HILLARY CLINTON SPUTTERED one line of scrambled syntax last week about her 1996 trip to Bosnia that has lodged in my head and driven me bonkers. I patiently waited for some reporter or another to ask her about it. Exasperated, I called the Clinton campaign myself to ask about this piece of incomplete English from Hillary: “Look, I made a mistake and, you know, I had a different memory and my staff and others have all kind of come together, you know, trying to sort out —” Clinton said without finishing her sentence. And then she added: “So I made a mistake, that happens, because I’m human, which, you know, for some people is a revelation.”
I wanted her campaign to tell me what missing words she would have used to complete that phrase about her staff and others coming together — to sort out exactly what? No answer from the Clinton camp.
And none really necessary. It hardly takes a fervent imagination to figure out what Hillary was about to say and why she suddenly stopped herself midsentence. Clearly, she was recklessly thinking aloud about how her staff could sort out what exactly happened that day in the Tuzla airfield, when she was greeted by an 8-year-old reading a poem to her. And then she would adjust her rhetoric to somehow fit the truth. Or did I get this wrong?
Why would anyone except a schizophrenic or a congenital liar need her staff to sort out whether or not she was under sniper fire?
I speak from multiple firsthand experiences when I say being around gunfire is an overwhelming sensation that can never, ever be forgotten. You can’t confuse it with something else. You can’t honestly misspeak about it. Most people in this country, fortunately, never experience it — even at a distance — and therefore cannot fully comprehend its physical and psychological impact. It’s downright soul-shatteringly traumatic when it’s coming in at you.
Neither TV nor even a THX-amplified big screen can begin to transmit the sort of psychological and physical wallop packed by a gunshot. At age 16, when I squeezed off my first round from an aging Argentine Mauser, absolutely nothing had prepared me for the deafening blast nor the punishing kick of the rifle butt, which deeply bruised my shoulder and triggered a sweeping wave of nausea. And that was me shooting at a tin can.
It was in October 1973, while covering the Yom Kippur War from Cairo, that I first felt what it was like to actually be the target of gunfire. And what an introduction! A few days after the cease-fire, while out in the Sinai on a media dog-and-pony show led by the Egyptian army, our press caravan wandered into the buffer zone between the two opposing sides. For our sins, an Israeli fighter jet buzzed us, hung an aerial U-turn, then swooped down to make a second pass and fired a few warning potshots at us. By then, we were all cowering under the Egyptian jeeps (the very worst place to be!), but as I felt the impact of the rounds striking the sand yards away from us — maybe dozens of yards away — the trauma was still overwhelming. I readily confess to panicking, crying, then shake, rattle and rolling for at least the next few days.
A decade later, I was caught in the crossfire between Salvadoran troops and insurgent guerrillas. A Chilean cameraman standing 10 feet from me was mortally shot through the throat. As he lay bleeding on the ground and more incoming fire popped around us, I felt like I was going to black out. That’s putting it mildly. All I can say is that after I survived two brief sojourns in the ICU last year, including a rather electrifying moment with a set of cardio paddles, nothing I felt in the hospital came close to those moments of terror I lived through in El Salvador.
I’LL SPARE YOU THE DETAILS of the other three times I was fired at in El Salvador. But more than 25 years later in two of those cases, and 21 years later in the third, I can still recall the precise time, place and circumstances, including what clothes I was wearing. It’s impossible for me to mistake, mix up or misspeak about any of those moments because — to put it bluntly — I’ve been regularly replaying them in my head since they occurred.
Which brings us full circle to Hillary Clinton. She flat-out lied about sniper fire she didn’t experience. The anecdote she repeated, again and again and again, was consciously fabricated. And it took a clown like Sinbad to blow the whistle on her — and on a national media that for weeks had been lazily chewing her story like a fresh-mown load of cud.
All politicians lie to some degree or another. The dynamics of a presidential campaign are such that all candidates must stretch, trim or embellish the truth. No reason to be alarmed or scandalized. But Hillary’s Bosnia lie is the undisputed whopper of this campaign season — at least on the Democratic side. It’s disgusting as well as intellectually insulting. And it’s rather ghoulish, I think. To so baldly and falsely capitalize on a nightmare that thousands of Bosnians survived and which — I guarantee — they relive on a daily basis, is to reveal a Hillary that is truly neither human nor humane.