Mickey Kantor, the former Secretary of Commerce and adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, was in his D.C. law office this morning when an e-mail link arrived in his inbox from an undisclosed recipient.
It was a clip to D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ landmark 1993 documentary, "The War Room," a chronicle of Clinton’s election bid.
In the scene, the results of some polling information have just come in, and James Carville, George Stephanopoulos and Kantor are jubiliant at the good news.
Yet on the YouTube clip, it sounds like Kantor says, “Look at Indiana, wait, wait – look at Indiana. 42-40. It doesn’t matter if we win. Those people are shit. Excuse me."
And in another clip on the YouTube post, with subtitles attached, Kantor appears to refer to Stephanopoulos with a racial slur, the "N" word.
As it turns out, the clip had been doctored or manipulated.
The video had travelled around the Internet for much of Thursday afternoon, and was picked up by many political blogs and given prominent placement on YouTube. Just days before the Indiana primary on Tuesday, the implication, obviously, was that a well-known member of the Clinton team dissed the Hoosier state as well as the African-American community, albeit 16 years ago.
"It is absolutely false, phonied and doctored," Kantor told me this afternoon.
In his use of the word, "shit," Kantor says, he was referring to what he thought the reaction would be in the White House to the bad polling, not to residents of Indiana.
As for the racial slur, "I have never in my life used that word, never."
This is backed up by Pennebaker himself, who spent much of Friday morning checking a transcript made during the production (where the transcriber apparently had access to a better audio reading) and checking and re-checking the film itself.
The transcript shows a slightly different quote that the one immediately apparent on the YouTube vid:
Kantor says, "Look at Indiana. Wait, wait. Look at Indiana. Forty-two, forty. It doesn’t matter if we win. Those people are shitting (Oh, excuse me) in the White House. How would you like to be…Look at Texas, go down to Texas."
And no instance is found at all where Kantor makes a racial slur.
Pennebaker says that the YouTube clip’s time comes out longer than the one in the actual movie. "Whether they did tamper with the actual soundtrack, it is hard for me to tell," he says.
As a filmmaker accustomed to observing on the sidelines, Pennebaker says that he was that he was a little surprised to be thrust into the fray, particularly over a movie that was made so long ago.
"You realize what kind of fierce animosity this sort of thing brings out," he says. "They are so angry at what they consider to be the other side.
"I am amazed that so much energy is expended for something that is really very minor."
Kantor, meanwhile, calls the video "false and defamatory," but has yet to discover its source. He says that YouTube officials contacted him and said they were "deeply disturbed by this." (The video appears to have been taken down).
"It shows the danger, and concern, that we all ought to have, that people can post these things and use modern technology to do it," he says. "Suddenly, it just washes over you like a tsunami.
"But I am lucky. I have a lot of friends who jumped right on it. For a normal person, you wouldn’t even know where to start. What would you do?"