Bill Clinton conceded to Stephen Colbert on Tuesday that a recent appearance on the “Today” show “wasn't my finest hour.” The former president had grown testy when speaking with NBC's Craig Melvin, who pressed Clinton to look back, through the lens of the #MeToo movement, on his sexual relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
Yet even as Clinton told Colbert that he could “absolutely” understand why some viewers considered his responses tone-deaf, he blamed Melvin and NBC and mischaracterized the journalist's questions and the network's editing.
“When I saw the interview, I thought that — because they had to distill it — and it looked like I was saying I didn't apologize and that I had no intention to,” Clinton said on CBS's “Late Show.” “And I was mad at me.”
Clinton's implication was that he only looked tone-deaf because of deceptive editing. In reality, the “Today” segment made clear that Clinton had apologized publicly for his misconduct; Melvin asked whether Clinton had ever apologized to Lewinsky in private.
“I have not talked to her,” Clinton replied.
“Do you feel like you owe her an apology?” Melvin followed up.
“No,” Clinton answered. “I do — I — I — I do not — I have never talked to her. But I did say publicly, on more than one occasion, that I was sorry.”
If some viewers found Clinton's “no” and his stammering explanation insensitive, then he has no one to blame but himself.
When Colbert called out Clinton for bristling at Melvin's line of inquiry, however — “You are giving one side and omitting facts,” the former president had protested — Clinton insisted to Colbert that Melvin had been out of line.
“You seemed offended to be asked about this thing, when — in all due respect, sir — your behavior was the most famous example of a powerful man sexually misbehaving in the workplace of my lifetime,” Colbert said. “And so it doesn't seem surprising that the question would be asked. Why were you surprised?”
Clinton said he doesn't mind questions about Lewinsky but “didn't like this one because it started with an assertion that basically I had never apologized, as if I had never tried to come to grips with it and as if there had been no attempt to hold me accountable, which, anybody who lived through that, and knew the facts, knew wasn't so.”
There are two significant falsehoods in Clinton's response. Melvin asked about a private apology to Lewinsky but did not assert that Clinton never apologized at all. In fact, the NBC segment included footage of Clinton's 1998 public apology, which Clinton acknowledged to Colbert after the host fact-checked him. Melvin also did not suggest there had been no attempt to hold Clinton accountable. The Lewinsky episode involved “a lengthy investigation that ended with Clinton becoming just the second president ever to be impeached,” Melvin reminded viewers.
Wednesday on “Today,” host Savannah Guthrie said Clinton had made false allegations about that interview with “Craig.”
“I think the tape speaks for itself,” Guthrie said to Melvin, seated beside her.
“Thank you very much,” Melvin replied.
In another appearance on Tuesday, at a New York Times event, Clinton added a dose of condescension to his criticism of Melvin.
“I should have remembered that man is young enough to be my son,” Clinton said, as if Melvin were not old enough to recall (or research) events of the late 1990s. Melvin, 39, was in college during Clinton's impeachment proceedings.
“I messed up,” Clinton said at the Times event, “and I own that, and no mistake by anybody else — including that young man aggressively saying I didn’t apologize — can justify the fact that I got mad when I should have been saying, ‘I’ve got a chance to tell a whole new generation that the journey I’ve been on the past 20 years is one the country has to take.’ ”
Translation: Sorry I wasn't more understanding of young Melvin's ignorance and didn't seize the opportunity to patiently educate his entire generation.
Clinton isn't really apologizing for his performance on “Today.” He's making lame excuses.