The Clintons’ Tricky Way With Words – Jack Shafer – POLITICO Magazine

Bill Clinton (a.k.a. Slick Willy)

Bill Clinton (a.k.a. Slick Willy)

The press scrutinizes every utterance from the House of Clinton, parsing the couple’s words for new or hidden meanings—and for good reason. The two have a devious way with words. Bill Clinton, whose verbal cunning dwarfs that of almost anyone on the public stage, cemented his trickster reputation in 1998 when he claimed he did “not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” and offered, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” In some universe, Bill was on the level in his remarks. Unfortunately for him, it was not this one.

So when Hillary Clinton, a veteran crisis manager in her own right, spoke twice about “not saving” her personal emails at her press conference yesterday instead of picking the more direct and active “deleted,” newsroom ears pricked up, scanning for the lie or the omission or the message manipulation. “Not saving” sounds like the sensible and casual abandonment of something that has lost its value, like the gray water that gushes from your washer during a rinse cycle. “Deleted,” on the other hand, sounds purposeful, almost sinister if have reason to suspect that the speaker is not being candid with you—and who among us, even her fans, thinks that Hillary Clinton is ever candid?

Clinton may have anticipated that if she was stupid enough to use the “D” word in her press conference, The Daily Show would have ridiculed her by running the clip in a continuous loop, and that her political opponents would have splice it into their attack videos. A confession about deleting rather than not saving emails would have prompted much more vocal accusations that she had shredded “evidence.” Still, using the phrase “not saving” has come with its own costs, inviting the press to tweeze her press conference transcript for new clues of wrongdoing or perfidy.

Still, isn’t changing the subject what crisis management is all about? By that measure Clinton’s press conference must be counted as a minor success. Especially effective—at least in the moment—was the obviously scripted line she used four times, in which she said, “Looking back,” using two phones and two email accounts would have been wiser. To sympathetic ears, “looking back” sounded like an apology. But it wasn’t, any more so than saying, “Looking back, I wish I had purchased Apple stock in March 2000 when it was $5 a share” constitutes an apology to your children now that you’re broke.

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