Fact-Checking “FACT CHECK CLARK”

Tapped has two pieces up, “FACT CHECK CLARK, PART I” and the aptly titled follow-up, “FACT CHECK CLARK, PART II“. Thanks to Tapped’s recently instituted policy of signing posts, I can see that both were penned by Garance Franke-Ruta.

I was suspicious of these posts for two reasons: first, it was authored by Franke-Ruta, who seems to have a problem with the Clark campaign, at least insofar as its interactions with Blogovia are concerned. Here, I caught Franke-Ruta selectively extracting quotes to completely invert the meaning of a post at DraftClark.com (to make it seem like the DraftClarkers were disillusioned with Clark, rather than impressed by his quick recovery from a campaign trail error). Second, Franke-Ruta relied on quotes from a story in the Manchester Union Leader, a source that is presumably fairly friendly to Northeastern Democratic candidates.

What forms the substance of her charges? Franke-Ruta leads off with a line straight from the 2000 RNC fax machines about Gore: “Good grief. This [Clark’s distortions] is getting ridiculous.” She then explains,

First Wesley Clark told The Union Leader of New Hampshire, when asked how long he’d been a Democrat: “About, um, oh, I think it was maybe the third of September. Prior to that I wasn’t anything. In Arkansas, you don’t register for parties, you vote in primaries and, of course, I voted in the Democratic primary.”

Then on Wednesday it turned out he still hadn’t registered as a Democrat.

Then on Thursday, Clark’s spokeswoman Kym Spell told The Associated Press: “A piece of paper doesn’t make you a Democrat. . . . Wesley Clark is a real Democrat, and this is simply a tactic that the other guys are using to distract Americans from the real issues.”

Let us channel Bob Somerby. First, is Clark’s statement about people generally not registering for a given party in Arkansas true? Franke-Ruta declines to inform us. But AP writer David Hammer does the deep digging and leg work and called Arkansas’ Secretary of State’s Deputy for Elections, Janet Miller, whereupon he discovers that “only 4.4 percent of Arkansas’ 1.5 million voters have declared any political party” [that’s a quote from Hammer, who didn’t put quotes around this phrase, not from Miller]. Here’s another nugget from the AP piece:

Arkansans couldn’t even declare party affiliation until 1996, after changes in 1995 to a state constitutional amendment added an optional party information box to registration forms.

But wait, Hammer has more:

“If you vote in a primary, you are declaring that you want a Republican or Democratic ballot for that year’s elections, that’s it,” said Carolyn Staley, the clerk in Pulaski County where Clark is registered. “If you come back for a primary two years later, you can choose to vote in the other party if you wish.”

Pulaski County records show that Clark registered to vote in 2002, casting a ballot in the Democratic primary and then voted in the general election.

Get it? Nobody registers for a party in Arkansas–ok, 95.6% of the people don’t. Instead they reveal their party by which primary they vote in, and Clark voted in the Democratic Primary in 2002, so the Democrat for just 25 days allegation is quite a stretch, and Franke-Rute’s presentation of the imbroglio is, once again, Safirian.

In fact, the very article Franke-Rute cites from the Manchester Union Leader contains Clark’s explanation for what happened (via a spokesperson):

Clark spokesman Kym Spell told us last night that Clark was mistaken about his registration in his Union Leader interview. “He had filled out the paperwork but it never got down to the office,” she said.

“We discovered that when Business Week called.” She said that “with all the excitement of the past two weeks, it never got filed.

“We’ve got it here (in Little Rock),” she said. And when he returns there, she said, he’ll file it.

Sorry about that,” Spell added.

Now, that may or may not be true, but if a writer wants to call Clark a liar or an exaggerator, at least include the subject’s explanation.

And, I’m on a roll now. Here’s another cause for suspicion. The Manchester article’s next nugget criticizes Clark for recently saying “First of all I would change the secretary of defense. . . [if Clark were in charge of Iraq]”. Then the hammer strikes:

But in December 2000 Clark, on NBC’s “Today” show, had called Rumsfeld “an inspired choice. He’s got great experience, he’s got great international stature, he knows the issues.

Mon Deiu and Sacre Bleu! What a giant flip-flop! Could anything have happened between December 2000 and last freakin’ weekend that might have changed a General’s mind, or that of any sane person in these United States, about Rumsfeld’s competency?

Finally, the TAP author in question waxes on her independence:

Like Clark, I am an independent. But it was a big deal for me when I went down to the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and switched my party registration from Democrat to independent in 1999. It is that technicality only — that little “piece of paper” — that prevents me from calling myself a member of the Democratic Party. Yet it symbolizes a great deal more. And, because of that piece of paper, if I went around calling myself a Democrat, I’d be lying.

This may be true, but her bio shows that she went from the Washington City Paper (a worthy but very liberal alternative weekly in DC) to the American Prospect, so she’s more likely to be independent as in disgruntled left/Green than independent as in the center. In fact, she’s basically out as a Dean supporter (see this, this, and this). That’s fine. But don’t blog about this as if you are a neutral party: “The sad part of all this is that the question of party affiliation could have been handled in such a different way.” The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

The actually sad part is when liberals–registered or not–waste time taking specious and disingenuous popshots like these at any of the Democratic candidates. Don’t feed the Rove, especially not with lies, for he thrives on them like sweet, sweet, mother’s milk.

As far as Fact Check Clark Part II goes, Garance seems to have one valid but very trivial point (Clark did not have the first interview with a blogger–as a Clark04.com, not Clark himself, previously claimed; Liberal Oasis interviewed Dean by email earlier) and one invalid and trivial point (Clark probably actually did have the first face-to-face interview with a blogger–Dean answering questions from bloggers probably isn’t really an interview).


P.S. Also at Tapped, Matt Y. has a bit more on the not really a Dem allegation.

UPDATE: Link added to explain what “Safirian” means (and to correct the spelling error).