Chelsea Clinton's September 11th experience

On our show last Friday, Dick Morris said Hillary Clinton is lying in saying her daughter Chelsea was near the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Senator Clinton made the comments in an interview she gave a week after the attacks and Morris says Chelsea contradicted her mother in her own article five months later. The former aide to President Clinton and now syndicated columnist uses this to attack the Senator’s credibility.

But on closer inspection of both Clinton’s accounts, the truth is a little more nuanced. Chelsea wrote that she was watching television in a Union Square apartment when the planes hit, but was in the World Trade Center’s vicinity when they actually collapsed. Senator Clinton seemed to indicate Chelsea was there “when the planes hit,” seemingly confusing this with the event that happened an hour later.

On September 17th 2001, Hillary told Jane Pauley on NBC’s dateline that Chelsea had gone on “what she thought would be a great jog” and that she was going to go around the towers. She followed this with, “and then the plane hit,” leaving the impression that Chelsea was jogging downtown at the time of the collision.

In November, 2001, Chelsea wrote an article in the now-defunct Talk magazine about the day’s experience, and this is where the contradiction arises. Based on press reports of the article, Chelsea doesn’t mention anything about a jog, but she talks about seeing the plane hit the tower on television in the apartment.

Morris took this to mean that Chelsea’s story turns Hillary’s on its head, making Hillary an outright liar and on our show last Friday (and in his book), Morris characterized Hillary’s comments like this:

‘Chelsea decided it would be a great day for a morning jog and she jogged around the towers of the world trade center. She heard the airplane hit, she heard it she did. And she was saved because she had ducked into a coffee shop.’ Now we know that’s a lie. Chelsea 5 months later wrote an article for Talk magazine saying she was home in her apartment.

With these comments, Morris says you get the impression that Hillary’s account puts Chelsea downtown when the planes hit. Here are Hillary’s comments as quoted from a transcript of the Dateline piece he refers to:

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: She'd gone what she thought would be a great jog. She was going down to the Battery Park, she was going to go around the towers. She went to get a cup of coffee and--and that's when the plane hit.

PAULEY: She was close enough to hear the rumble.

Sen. CLINTON: She did hear it. She did.

PAULEY: And to see the smoke...

Hillary doesn’t mention anything about Chelsea being “saved” by the coffee shop, but the mention of jogging so close to the planes being hit, might suggest Chelsea was in more danger than she actually was.

Also, Morris says Hillary is referring to the planes hitting when Hillary says, “she did hear it,” but the rumble they refer to is more likely to be the towers collapsing than a planes’ collision. (and there is always the possibility that NBC edited out comments in between).

At the time of Chelsea’s article, Matt Drudge made a big deal of this by quoting Chelsea as saying she was “miles from Ground Zero -- when she learned of the attacks!”

But Chelsea did write that she was downtown when the towers actually collapsed (“12 blocks away”). She had over an hour to get from Union Square (where she saw the – presumably second – collision at 9:03 AM ) to lower Manhattan (where she was when the towers collapsed at 10:05 AM). Mapquest estimates the distance at 2.1 miles. Here’s a quote from the Talk magazine article (as reported by The Chicago Tribune):

I remember very little about how I got so far downtown…I do remember standing in line at a phone somewhere and hearing a deafening rumble

On the show, Morris used this as a reason that Hillary Clinton would not make a good President:

Take that as an index of character and personality. Do you want a president who completely and utterly, makes out of whole cloth, not an exaggeration, fabrication, makes something like that up in order to bond more closely with the rescue workers, the cops, the firemen who booed her offstage?

We will take calls on this later in the week, but in the meantime, email us your thoughts.