Shortly after reports about Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky broke on the conservative aggregation site The Drudge Report in 1998, Hillary Clinton sat down with Matt Lauer to discuss the charges, which she suggested were politically motivated.
"I do believe that this is a battle," she said. "The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."
Clinton wasn't entirely wrong, of course; there was a coordinated political and media strategy determined to undermine Clinton. But that didn't mean that her husband hadn't messed around with an intern.
In her interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar that aired on Tuesday, Clinton returned to that theme. Asked by Keilar if she understood why Americans "don't believe that you're honest and trustworthy," Clinton pointed to a "constant barrage of attacks that are largely fomented by and coming from the right."
Since last year, the perception of Clinton as being dishonest and untrustworthy has indeed increased, according to a series of national polls.
The question: To what extent is a "constant barrage of attacks" from the right actually responsible for those drops?
Keilar was quick to identify two issues that may have played a role in shifting opinion on Clinton's honesty: Questions about fundraising by the Clinton Foundation and Clinton's decision to use a private e-mail server while secretary of state. Each issue has generated thousands of news articles since they rose to national attention this year -- and each has been explored and expanded upon by both the mainstream and conservative media.
The Drudge Report continues to be a good marker of what's getting traction in the latter sphere. Thanks to the separate Drudge Report Archives, we can see how often each story hit Drudge's main page.
While questions about the Clinton Foundation's fundraising and structure have existed for a while, the recent surge in interest was spurred by the release of "Clinton Cash," a book by Peter Schweizer, a conservative who runs the Government Accountability Institute. "Clinton Cash" was almost certainly what Clinton was referring to when she told Keilar that "people write books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us."
When the book was released, there were a flurry of stories examining its claims, including from mainstream outlets like the Post and the New York Times. By May, when George Stephanopoulos's contributions to the Clinton Foundation became public, the foundation itself had become a partisan issue.
Notice, though, that Clinton's trustworthiness ratings had already slipped in several polls prior to the book and the follow-up stories.
The e-mail server story broke a month earlier, in March. There had been some previous reports of Clinton having a non-government e-mail address in the past, including at Gawker. But Clinton's use of her own server came out of the blue -- and came right at the front end of the decline in her trustworthiness.
There is a decent case to be made that concerns about the Clinton Foundation have been bolstered by partisanship. It was a conservative's book that kick-started the issue, but there has been no smoking gun showing that Clinton's decisions at the State Department were linked to contributions to the foundation. Much of the critique, it seems, centers on the unseemliness of the Clintons' enthusiasm for collecting checks. Regardless, it has resonated. In the most recent Post/ABC News poll, 53 percent of voters thought this was a legitimate campaign issue. Among Democrats, it's a very real 40 percent.
The e-mail server, however, is harder to pin on "the right." Forty-eight percent of poll respondents thought it was a legitimate issue, and, while it has served as political fodder -- including for the Select Committee investigating Benghazi -- it grew to prominence in the mainstream media.
But it's worth questioning the extent to which those stories are even to blame for the trustworthiness question. That attribute has dropped alongside with Clinton's favorability among all voters. (She's still viewed very favorably by Democrats.)
Part of this is certainly because, as Clinton's prominence as a politician has risen, the willingness of independents and Republicans to be charitable to her has fallen. This is the same cycle that emerged in 2008: As the likelihood of her becoming president increased, opposition to her did as well.
There simply isn't enough information to determine clearly when people started changing their minds on Clinton being trustworthy and why they did so. Which allows Clinton to revert to her old defense: That her opponents are to blame.
Certainly, being hammered by those opponents day after day is not helpful. But part of the problem is also likely that people think Hillary and Bill Clinton did things they shouldn't have -- a perception that the Clintons haven't done a great job of rebutting.
There might be a right-wing conspiracy. But that doesn't mean that there wasn't an affair.