TUESDAY, JUNE 10, 2003
THEIR DARLING KATHLEEN: Pundits have mastered the basic points to be used in attacking Hillary Clintons character (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/03). But none of the points is quite so dumb as the Kathleen Willey spin-point. Therefore, Sean Hannity has the spin-point down cold. Here he was last Friday night, chatting up Dem consultant Douglas Schoen:
HANNITY: Doug, I want to ask you this question. When Hillary says she can hardly breathe, gulping for air, crying, yelling at him What do you mean? What do you say? Why did you lie to me? Yet Gennifer Flowers in 92 said that she was Bill Clintons lover for 12 years. Paula Jones said in 94 all the things she said, including he pulled down his pants in front of her. Kathleen Willey said in 98, He groped me, grabbed me, fondled me. Do you really believe, are you intellectually honest to admit that she is not honest in this book?Hannity threw off the now-familiar spin-point. Hillary Clinton must be lying when she says she believed Bill. After all, she had already heard what the others had said! This pleasing point is being recited wherever Hill spin is now sold.
Well talk about Flowers later this week. Today, lets consider how fake you must be to serve up the reference to Willey. In the process, well have a chance to revisit one of the most relentless cover-ups in modern press corps history.
Kathleen Willey burst on the scene in March 1998, accusing Clinton of groping her during a 1993 Oval Office meeting. Because she told a pleasing tale, the press corps rushed to promote her. On March 15, 1998, she made a hugely-publicized 60 Minutes appearance. And, although they had never set eyes on Willey before, and had no real way to evaluate her story, pundits raced as fast as they could to swear she was Telling It True.
Just how foolish will Big Pundits be? George Will started the clowning on March 17. What kind of person can continue the intellectual contortions necessary to sustain doubt about who is lying? he asked. Weepily, he told readers this:
WILL: Willeys painfulfor her, and for her civilized viewersappearance drew dignity from her patent reluctance, and her grown-ups incredulity about Clintons crudity at the time and his continued mendacity.Will had never set eyes on Willey beforebut he knew who was being mendacious! And others scrambled to voice the same judgment. William Safire knew Willey was truthful. Here was no slick Willey, he said. Maureen Dowd endorsed Willey too. In the Post, Michael Kelly penned a loud rant in which he affirmed every word Willey said. In USA Today, Walter Shapiro even accused the White House of smears for suggesting that Willey wasnt being truthfulalthough Shapiro himself was only 95 percent convinced Willeys charges are true. Allowing himself five percent uncertainty, Shapiro was the Doubting Thomas in the pundit corps rush to judgment.
Remember, these pundits were vouching for an accuser on whom they had never set eyes in their lives. They were endorsing a person whose odd financial and personal problems were now being described in their papers news pages. But the swoon swept all through the press. No one fell any harder than Chuck Lane, then editor of the New Republic. Lanes column was headlined Unslick Willey:
LANE: Kathleen Willey is pretty clearly telling the truth about what happened between her and Bill Clinton on November 29, 1993. And the episode is pretty clearly a far more offensive matter than Clintons alleged dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. With Monica, it was consensual. The presidents advance toward Willey even included a modest measure of physical force...So the president is a groper and a liar. He must be held accountable.As many observers would later note, Kathleen Willey had a good haircutand that was enough for the boys in the corps. Half-witted analysts ran to swear that Willey was surely telling the truth. Incredibly, this assumption still drives our public discourse. Many punditslike Sean Hannitysay that Hillary Clinton must be lying. After all, check out what Kathleen Willey said.
Why is this state of affairs so amazing? Unfortunately, it soon became clear that there was good reason not to believe Willeys story. Indeed, Independent Counsel Robert Ray would eventually give up on Willey. In his formal report on the Clinton investigations, Ray said that Willey had lied to the FBI; he even suggested that he had considered prosecuting her for her conduct. But when these embarrassing facts became known, your press corps did the thing it does best. It kept the evidence from public view, conducting its latest scam on the public. Few recent events do a better job of showing the depth of this press corps dysfunction. The Willey affair shows how reflexively dishonest your contemporary press really is.
The problems began on October 2, 1998, when Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr conducted his high-profile document dump. (This was a major news event.) Included was the grand jury testimony of Linda Tripp, who worked with Willey in the Clinton White House. In the course of her lengthy interviews before the grand jury, Tripp was repeatedly questioned about Willeys relationship with President Clinton. And, as her transcripts made abundantly clear, Tripp substantially contradicted the story Willey told on 60 Minutes.
According to Tripps detailed, sworn testimony, Willey pursued a romance with Clinton right from the start of her White House employment. Willey had speculated with Tripp as to how she might be able to set up an assignation between herself and the president. She routinely attended events at which Clinton would be present, wearing a black dress she believed he liked. According to Tripps testimony, she wondered if she and Clinton could arrange to meet in a home to which she had access along the Chesapeake Bay.
Tripp also challenged Willeys account of that Oval Office meeting. According to Tripp, Willey had arranged the meeting in part to see if her flirtation with Clinton might advance. And when Clinton and Willey did meet in the Oval, Willey rushed back to Tripps office to describe it. According to Tripp, Willey smiled from ear to ear the entire time as she described the event. She seemed almost shocked, but happy shocked, Tripp told the grand jury. Willey told Tripp that she and Clinton had smoochedbut there was no talk of a sexual assault. In short, Tripps testimony threw into question the story Willey told in Marchthe story foolish pundits had sworn by. Clinton, of course, has denied that anything inappropriate happened during that meeting.
In short, Tripp substantially contradicted Willeys 60 Minutes story. By any fair standard, this was news. When Willey was calling Clinton a groper, the press corps ran her onto the air, and pundits swore that she was truthful. Now, Tripp had told a quite different story. If the press corps had a scintilla of fairness, they would have rushed to report this news too.
But as of October 1998, the press was conducting a love affaira love affair with Clinton accusers. They had promoted Willey back in March, and they werent about to dump her now. All over Washington, journalists knew that they had to keep Tripps deposition a secret. On October 3, the Washington Post correctly saw that Tripps deposition was major news; in several parts of its special document dump section, the Post reported that Tripp had challenged Willeys account. But the rest of the press corps kept the news quiet, and the Post immediately fell into line. News of Linda Tripps sworn testimony completely dropped from the public discourse. Citizens wouldnt have to worry themselves with thoughts that Willey might be untruthful. And pundits wouldnt have to explain why they voiced hasty judgment back in March.
The press corps shut the story down hard. In January 1999, Elizabeth Holtzman appeared on Hardball, and mentioned the fact that Tripp had challenged Willey. Chris Matthewswho pandered to Willey for yearslanded on Holtzman like a ton of bricks (links below). Holtzmans accurate report was suppressed, and pundits were able to keep pretending that Willeys story was perfectly credible. The press was in love with Kathleen Willeyand they had no intention of telling the public that serious doubt had been cast on her tale.
Its hard to believe that a whole town of journalists could behave in such a dishonest way. But the corps was prepared to top even itself when Ray reported on Willey three years later. In March 2002, Ray, Starrs successor as Independent Counsel, released his final report on the Clinton investigations. As we noted last Friday, Rays report included a special appendix about Willey. In it, Ray noted that Willey had given substantially different accounts in two sworn statements and had lied to the FBI about her relationship with a former boyfriend (Ken Fireman, Newsday, 3/7/02). In Nina Totenbergs words, Ray concluded that it was impossible to convict based on Willeys words [because] shed lied so many times, including to the prosecutors. To all appearances, Ray had even considered prosecuting the press corps star witness for one of her lies. (Ray report: Following Willeys acknowledgment of the lie, the Independent Counsel agreed not to prosecute her for false statements in this regard.) Is Kathleen Willey a credible person? Please! Willey was accusing Clinton of sexual misconduct, and even the OIC turned her loose! Lets just say it, boys and girls: Its hard to be much less credible than that.
Surely, the press made a point of reporting this news. Surely, the Washington press corps made a point of reporting what Ray had said. After all, they had spent several years by this time trashing Clinton on Willeys account. Now, even the OIC had filed a formal report saying that she just wasnt credible. Surely, simple fairness would require the press to report this news to the American people. Pundits had raced to say Willey was truthful. Surely, they reported this now.
Just as surely, the reader is dreaming. Totenberg mentioned Rays judgment on March 6. The next day, Firemans report appeared in Newsday, and USA Todays Judy Keen penned the following paragraph:
KEEN: The [Ray] report reveals that Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer who said Clinton had groped her, gave false information to the FBI after being granted immunity. Willey had said she was pressured by Clinton allies to drop her accusations. But investigators lost confidence in her testimony.But incredibly, no other newspaper in the country reported what Ray had said! According to the Nexis archive, the New York Times never mentioned the matter. Neither did the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the New York Post, the New York Daily News or the Miami Herald. And that wasnt all; also according to the Nexis record, Rays judgment about Willeys credibility was never mentioned in any U.S. magazine. Nor was it mentioned on any TV show. Back in March 1998, the press corps couldnt run fast enough to tell the world that Willey was credible. When the OIC formally said that she wasnt, the news dropped down the memory hole like a smooth stone. It was the press corps latest scam on the publicand its latest assault on Bill Clinton.
No, no TV show ever reported what Robert Ray said. Not Brokaw; not Rather; not Jennings; not Lehrer. Loudmouth Chris Matthewswho pimped Willey for yearsnever told his Hardball viewers that his darling accuser had been dissed by Ray. But as usual, CNNs Capital Gang made a grievous misjudgment, comical even by this press corps standards. The Capital Gangs conduct was so astounding, we give it special billing below.
But readers, life is sweet for a Clinton accuserand life is hard for the American people. You have a press corps which is simply determined to tell you the stories it likes. They ran to swear that Willey was truthfulthen kept it quiet when Ray turned her down. Now, half-witted pundits cite Willeys tales in their attacks against Senator Clinton!
Readers, why didnt Hillary Clinton (and other White House insiders) believe the things Lewinsky was saying? In part, they didnt believe because they knew that many other accusers had told bogus tales. But the Washington press corps hates that story, and does all it can to keep you from hearing it. Life is sweet for Clinton accusers. Even when their stories break down, your press corps keeps pimping them still.
TOMORROW: Bend it like Carlson!
ITS TIME FOR THEM TO GO: Its astounding to see the way the press suppressed Rays statement about Willey. But those clowning comrades on Capital Gang managed to go their colleagues one better. Ten days after Rays report was releasedon March 16, 2002the hapless gang aired a Capital Gang classic to mark another Clinton anniversary. Mark Shields introduced the ill-chosen segment. Four years ago this week, he said, lawyers for Paula Jones released 700 pages of documents intended to show a pattern of sexual indiscretions by President Bill Clinton. On March 14, 1998 your Capital Gang discussed with conservative William J. Bennett. And sure enoughin a truly ludicrous moment, the gang then played a four-year old tape, in which several pundits told the world how credible Kathleen Willey was! Indeed, even when the tape was finished, praise of the wonderful Willey continued. Hapless Al Hunt once again said how credible Willey seemed:
HUNT (3/16/02): You know I still think that Kathleen Willey was far more credible than Paula Jones or Juanita Broderick or any of those other people. And it was about sex, Bob, youre right, and thats why the American people said, Dont impeach him.He still believed in a place called Hope! Incredible, isnt it? Ten days earlier, Ray reported that Willey had lied to the FBI; couldnt be used as a witness in court; and had even faced the possibility of prosecution for her misstatements. But the press corps kept this news from the publicand here was Hunt, just ten days later, shilling for Darling Willey again! Has the press corps ever engaged in such clowning? Truly, if the Washington press corps didnt exist, it would be impossible to dream this gang up.
Just so youll know, the press corps clowning didnt end with that ludicrous Cap Gang segment. Three weeks later, a Richmond, Virginia radio station announced that Willey would become a talk host. (She lasted four days on the air.) And, showing more of the ludicrous judgment we have come to expect from this laughable press corps, NBCs Campbell Brown hosted Willey on the April 7, 2002 Today show. The headline on the NBC transcript is a tribute to this press corps bad judgment:
TODAY SHOW HEADLINE: Kathleen Willey Schwicker discusses her allegations against President Clinton and her new radio talk show beginning tonightOne month after Rays report, Campbell Brown was clueless too. Here was her opening statement:
BROWN: Its been a few years since she stepped into the public eye, becoming famous for accusing President Clinton of sexually harassing her when she was a White House volunteer. President Clinton denies the allegations. Today, Kathleen Willey will take on her first job since all that happened, hosting a radio talk show in her hometown. Kathleen joins us from her studio at WRVA-AM in Richmond, Virginia.President Clinton denies the allegations, Brown saidbut like the rest of her clueless colleagues, she never mentioned what Ray had reported. Piously, Willey swore that shed try to be fair when callers asked about Clinton.
Readers, is there any other professional sector where professionals can be so absurdly incompetent? Could Hunt and Brown perform this way in any other professional sector? The Washington press corps just loves those accusersand nothing on earth can stop this press from telling the stories they like.
By the way, when Willeys radio show debuted on April 7, Shawn Cox of the Richmond Times-Dispatch described a bit of the action:
COX: Some callers blasted Willeyincluding one woman who chided her for not pushing [Clinton] awaywhile others expressed admiration for her courage.Every caller had an opinion. But almost surely, none of those callers knew what Ray said. The press had conspired to keep them clueless, and theyre clueless to this day. The press corps has told them a story it likes. Cant you hear the corps calling? Hey rubes!