Clinton vs. the Press
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2004; 8:27 AM
I suppose I should get back to blogging the campaign, but this Clinton media psychodrama is more fascinating than, say, John Kerry's new ad on reducing health care paperwork.
More on the campaign shortly. But you can't turn on the tube without seeing another talking head putting Clinton on the couch, discussing his book party or assessing his veracity.
The former president always had a push-pull relationship with the press. He was boosted early in '92 by some sympathetic columnists like Joe Klein, then savaged over Gennifer-and-marijuana-and-the-draft. And then boosted by effusive coverage of the Clinton/Gore bus tour.
The same pattern took hold during his tenure: upbeat stories about Clinton the triangulator who stole some of the GOP's best issues (welfare reform, balanced budget) competed with scandal coverage of Whitewater, the travel office, campaign finance, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Monica. Clinton would rail against the press one day and schmooze with favored columnists the next.
The Women, by the way, are back. Sean Hannity interviewed Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey on his radio show yesterday. Clinton writes in the book that Willey's allegation that he fondled her in the Oval Office "wasn't true," and recounts how he released positive letters Willey had written him after she told her tale on "60 Minutes." Willey told Hannity that Clinton is "horrible" and "pathetic" and tried to "ruin" her.
The former president still hasn't gotten over the Whitewater/Lewinsky coverage, as Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher gleans from "My Life" (warning: to my surprise, there's a brief reference to me).
"At one point he says, 'some Whitewater reporters were actually covering up evidence of our innocence.' He also accuses the press of focusing too much on his 'character problems,' though he admits that he made a big mistake when he revealed that he smoked marijuana but 'didn't inhale.' What he really meant, he says, is 'I couldn't inhale.' He'd tried, but failed.
"One problem, he says, is that the elite press in New York and Washington 'had negative preconceptions about a poor, rural state and the people who lived there.' At one point, in describing the Whitewater coverage, he hails a 'fair story' in USA Today, but what he 'couldn't believe was that The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others in the media I had always respected and trusted had been sucker punched' by Clinton foes such as Jim Johnson and Floyd Brown.
"He then recounts a conversation with old friend Nicholas Katzenbach, then on the board of The Washington Post, telling him that he was 'ashamed of the paper's coverage on Whitewater.'
"Later, in a lengthy passage, he recounts how the Times and Post overlooked an important report related to the Starr investigation favorable to Clinton, while the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Washington Times downplayed it. To be fair, he notes that Howard Kurtz of The Post wrote an article about the report being buried, and also praises an account by Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News."
That's the polite version. Clinton seemed to lose it on the BBC:
"Speaking on a Panorama programme to be broadcast on Tuesday night, Mr Clinton accused the press of helping the far-right and liking 'to hurt people.' He said the media cared more about the affair than the conflict in Bosnia. . . .
"Mr Clinton reacted after presenter David Dimbleby asked him why he had an affair with Ms Lewinsky when he knew he was under investigation by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr for other matters.
"Wagging his finger and getting visibly agitated, Mr Clinton expressed anger at the media's behaviour. He said: 'Let me just say this. One of the reasons he [Kenneth Starr] got away with it is because people like you only ask me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride. Any abuse they wanted to do. They indicted all these little people from Arkansas, what did you care about them, they're not famous, who cares that their life was trampled. Who cares that their children are humiliated. Nobody in your line of work cared a rip about that at the time. Why, because he was helping their story.
" 'And that's why people like you always help the far-right, because you like to hurt people, and you like to talk about how bad people are and all their personal failings.' "
Salon's Eric Boehlert questions Michiko Kakutani's NYT slam of "My Life" and ties it to "Whitewater, the mirage-like nonscandal the Times played a central role in creating. Most of the paper's reporting on Whitewater has long since been called into question. Yet unlike more recent public bouts of accountability at the Times, where editors have spelled out for readers embarrassing journalistic failures -- such as the rampant fabrications of cub reporter Jayson Blair, or the hyping of Iraq's alleged stockpile of WMD during the run-up to war -- the Times has not only failed to cop to its Whitewater woes, but continues to build a protective wall higher and higher around them.
"So perhaps it isn't surprising that Kakutani, without citing any proof, toes the Times' house line and accuses Clinton of telling 'lies about . . . real estate,' a clear reference to the Whitewater scandal. Yet even Ken Starr's office of independent counsel, and his successor Robert Ray, along with the Republican-run Resolution Trust Co., came to the conclusion that the Clintons never 'lied' about Whitewater. Instead, they put nearly $200,000 at risk in the Arkansas vacationland venture and lost $43,000 in the end.
"Kakutani could not be reached for comment about the 'lies' she alleges Clinton told. In an e-mail response to Salon, executive editor Bill Keller points out that 'the official investigations concluded that there was insufficient evidence to accuse the Clintons of a crime. Deceit is not a crime. I think it's well within a critic's right to hold that the Clintons were not entirely forthcoming. The Ray report, for example, said they were prone to statements that were "factually inaccurate." ' "
In the New Republic, Andrew Sullivan stops banging on Bush long enough to eviscerate Clinton:
"He was a liar on a grand and petty scale. Has he changed? . . .
"A very strange response. 'Because I could' is not 'the most morally indefensible reason' for doing something wrong. It's a trivial, superficial reason for doing something. It seems like candor, but isn't. Clinton 'could' have ignored Monica. He 'could' have divorced Hillary. He 'could' have had an affair with someone who didn't work for him. He 'could' have settled the Paula Jones suit years before it became toxic. There are any number of things that a president simply could do. But the reasons for actually doing something are different.
"Perhaps what Clinton really means is that, as president, he felt so powerful as to be immune. But he cannot believe that. He already had a horde of enemies trying to bring him down and a long history of sexual harassment and compulsion. He knew he couldn't get away with it -- or, at the very least, that he was risking a huge amount in doing what he did. So the real answer has to be either that he simply couldn't control his impulses (in which case he opens up the question of whether he was too psychologically damaged to carry such immense responsibility); or that he had become drunk with his own power and felt he could get away with anything (which raises the question of whether he was ethically capable of leading the United States).
"In any case, this is an evasive answer. Imagine if he'd said: 'Because I thought I could get away with it.' Or: 'Because I couldn't help myself.' Those would be honest answers. Instead we have this faux honesty that tells us nothing much. And it's telling that, even here, he immediately ascribes the same compulsions to his enemies. He finds it very hard to take real responsibility without deflecting it in some way."
Rich Lowry blames impeachment on . . . liberals?
"Bill Clinton told 60 Minutes in his promotional appearance for his book, My Life, that he wears his impeachment as a 'badge of honor.' As far as honors go, it's a far cry from the Distinguished Service Cross or the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But Clinton has to pretend to cherish it. It is imperative for his legacy that he portray his impeachment as illegitimate, as the work of hateful fanatics.
"The truth is that the scandals and investigations that built toward Clinton's impeachment -- from Whitewater to the China fundraising scandal to Monica Lewinsky -- were a product of the world created by post-Watergate liberals. They created the independent-counsel statute; they celebrated an adversarial press; they wrote exacting campaign-finance rules; they instituted an anti-sexual-harassment regime in the workplace -- and then they supported an attempt to defy all of it when it inconvenienced Bill Clinton."
But it was a lovefest at Bubba's Manhattan book signing:
"Maxine George was in an absolute swoon yesterday," says the New York Times.
"'What a wonderful guy,' she said, buckling at the knees, throwing her head back and clutching 'My Life' to her chest. 'He is so sexy.'''
And as we all know, sex sells.
An AP poll has Reagan trouncing Clinton:
"Most Americans say Ronald Reagan, who died this month, will be remembered as a better president than Bill Clinton, who is trying to improve his image with a new autobiography, according to an Associated Press poll.
"Seven in 10 say history will judge Reagan superior, based on the survey conducted one week after the Republican's state funeral and non-stop news coverage. . . . About 83 percent of those questioned said they have a favorable view of Reagan as a person. . . . A majority, 53 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Clinton, while 41 percent rated him favorably. In January, people were about evenly divided in their view of Clinton as a person."
It's even come to this. The Philadelphia Inquirer on Pennsylvania's governor: "Despite ties, Rendell rates few words in Clinton book." The Boston Globe: "Clinton offers snippets of praise for Kerry."
Is this the new standard for Democratic pols: whether they made the index?
There are too many juicy details to include here, but I'd be shirking my responsibility if I didn't mention this Chicago Tribune piece on an explosive development in the Illinois Senate race:
"Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan's ex-wife, TV actress Jeri Ryan, accused him of taking her to sex clubs in New York and Paris, where he tried to coerce her into having sex with him in front of strangers, according to records released Monday from the couple's California divorce file. . . .
"In her 2000 filing, Jeri Ryan alleged that after she and Jack Ryan left the first sex club they entered in New York, he asked her to go to another. . . . She described the second place as 'a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.' "
Tough to spin that one -- especially after Ryan had previously denied it.
The Rummy prisoner memos have now been released, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
"A year into the war on terror, with officials not getting the information they wanted from detainees at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld allowed interrogators to step up their tactics and use 'mild, non-injurious physical conduct' to pry loose more crucial intelligence, according to documents made public today by the Bush administration.
"But the practice, permitting interrogators to grab and push prisoners, was used for just six weeks and then rescinded by Rumsfeld in January 2003, when he ordered military officials to formally seek his approval before getting tough with detainees in the future. 'In all interrogations,' Rumsfeld warned his military subordinates, 'you should continue the humane treatment of detainees, regardless of the type of interrogation technique employed.' "
USA Today stresses "a Nov. 27, 2002, 'action memo' in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation techniques that included 'removal of clothing' and 'inducing stress by use of detainee's fears (e.g. dogs).'
"Rumsfeld also approved placing detainees in 'stress positions,' such as standing for up to 4 hours, though he apparently found this approach unimpressive. Rumsfeld, who works at a stand-up desk, scrawled on the memo, 'I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours? D.R.' "
CNN is correcting its earlier story on the subject: "A source told CNN that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld never approved a controversial interrogation technique called 'water boarding.' That source had told CNN the opposite Monday. . . . The tactic involves strapping a prisoner down and immersing him in water to make the subject feel as though he is drowning."
The Boston Globe finds John Kerry returning to Washington for business:
"Under fresh attack by Republicans to resign his Senate seat after missing months of votes, John F. Kerry returned to the Senate chambers yesterday to be in position to vote on a bill providing improved health care for veterans -- a move that triggered a partisan battle among his colleagues. . . .
"[I]t was the unusual spectacle of a fight over veterans' benefits that dominated Kerry's day and injected a burst of campaign politics into routine Senate business over a Pentagon budget bill. Kerry waited seven hours on the Hill yesterday in hopes of voting on a proposal to increase health care spending for veterans by 30 percent, but Republicans used procedural tactics to delay any vote until at least after Kerry had left for a campaign trip to San Francisco last night.
On the veepstakes watch, the Raleigh News & Observer seems to help Edwards:
"If North Carolina elected a president today, President Bush would win -- but not nearly by the margin this Republican-friendly state handed him four years ago, according to a new statewide poll.
"In the poll, 47 percent of likely voters chose Bush, a Republican, while 42 percent selected Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat.
"The divide would narrow further if Kerry selects Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, according to the survey, conducted June 13-16 for a partnership of The News & Observer, WRAL-TV and WUNC radio."
The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant backs Edwards as "the best new breeze to hit the national Democratic Party since Bill Clinton."
Finally, Progressive Editor Matthew Rothschild (via InstaPundit) has a bone to pick with John Kerry:
"Why was Kerry vacationing on Nantucket, of all places?
"To go to this island retreat of the rich sent all the wrong messages to undecided voters, and it discourages his hard core.
"Like his ski trip to Colorado after the primaries, the junket to Nantucket, where Kerry owns a home, reinforces the image of Kerry as a member of the upper class. Since Bush traffics on his own synthetic image as a regular guy, Kerry's indifference to looking hoity-toity is foolish.
"What's more, there are millions of Democrats who are so desperate to get Bush out of office that they don't want Kerry to waste a single minute. . . . He's been slipping ever since the Reagan beatification, and the Democratic base wants him to come out fighting, not dining on scallops."
Next time, try camping out in a swing state. It worked for Clinton.
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