On January 8th Gen. Wesley Clark met with the Concord Monitor’s editorial board. The following day the paper ran an editorial in the paper with the headline, “Clark’s Guarantee,” quoting the candidate: “If I’m president of the United States, I’m going to take care of the American people. We are not going to have one of these incidents.” Clark clarified his position later that day, stating “Nobody can guarantee anything in life but it’s clear that we can do much more to prevent an attack on the American homeland.”

This incident prompted a heated exchange of words between Gen. Clark and John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader in last night’s Democratic Presidential debate. DiStaso asked Clark, “General Clark, earlier this month you said that if elected, there will be no more 9/11s in the United States. Then you scaled back, saying no one can guarantee anything in life. Some might say that leaves a little bit of an air of inconsistency in your positions. What exactly at this point are you guaranteeing along those lines?”

Clark began his response, “What I’m saying is I believe President Bush must be held accountable,” and continued by arguing that the Bush administration did not do everything it could to prevent 9/11, needlessly took us to war with Iraq, and that his top priority as President would be to make America safe.

DiStaso’s original question accurately mirrored Clark’s statements from January 8th and 9th. However, DiStaso blurred fact and fiction in his follow-up question to Clark’s original answer: “General, a top priority — sure, that’s everyone’s top priority. That’s a far cry, some might say, from a guarantee. So…” At this point Clark interrupted DiStaso. “I never used the word ‘guarantee.’ I never said that, John.”

And Clark’s right he never did say “guarantee.” As you read above, the Concord Monitor editorial board inserted the word “guarantee” with its headline on January 9th.

Thus, there is no excuse for any of this morning’s papers to make it seem as if “guarantee” had actually flowed from Clark’s mouth. Yet today’s Boston Globe reports that “One panelist asked Clark what he meant when he said this month that if he were president, he would guarantee no more terrorist attacks.” The Globe goes on to give a brief summary of the facts, but the damage is already done by inserting DiStaso’s innuendo into the record.

Whether or not you think the statement “We are not going to have one of these incidents” is synonymous with a “guarantee” is your opinion. But what is not opinion, is whether or not Clark in his initial promise ever used the word “guarantee.” He didn’t.

—Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.