A Clinton Spin or a Gross Misunderstanding? NPR’s Terry Gross Confronts Clinton on Long Opposition To Same-Sex Marriage

225px-Hillary_Clinton_official_Secretary_of_State_portrait_crop200px-Terry_GrossWe have been discussing the disconnect between the parties and the voters this year. The voters have made clear that they (1) detest the ruling elite and (2) want real change. The two parties controlling our duopoly have thus far responded with the Democrats virtually pre-nominating Hillary Clinton (with Joe Biden as a contender and the Republican leaders pushing for Jeb Bush. The process of reinvention has begun. Clinton has been a fascinating case study. Recently, she came out and said that her Iraq War vote was a “mistake” but that she has learned the truth over the years (despite refusing to listen to many who opposed the war at the time). Now, she is claiming the same gradual realization that gays and lesbians deserve equal rights in marriage. Usually in Washington media, politicians are allowed to make a spin, refuse to answer a question, that the media simply meekly fades away. As shown in the video below, however, this time Clinton was facing NPR icon Terry Gross who persisted in trying to unravel what she viewed as spin. While unfailingly polite, Gross kept returning to question of why Clinton for so many years did not support same-sex marriage. Eventually, Hillary expressed discomfort if not anger at the continued questioning. Putting aside the merits, most of us were shocked for another reason. There was a reporter who actually refused to let a politician duck and spin in an interview. It was like seeing a Phoenix rise in Washington journalism.

In January 2000 Clinton strongly opposed same-sex marriage but years later would modify her position to support civil unions. However, she remained steadfastly opposed to equality in marriage, as she made clear in her 2007 convention speech. This was strikingly (and some would say calculatingly) different from Obama who in 1996 said “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” (though he then abandoned that commitment as president until his second term).

In Washington, the media has never been so locked into respective political camps with reporters now consistently supporting either liberal or conservative lines. I have tremendous respect for NPR and consider it one of our premier media outfits. It is not a lock for politicians though it is viewed as a favorable forum by the Clinton camp, particularly an iconic liberal and feminist like Gross. Even with more neutral interviewers, politicians have become accustomed to simply refusing to answer questions with spin and the most you will get is a feeble followup before “moving on.” Thus, Clinton has been successful in fending out questions of her description of Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony toon.” Some reporters have raised whether a male politician would be skewered for such a comment, particularly when Bill Clinton admitted later than he lied on not having a relationship with “that woman.” However, Hillary simply said that it was past history and that we all needed to move on and the media complied. (For my part, I view the Lewinsky comment are a fair area for a pass. The fact is that Clinton was not just a politicians but the man’s wife. I think you get a pass in such a circumstance.). The mantra of only “looking forward” becomes more problematic when you are speaking of votes to commit the country to war or opposition to equality of marriage.

The confrontation was triggered when Gross asked, as an almost intellectual exercise, how politicians like Clinton make the political calculation not to support things like equal rights. Clinton (as with the Iraq War) portrayed her position as something that was almost pre-historic ancient history and had to go into the way back machine to describe what is was like. She suggested that virtually no one support it (her same spin on the Iraq War and everyone else was wrong too). That did not sit well with Gross who kept pointing out that at the time many American supported same-sex marriage and tried hard to get people like Clinton to listen but politicians like her were unwilling to risk the political backlash. Clinton dismisses those voices as a few early risers but portray this as a different time — apparently closer to the landing of Plymouth than the Stonewell riots. In the end, Hillary accuses Gross of “being very persistent” and “playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.”

Here are the eleven attempts to get Hillary to admit that she simply followed the politically expedient course over principle on the issue:

NPR’s TERRY GROSS: “So what’s it like when you’re in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage, that you actually believe in? Obviously you feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn’t support it. Correct me if I’m reading it wrong.”

HILLARY CLINTON: “I think you’re reading it very wrong. I think that, as I said – just as the president has said – just because you’re a politician doesn’t mean you’re not a thinking human being. You gather information, you think through positions, you’re not 100 percent set, thank goodness, you’re constantly re-evaluating where you stand. That is true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So for me, marriage has always been a matter left to the states and in many of the conversations I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists to work state-by-state. In fact, that is what is working and I think that being in the position that I was in the Senate, fighting employment discrimination which we still have some ways to go, was appropriate at that time.

As secretary of state, I was out of domestic politics and I was certainly doing all I could on the international scene to raise the importance of the human rights of the LGBT community. And then leaving that position, I was able to very quickly announce that I was fully in support of gay marriage and that it is now continuing to proceed state-by-state. I am very hopeful that we will make progress and see even more change and acceptance. One of my big problems right now is that too many people believe they have a direct line to the divine and they never want to change their mind about anything.They’re never open about new information and they like to operate in an evidence-free zone. I think it’s good if people continue to change.”
. . .
GROSS: “So you mention that you believe in state by state for gay marriage. But it’s a Supreme Court too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?”

CLINTON: “Of course. And you know, again, let’s… we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I’m proud of our country, I’m proud of the people who have been on the front lines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case. And there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to make it even more difficult and greater discrimination and what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn’t going to yet be recognized by the federal government but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband was the first to say, that you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA, thankfully, were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward and that’s what we’re doing.”
. . .
GROSS: “So, just to clarify, just one more question on this, would you say your view evolved since the ’90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?”
. . .
CLINTON: “I think I’m an American, I think that we have all evolved, and it’s been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations that I’m aware of.”
. . .
GROSS: “I understand but a lot of people believed in it already back in the ’90s. They supported gay marriage.”

CLINTON: “To be fair Terry, not that many. Were there activists who were ahead of their time, well that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to think about it, and grasp it for the first time, and think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did, or their son, or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast, by historic terms social, political, and legal transformation and we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground when in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward. Maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped but nevertheless, we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country is solidly established although there will be places, Texas just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle.”
. . .
GROSS: “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed –”
CLINTON: “Because I said I’m an American so of course we all evolved and I think that’s a fair conclusion –”
. . .
GROSS: “So you’re saying your opinion on gay marriage changed.”
CLINTON: “You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody is always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that those who join later, in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change, are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across the country if nobody changed their mind and thank goodness so many of us have.”
. . .
GROSS: “So that’s one for you changed your mind?”
CLINTON: You know I really, I have to say, I think you’re being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.”
. . .
GROSS: “I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand –”
CLINTON: “No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify. I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like I think you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress were making.”

. . .
GROSS: “You know I’m just saying, I’m sorry – I just want to clarify what I was saying – no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but, you know believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn’t ready yet and you couldn’t say it. That’s what I was thinking.”
CLINTON: “No. That is not true.”

CLINTON: “I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you did either. This was an incredible new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay right movement began to talk about and slowly, but surely, convinced others about the rightness of that position. When I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”
GROSS: “OK, thank you for clarifying that.”

When pushed Clinton seems to trip over the spin. For example, she at the end disagrees when Gross that “you now believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn’t ready yet.” Clinton clearly indicates that she did not believe in same-sex marriage. However, Gross made that comment because she just referred to how some people (presumably her) were “privately accepting that there needs to be change” and should not be viewed as “any less committed.” As with Iraq, Clinton seems to be striving to get points for eventually supporting something when it became popular to do so. While Gross noted that “a lot of people believed in it already back in the ’90s. They supported gay marriage,” Clinton dismissed the notion and said “To be fair Terry, not that many.” That will come as a surprise to many in this country. What is true is that there were “not that many” politicians in Congress who were willing to stand for equal rights in marriage. Clinton was not and, with the Iraq War, waited for the polls to change.

It was a rare moment in journalism today. Gross is already being criticized by some media members who support Clinton. They are appalled by her persistence on the question and Jonathan Capehart insisted he has covered her for years and never saw the slightest “political calculation in her opposition to same-sex marriage.” Carhart simply states that her positions has been “pretty much where the country was then.” However, that is not viewed as a political calculation. He just insists that “her march to ‘yes’ was maddeningly slow” but that there was “not a whiff” of politics in her position.

Because of Gross’s “persistence,” we have the most detailed answer from Clinton yet on the issue. Clinton does admit that she did not support equality in marriage personally, but insisted that she showed great integrity in changing her mind. However, what leaves people like Gross and other civil libertarians suspicious is that these epiphanies for Clinton always seem to occur when the polls change. When the polls shifted in favor of civil unions, Clinton realized that she supported civil unions but was still steadfastly opposed to equal marriage rights. Then the polls shifted in favor of equal marriage and Clinton realized that she now supported the concept. It is not the change but the timing that leaves so many suspicious.

With the recent pivot on the Iraq War using the same spin (this was ancient history and she had to be educated over the years), it will be interesting if the New Hillary will be the type of change that citizens will accept. It will be the ultimate test for the standard view of politicians that voters have the memory of golden retriever puppies. For my part (despite the attacks on Gross from the Clinton camp), I would love to see other journalists show the same “persistence,” which used to be viewed as a positive thing in a reporter. We just might be able to get some answers from all of our leaders instead of the same spin written by political handlers. Very few reporters in Washington are willing to alienate a powerful politician or her supporters with such persistent questioning but it is a refreshing change seen on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

233 thoughts on “A Clinton Spin or a Gross Misunderstanding? NPR’s Terry Gross Confronts Clinton on Long Opposition To Same-Sex Marriage”

  1. Darren – I suppose you could just get a sticker that said Obama and paste it over the Bush.

  2. Darren Smith


    I wonder if those having [Bush Lied] bumper stickers will now add [Obama Lied]. I guess if they do they will place Obama’s next to their Parking Pass., or their Government Exempt License Plate.
    A discussion of the font size of the bumper sticker text might be interesting.

    Like the new subject-popularity-gadget that does blog post rankings by changing font size (e.g. bigger = better).

  3. Paul C. Schulte

    Annie – I voted for Mickey Mouse, friend of the common person, in the last two Presidential elections.
    Minnie is polling very well at the moment in the polls.

    Every time the rats get after her she gets a boost in the polls.

    Easy to see why she agreed to an interview by Slicky Fox.

    Anyway, are you going to vote for her?

    1. Dredd – I think Minnie Mouse would make a great first lady. For one, she is used to entertaining and would get great with the Easter Egg Hunt.

  4. Clinton did an EXCELLENT job in that joint interview on Fox. Impressive.

  5. The Queen is on Fox w/ Greta in 20 minutes. Greta had a voice coach help her get her horrible voice down a few octaves but it slips often times. The old voice makes my skin crawl. The Queen makes my skin crawl. So, it’s going to take real self discipline. Greta will ask real questions.

  6. Bob, Queen Hillary’s people DEMANDED Christiana be the moderator. I did not even bother to watch. Tapper was the person to do it. Christiana is a shill.

  7. Paul,

    I too acknowledge that Obama is a liar and a greater hypocrite than G.W. Bush. Furthermore, the democrats that adore him and apologize for him are just as deluded as the republicans who lied to themselves about Bush; e.g. you.

    Truth is not dependent upon political loyalties.

    Perhaps someday you’ll mature enough to realize that.

    1. Bob, Esq – your biggest mistake and one that calls everything you say into question is calling me a republican.

  8. And Paul, I’m not attacking you; I’m attacking your concept of “truth”

    Therefore not an attack on the man.

  9. Paul,

    Just because you’ve lost faith in yourself doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith in you.

    There will come a day when you will finally realize that we did land on the moon; that the Holocaust did happen; and that the Bush administration did in fact defraud the country into war.

  10. Paul,

    To attempt to carry on an argument with someone who is self-referential enough to be deemed a solipsist is simply irrational.

    You, on the other hand, are simply confused about the concept of truth.

    1. Bob, Esq – I know what truth is, but as a lawyer (and I am assuming because of the use of Esq) that you were or are a lawyer, do you actually know what is true?

      Here are some current truths over the last five years.
      • I will have the most transparent administration in history.
      • The stimulus will fund shovel-ready jobs.
      • I am focused like a laser on creating jobs.
      • The IRS is not targeting anyone.
      • It was a spontaneous riot about a movie.
      • If I had a son.
      • I will put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division, conflict and cynicism”.
      • You didn’t build that!
      • I will restore trust in Government.
      • The Cambridge cops acted stupidly.
      • The public will have 5 days to look at every bill that lands on my desk
      • It’s not my red line – it is the world’s red line.
      • Whistle blowers will be protected in my administration.
      • We got back every dime we used to rescue the banks and auto companies, with interest.
      • I am not spying on American citizens.
      • Obama Care will be good for America .
      • You can keep your family doctor.
      • Premiums will be lowered by $2500.
      • If you like it, you can keep your current healthcare plan.
      • It’s just like shopping at Amazon.
      • I knew nothing about “Fast and Furious” gunrunning to Mexican drug cartels.
      • I knew nothing about IRS targeting conservative groups.
      • I knew nothing about what happened in Benghazi .
      • I have never known my uncle from Kenya who is in the country illegally and that was arrested and told to leave the country over 20 years ago..
      • And, I have never lived with that uncle. He finally admitted (12-05-2013) that he DID know his uncle and that he DID live with him.
      And the biggest one of all:
      • “I, Barrack Hussein Obama, pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America .”

      1. Paul,

        I wonder if those having [Bush Lied] bumper stickers will now add [Obama Lied]. I guess if they do they will place Obama’s next to their Parking Pass., or their Government Exempt License Plate.

  11. Bob, Esq – ad hominem attacks are beneath you, but you have lowered yourself to them before. I am not going to discuss this issue with you anymore because I am never going to change your mind and you are never going to change mine.

  12. Bob, Esq – what we have learned about you is that you cannot debate with Eric. And the sources you pick on Apollo 11 know little about Kubrick.

  13. I just caught a glimpse of the Clinton “town hall” thing on CNN.

    The only words that come to mind are “love fest.”

    “No holds barred,” “tough questions” — what a joke.

  14. Paul,

    Whether you’re being glib or serious we have established one thing.

    Your reputation for truth and veracity in this community is quite poor.

    1. leejcaroll – fyi – the mission accomplished banner was for the carrier not the President and was ordered by the carrier commander.

  15. Paul,

    If you still have trouble with the concept of “truth” — here’s something to soothe your troubled soul.

    “It has now been forty years since the fabled moon landings
    by NASA and the Apollo gang. When it comes to the subject of the moon landings, people tend to fall into two belief groups. The first group, by far the bigger of the two groups, accepts the fact that NASA successfully landed on the moon six times and that 12 human beings have actually walked on the surface of the moon. The second group, though far smaller, is more vocal about their beliefs. This group says that we never went to the moon and that the entire thing was faked.

    This essay presents a third position on this issue. This third point of view falls somewhere between these two assertions. This third position postulates that humans did go to the moon but what we saw on TV and in photographs was completely faked.

    Furthermore, this third position reveals that the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick is the genius who directed the hoaxed landings.”


    1. Bob, Esq, – Kubrick was directing Napoleon, which got shut down just before the moon landing. Of all the directors, he is unlikely to have been the one to have done it.

  16. False pretenses

    Following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq

    President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

    Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

    On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.

    It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group,whose “Duelfer Report” established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq’s nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.

    In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.


  17. The Niger Allegation

    One of the most notorious instances of the Bush administration using thoroughly discredited information to frighten the American public was the 16 words in Bush’s January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The Niger allegation was false, and the Bush administration knew it was false.

    Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador to Iraq, was sent to Niger by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate a supposed memo that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake (a form of lightly processed ore) to Iraq by Niger in the late 1990s. Wilson reported back to the CIA that it was “highly doubtful” such a transaction had ever taken place.

    On March 7, 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei told the UN Security Council that “based on thorough analysis” his agency concluded that the “documents which formed the basis for the report of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic.” Indeed, author Craig Unger uncovered at least 14 instances prior to the 2003 State of the Union address in which analysts at the CIA, the State Department, or other government agencies that had examined the Niger documents “raised serious doubts about their legitimacy — only to be rebuffed by Bush administration officials who wanted to use them.”

    On October 5 and 6, 2002, the CIA sent memos to the National Security Council, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and to the White House Situation Room stating that the Niger information was no good.

    On January 24, 2003, four days before the president’s State of the Union address, the CIA’s National Intelligence Council, which oversees all federal agencies that deal with intelligence, sent a memo to the White House stating that “the Niger story is baseless and should be laid to rest.”

    — Vincent Bugliosi

  18. The 9/11 Lie

    The Bush administration put undue pressure on U.S. intelligence agencies to provide it with conclusions that would help them in their quest for war. Bush’s former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, said that on September 12, 2001, one day after 9/11, “The President in a very intimidating way left us — me and my staff — with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11.”

    Bush said on October 7, 2002, “We know that Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy — the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high level contacts that go back a decade,” and that “Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gasses.” Of Hussein, he said on November 1, 2002, “We know he’s got ties with Al Qaeda.”

    Even after Bush admitted on September 17, 2003, that he had “no evidence” that Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11, he audaciously continued, in the months and years that followed, to clearly suggest, without stating it outright, that Hussein was involved in 9/11.

    On March 20, 2006, Bush said, “I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack on America.”

    – Vincent Bugliosi

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