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Caveat lector


22 October 1998

Read on: Also missing the point

Synopsis: Keith Olbermann displayed a high tolerance level for a guest who wouldn’t speak to the point.


On White House in Crisis, the Ellerth case never came up; Olson mentioned it only indirectly. Lanny Davis was a making a different point; so pretend that Ellerth doesn’t exist.

Here’s what Olbermann asked Davis: Since we now know that Clinton misled the court about his conduct with Monica Lewinsky, does that suggest that Jones’ case should be reinstated? Davis said the Lewinsky matter was not relevant to that question:

DAVIS: Judge Wright in her decision assumed that everything that Paula Jones alleged in her complaint was literally truthful, but [ruled] that it still didn’t make out a case for sexual harassment or a hostile work environment based on these allegations, so that any evidence of other activity wouldn’t have any effect on that decision, since the decision assumed that what Paula Jones alleged was true.

In other words: Judge Wright had assumed, for the sake of argument, that Clinton had hit on Jones. Further evidence that might indicate that it really had happened wouldn’t change her finding that, even if Clinton had so acted, Jones didn’t have a legal claim to make.

Olson, like Black the following morning, seemed to revel in missing the point:

OLSON: But Lanny, you’ll have to also agree that, with the president denying that he had ever done the same type of activity with other women, [he] was removing a large body of evidence for the judge to consider, i.e. pattern and practice of the exact same type of request for sexual activity from government workers...

But evidence of “pattern and practice” would only be used to help establish that Clinton had made an advance. And that was what Wright had assumed! Davis tried again:

DAVIS: ...The judge made this decision assuming that the incident occurred but that didn’t make out a case for sexual harassment in the workplace...I just want to say one more time, Keith: nothing has changed with respect to the judge’s decision assuming everything Paula Jones said was true but still ruling as a matter of law there was no sexual harassment.

Like glue, Olson stuck to her story:

OLSON: Lanny, that’s not true. Lanny, I have to disagree with you... Understand, the judge sat there in the deposition and listened to Bill Clinton deny that he had ever made any other similar request for sexual advances from government workers...It is a fact that we now know is an absolute lie, that the president lied in that deposition, and you can’t say nothing has changed. That is a huge change.

We’ll spare you from sitting through what next occurred--a third round of this exchange between Davis and Olson, in which Olson again refused to see that, since Wright had assumed Jones’ allegation was true, new evidence making it seem more likely that it was actually true couldn’t change her legal decision.

As Couric refused to direct her discussion, so too Olbermann sat by helpless in his; and while he did so, viewers surely became frustrated--and lost a chance to gain actual knowledge about the impending decision. Olson had referred in passing to several factors that may affect the judges’ decision (including Ellerth); time wasted going back and forth on this one silly point could profitably have been spent somewhere else.

We know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Couric and Olbermann should be polite to their guests, no matter how far afield they may wander. How will they get Black and Olson back on their shows, if they’re rude to them right on the air? Sorry. Who would want guests like these two back, if they’re going to dither in this sorry manner? On both shows, viewers were robbed of the chance to learn by the miserable work of these two inept pundits, and by the lazy work that the two hosts performed.

Is there a sound legal basis for reinstating Jones’ case? How would we know--we watched Couric and Olbermann!