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25 September 1998

Smile-a-while I: Mr. President, tell us false

Synopsis: Katie and Jack had a novel critique. They thought Clinton didn’t lie quite enough!

Commentary by Jack Ford, Katie Couric
The Today Show, NBC, 9/22/98

Today Showviewers who made it through the Tim-and-Matt show were in for some real confusion Tuesday morning (see “Our current howler,” 9/25/98). Katie Couric came on right after Tim and Matt to question Jack Ford about legal aspects of Clinton’s testimony. And Katie and Jack had a novel critique: they thought Clinton didn’t lie quite enough!

Here’s the question Katie posed to Jack, halfway through their colloquy:

COURIC: Early on in the testimony [Clinton] read that prepared statement and of course referred to it multiple times when he was asked various specific questions about his acts with Monica Lewinsky. You were surprised that, in that statement, he didn’t say, “My lawyers advised me that.”

Somehow, Jack was able to decipher the question, and he made a surprising response:

FORD: I really anticipated it, Katie, and you and I talked about this before, that when it came time to testify, one of the answers would be, by the president, “Look, my lawyers took a look at the definition, they told me this is the decision the judge had decided on.” Remember, there was a fight in the Paula Jones deposition. The judge said, “This is the one we’re going to accept here,” and I expected him to say, “I discussed it with my attorneys and my attorneys told me this is an appropriate answer given the definition we were given by the judge.”

Made good sense to Couric:

COURIC: And that would have taken some of the onus off the president.

FORD: Yeah, it would have...

And why is this such an odd suggestion? Ford is suggesting that Clinton commit perjury--that he make a statement to the grand jury that is false! There is absolutely no evidence suggesting that President Clinton was so advised by his lawyers about the Jones lawyers’ definition. Ford is saying that Clinton should have gone before the grand jury, and lied about why he testified as he did in the deposition! And what would Clinton’s lawyers have said about that? No problem--they’re in on it too:

FORD: Yeah, it would have. And then the lawyers could have gone out and said, “Look, maybe you people disagree with us, but we’re doing our job here and we still think this was the right direction we gave to our client,” and it would have taken a little of the pressure off the president.

Katie was still puzzled:

COURIC: I wonder why he didn’t?

FORD: I don’t know. He was very careful about saying, “I thought about this long and hard before I gave that answer.”

Again, Ford’s suggestion would have involved perjury by Clinton, and lawyer Bennett would be engaging in gross misconduct to “go out there” and back the tale up. And what would the point have been in all this? Obviously, Judge Wright--who presided at the deposition--would have known that the story was false. The definition was haggled out right there at the deposition. She’d have known that Bill and Bob didn’t chat.

We really did think it was a little bit odd to see pundits complaining about Clinton notlying. And sure enough, in the very next question, Couric turned around and ragged on Clinton for not having been more forthcoming!

COURIC: In addition to sort of hiding behind the definition of sexual relations and referring to that over and over again, he also hid behind semantics, the part about past tense versus present tense. Was that appropriate?

Well--it’s not as exciting as outright lying. But as Todayviewers puzzled over Ford’s odd plan, and as analysts shook their heads here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, we were wondering if you readers were recalling the thing we’ve told you all along at moments like this. You know--how it’s all just a part of what we dolove to call: “Life in this celebrity press corps?”

Read on: Friday morning, Matt Lauer was still blasting the American people. And you’ll never guess who came along and tried to cheer poor Matt up! (See “Smile-a-while II,” 9/25/98.)