The Clinton campaign sent cease and desist letters to four local television stations in Florida on Monday demanding they stop airing an anti-Hillary Clinton attack ad that features First Lady Michelle Obama, one of Clinton’s most fierce and affectionate advocates in this year’s campaign, taking what some have interpreted as a swipe at the Clintons during the 2008 election.
The ad, titled “Can’t Run Her House” and paid for by a pro-Donald Trump Super PAC, includes a clip of Michelle Obama speaking at a campaign event in Chicago on Aug. 12, 2007, when her husband, Barack Obama, and Clinton were in the midst of a heated primary fight for the Democratic nomination.
“One of the things, the important aspects of this race, is role modeling what good families should look like,” Michelle Obama says in the clip. “And my view, if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. Can’t do it.”
Michelle Obama’s comments received attention at the time after Jennifer Hunter, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times in 2007, covered them in a column, writing, “Michelle said she travels with her husband in part ‘to model what it means to have family values,’ adding ‘if you can’t run your own house, you can’t run the White House.’ She didn’t elaborate, but it could be interpreted as a swipe at the Clintons.”
The conservative Drudge Report then ran with the story, headlining it “Michelle Obama Slamming Hillary Clinton.” Fox News and other cable news networks followed suit.
But The Washington Post reported that immediately after Hunter’s column was published, she received an email from Michelle Obama’s communications director, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, denying that the remarks were a reference to Clinton and providing further context.
Here are Michelle Obama’s comments in context, according to the Post: “One of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values, is he somebody that respects family, is a good and decent person? So our view is that if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. So we’ve adjusted our schedule to make sure that our girls are first, so when he’s traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning. I get the girls ready. I get them off. I go and do trips. I’m home before bedtime.”
Lelyveld later told Hunter in a phone conversation that Michelle Obama “was only referring to her family and making sure her girls are guided and strong.” President Obama also emphatically denied that his wife’s comments were aimed at Clinton, telling CNN at the time, “There was no reference beyond her point that we have had an administration that talks a lot about family values but doesn’t follow through.”
Hunter wrote a follow-up column explaining that she had misinterpreted Michelle Obama’s comments and saying, “My mistake was not grabbing Michelle Obama when she left to ask for further elaboration.”
The new anti-Clinton ad — paid for by the Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC, a subsidiary of the Make America Number 1 PAC, which supports Trump’s campaign — nevertheless portrays Michelle Obama’s remarks as criticism of Clinton, concluding with the words: “Michelle Obama doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton. Doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement.”
Kristina Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Make America Number 1, defended the use of the footage to the Post, saying, “It certainly was considered by many to be a knock on the Clintons when it was said during the 2007/08 primaries. People should be able to judge for themselves, and thanks to the First Amendment we can give them the opportunity to make that judgment.”
But the Clinton campaign is fighting back. Sources familiar with the situation told Buzzfeed News that a lawyer for Hillary for America sent the cease and desist letters to WFLA-TV in Tampa, Cox Cable in Gainesville, Bright House Cable in Orlando, and WESH-TV in Orlando.
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Make America Number 1 lawyer Larry Levy followed up with a letter of his own, telling the stations the Clinton camp’s demand was an attempt to “deny the public an opportunity to view our advertisement because it is ‘false and misleading.’ In reality, [Hillary for America] simply finds it politically inconvenient that a top surrogate for its candidate once held a differing view concerning her qualifications for office.”
PAC spokesperson Hogan Gidley also said in a statement: “Hillary’s just angry because the ad is impactful, it’s working and it speaks directly to the women she’s been trying to con for years. Hillary’s own campaign said when Michelle Obama speaks out, ‘it has a real impact,’ and indeed, we agree – because it was Mrs. Obama who correctly pointed out Hillary Clinton ‘certainly can’t run the White House.’ ”
Buzzfeed News reported that on Thursday, the PAC expanded their ad buy to North Carolina, where Clinton and Michelle Obama recently campaigned together in a joint appearance, where Mrs. Obama called Clinton “my girl” and told a crowd in Winston-Salem: “And if people wonder, yes, Hillary Clinton is my friend.”
According to The Washington Post, the PAC said its research shows that the ad is unusually effective in reducing support for Clinton.
That certainly seems possible, considering the Clinton camp’s swift reaction and the fact that Michelle Obama is now seen as one of the most effective advocates for Clinton in her current presidential campaign.
The first lady had high praise for Clinton when they campaigned side by side for the first time at a rally in North Carolina last week.
Obama referred to Clinton as “my girl” and began her speech by taking a moment to express her gratitude for the former secretary of state. “It takes a level of generosity of spirit to do what Hillary has done in her career, in her life for our family, for this nation,” she said. “And if people wonder, yes, Hillary Clinton is my friend. She has been a friend to me and Barack and Malia and Sasha, and Bill and Chelsea have been embracing and supportive from the very day my husband took the oath of office.”
“So I am grateful for Hillary — for her leadership, for her courage, and for what she is going to do for this country.”
How’s that for an endorsement?