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Caveat lector

6 September 1998

Editor’s conclu to four minor mishaps: And Big Chris, on Hardball,makes five

Synopsis: When it comes to fibbing-to-prove-Clinton’s-a-fibber, Hardball’shost is still King of the World.

Doesn’t He Ever Get Dizzy?
Christopher Matthews, The Wall Street Journal, 8/5/98

So there you have it, just a sample of the strange public discourse that makes up the Clinton Discussion. Routinely, journalists who claim to despise Clinton’s failings display allof the traits they condemn in Big Bill. They reinvent things that the president said; they heap up accusations (but don’t bother to prove them); they tell us, through some strange sort of mind-reading, what the president thought and felt when he was sixteen years old; they write detailed descriptions of the moral squalor around Clinton, all the while giving no sign whatsoever that they can vouch for the truth of the things they’re describing.

And what is the moral of this whole squalid tale? You Can’t Believe A Thing That Bill ClintonSays! We quote again from Joe Klein’s recent piece:

KLEIN: René Girard, whose book “Violence and the Sacred” is about scapegoating, thinks that Bill Clinton is a classic scapegoat, which is not to say that he is an innocent victim, but that he personifies the pathologies of our time...In the current instance, it is possible to see in Bill Clinton all that his accusers loathe most about themselves...[Our emphasis]

And it’s true: if it’s slick, slippery discourse the press corps hates, they have a good deal to loathe in themselves.

But hey! Because you’ve been willing to read this far, we wanted to give you a bonus. We suggest you go back through this Chris Matthews piece and enjoy a hearty laugh at our favorite press syndrome. Here’s the passage in the talker’s screed that must have had the gods on Olympus just shaking with mirth. It’s the passage where the outraged talker shows off his wares--where he fibs-to-prove-Clinton’s-a-fibber:

MATTHEWS: Another Clinton variation on the old two-step is simply to change the story without admitting it. He denied the authenticity of tapes produced by Gennifer Flowers, then apologized to New York’s then-Gov. Mario Cuomo for something he’d said on them. He denied ever breaking the drug laws, then amended the record to say he may have broken the laws of Britain “a time or two.” He denied having sex with Ms. Flowers in 1992, then remembered in 1998 that he may have done it once. In each case, he told a small truth, tucking away the large untruth that had preceded it.

You go, guy!

  1. Flowers tapes. Clinton never denied it was his voice on the tapes. Not being a total imbecile, he didn’t deny his voice was on the tapes, then apologize for what the voice said. (The fact that Matthews would even present such an oddball claim shows what he thinks of his readers’ acuity.) There wereclaims that the tapes had been doctored. An expert told the Los Angeles Times that a dirty word, apparently uttered by Flowers, had been overdubbed onto the original tapes. Matthews, spinning, reconstructing the truth, implies a contradiction that doesn’t exist. All this, of course, to help us see: You Can’t Believe What You’re Told By Bill Clinton!

  2. Quotes on drugs. In 1992, Clinton denied “breaking the laws
    of my country.” Matthews must be getting his creative old quotes from the office of the adjuster, Tim Russert. By the way: does Matthews really fail to understand why a candidate for office in Arkansas in the’70s and ’80s didn’t rush to acknowledge (very limited) youthful drug use? Is Clinton’s conduct different in any significant way from that of dozens of other public figures who have hemmed and hawed--often, outright lied--on this inane, pointless subject? Just asking.

  3. Sex with Genny. Matthews knows perfectly well--he has been told more than once, right on his own program--that Clinton did not testify to “having sex” with Flowers, as the term is generally understood. He was required to testify under a definition of “sexual relations” that included a wide range of activities that fall far short of sexual intercourse. Throughout the 1992 campaign, Clinton described Flowers as “a woman I didn’t sleep with.” His deposition does not contradict that characterization. Any sentient being who read the deposition would know this; Chris Matthews, who knows a good story when he hears one, doesn’t want youto understand that.
At any rate, there you see, in just one paragraph, the standards of accuracy brought to bear againstClinton. As we’ve said, it will some day take a psychiatric explanation to begin to explain public discourse like this. And maybe Klein and Girard have begun to provide it. But Dear Reader: as we wait for the experts to weigh the merits of the thesis that Professor Girard has finally brought forward, must we really remind you, once again, of the thing we’ve said so many times in the past? That when we see the silly mind-reading; the inventive quotes; the unattributed claims, and the deftly-feigned ignorance; that it’s all just a part of what we dolove to call: “Life in this celebrity press corps?”