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13 June 2000

A Howler EXTRA: Let’s play foul ball

Synopsis: Steve Roberts knew the ’bite about Hill and the Yanks. But a reader knew something quite different.

Commentary by Steve Roberts
Late Edition, CNN, 6/11/00

At Picnic for Ken Burns’ ‘Baseball,’ Hopes are High for Extra Innings
Donnie Radcliffe, The Washington Post, 9/12/94

Steve Roberts knew the Official Approved Soundbite. He was offering up, for the three millionth time, the old saw about Hill and the Yanks. Mrs. Clinton had done a slide show at a dinner; in every picture, she wore a dubbed-in Yankees cap. To judge from the tape, it got a good laugh. But as usual, a pundit knew better:

ROBERTS: Look, I agree that she's smart to be self-deprecating because she is not naturally a particularly warm person, I mean she comes across a pretty frosty character on the campaign trail, whereas Lazio's kind of this puppy dog lapping at everybody but, she has had a problem with the carpetbagger issue. I'm a real Yankee fan, Wolf. I spent the last two days in Yankee Stadium with my Yankee hat, but I've been wearing one for 50 years. I think a lot of New Yorkers have resented the fact that she is coming in and tried to portray herself so she's probably smart to kid about it because it was a problem. She is not a New Yorker, she's a Chicago Cubs fan.

To be fair, we note that Roberts had all the Putdowns in place. Mrs. Clinton likes to pander. Rick Lazio? Just a warm pup.

We're sure we weren't the only ones who groaned at the stock recitations. In fact, we know we weren't alone, because a reader sent a bracing e-mail which brought us right out of our seats. Our reader had watched the Roberts 'bite; Derek McGinty gave it on ABC, too. But this viewer didn't get mad—he got busy. Here's what he memorably said:

E-MAILER: Here's an idea for a story. At least two commentators today (Derek McGinty on This Week and Steve Roberts on Late Edition) scoffed once more at the idea that Hillary Clinton is a Yankees fan. It's a small point, but the press has universally concluded that this is an example of Hillary's desperation to paint herself as a New Yorker. But a little research would show that she in fact is a lifelong Yankees fan. In a September 12, 1994 article in The Washington Post, entitled "The White House Pitches In; At Picnic for Ken Burns's 'Baseball,' Hopes Are High for Extra Innings," it was reported that Mrs. Clinton "as a kid was a..."

But let's not kill the suspense. Our team of analysts leaped to their desks, and shelled out $1.50 to check 'er on out. And sure enough—Donnie Radcliffe had written a piece about a picnic to honor Ken Burns. And yep—at the end of the piece, the talented scribe had really gone right to the beef. It seems that the lapdog Burns had praised the First Spouse for an excellent swing playing softball:

RADCLIFFE: "That was a great swing," Burns told her. "Did you get some batting practice before the screening, just to warm up?"

Gag us, with an old Yankees scorecard. Anyway, here's what came right after that:

RADCLIFFE (continuing directly): Mrs. Clinton, who as a kid was a "big-time" fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and "understudied" Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle, smiled. Another favorite was Satchel Paige and his advice on how to stay healthy.

Huh! All the way back in 1994, Mrs. C had told a Post scribe that she always had cheered for the Yanks! Radcliffe didn't know what a bombshell she had. But here's how she closed out her profile:

RADCLIFFE (continuing directly): "I always loved 'Don't look back, someone might be gaining on you,'" she said.

Why, she even had "Satch" quoted right!

For ourselves, we never quite understood why Mrs. Clinton's story had seemed so bizarre to the press corps. If you're for the Cubs, you hate the Sox, and no one used to torment the Sox like those implacable Yankees. But, as we've noted again and again, our pundits live for memorized putdowns—especially those that support favored tales. Here's how our e-mailer put it:

E-MAILER: Other articles of similar vintage describe her as driving her brothers crazy with her affection for Mantle. I would imagine that contemporaneous biographies of her make the same point. Just another example of journalists running in a pack and spouting off preconceived notions of what "must" be true rather than bothering to find out the facts.

Dude! Please! Get a small grip! Never put the phrase "find out the facts" in a sentence describing our press corps!!

As we've long told you: The press corps tells you the stories they like. Pundits enjoyed the tale as Roberts told it. But to Mrs. C, we offer a moral: If Satchel Paige were alive today, he'd likely have a different watchword. "Never look back, because someone will spin it." But then, you may have already known that.