotiated "on behalf of multinational companies instead of workers and communities."


The Clinton campaign said its new mailer to Ohio voters is meant to counter an earlier Obama mailing that quotes Clinton as praising NAFTA. "In a campaign when you are attacked unfairly it is incumbent on you to set the record straight, and that’s what we’re doing in the mail," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters on a conference call Feb. 25.

Retaliation in Kind

We found the Obama mailer to be misleading in our Feb. 24 article. Here we judge that Clinton is retaliating in kind, with a somewhat misleading mailer of her own.

The mailer says, "Ohio needs to know the truth," and adds, "It’s all on the Record." But it quotes the record selectively to misrepresent Obama’s position.

The quotes come from two news accounts, one from The Associated Press and another from the Herald & Review of Decatur, Ill. What’s not said is that they are both reporting on the same 2004 campaign event in Shirley, Ill., when Obama was running against Republican nominee Alan Keyes for the U.S. Senate. And both are quoted selectively, omitting Obama’s criticisms of NAFTA.

The mailer quotes The AP account as saying, "Obama said the United States should continue to work with the World Trade Organization and pursue deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement." That’s accurate as far as it goes, but what’s left out is that Obama also said the U.S. needs to be more aggressive in protecting American interests and the interests of "workers and communities."  Here’s the pertinent section, in full:

Associated Press, Sept. 8, 2004: [Obama] said the United States should continue to work with the World Trade Organization and pursue deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the country must be more aggressive about protecting American interests. "We don’t want to set off trade wars. What we want to make sure of is that our farmers are treated fairly," Obama said. "The problem in a lot of our trade agreements is that the administration tends to negotiate on behalf of multinational companies instead of workers and communities." 

The Decatur newspaper reported on the same event the following day. The Clinton mailer quotes this part of the article: "Obama said the United States benefits enormously from exports under the WTO and NAFTA." But here’s what it left out:

Herald & Review, Sept. 9, 2004: [Obama] said, at the same time, there must be recognition that the global economy has shifted, and that the United States is no longer the dominant economy.

"We have competition in world trade," Obama said. "When China devalues its currency 40 percent, we need to bring a complaint before the WTO just as other nations complain about us. If we are to be competitive over the long term, we need free trade but also fair trade."

We agree with Clinton that any voter "needs to know the truth." We just think it should be the whole truth.

— by Brooks Jackson


Christopher Wills. "Senate candidates speak on farm, trade issues." The Associated Press, 8 Sept. 2004.

Ron Ingram. "Obama, Keyes court farmers – U.S. Senate candidates face-off – on agriculture issues near Shirley," Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) 9 Sept. 2004.