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14 December 1998

Smile-a-while III: Sex lies matter

Synopsis: A tabloid talker joined Vile Clinton in telling a few lies about sex.

Commentary by Chris Matthews
Hardball, CNBC, 12/8/98, 12/3/98, 8/19/98

We couldn’t help chuckling last Tuesday night, relaxing here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, as a former journalist turned-TV-tabloid-talker went off on a trademark rant. The talker had played a tape of Clinton lawyer Greg Craig telling the House Judiciary Committee that Clinton didn’t think he had lied in saying “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman.” Craig told the JudeCo that Clinton had referred to the dictionary definition of “sexual relations;” and that’s when the tirade began:

MATTHEWS: Well, that’s where Greg Craig runs into big trouble because the president throughout this entire inquiry hasn’t relied on the dictionary definition, or his own homespun Arkansan definition, of what is or isn’t sex. He has relied on that piece of paper that was handed to him by the lawyers in that civil deposition involving the Paula Jones case in which the definition of sex went well beyond intercourse, to be blunt about it. Let’s go to Marcia Clark. What did you make of that definition that the president was using, some sort of homespun, down-home notion of what sex is, rather than the legal definition which was presented to him which includes so many aspects of sexual activity it’s hard to imagine anything not being in that definition that was handed to him when he gave the deposition?

And we’ll spare you treatment of Clark’s reply, other than to say that her relentlessly brain-dead, pandering analyses makes it all too clear to Hardball viewers why O.J. is out playing golf.

The analysts howled at the part of Matthews’ statement that we have highlighted in bold, though it was not the first time in recent weeks that the talker had made this point. On December 3, he’d also mused on just how broad that Jones definition had been:

MATTHEWS: On the 17th of January, when he was presented with the deposition, the questions by the attorneys for Paula Jones, and in denying there was sexual relations, everyone gets caught up in the lingo the president used. He used all kinds of language. He departed from the words “sexual relationship” to “I never had an affair with her.” He wasn’t careful about his language. He didn’t even pay attention to that set of definitions which in fact broadened the definition of sex beyond intercourse to clearly just about everything you can imagine between a man and a woman happening. So clearly the lying thing is a problem.

Sadly, the analysts concluded the “lying thing” may be a problem for Matthews too. Because the tabloid talker, who is now so clear about the way the Jones lawyers “broadened” the definition of sex, had pretended not to grasp that fact all through the spring and summer. Last spring, when it was revealed that Clinton had said in his depo that he’d had “sexual relations” with Gennifer Flowers (on one occasion), this tabloid talker, and other partisans, had hungrily leaped on the news. It showed, they said, that Clinton had lied, when he’d called Flowers “a woman I didn’t sleep with;” and Clinton’s admission was flogged as proof that Bill was a naughty vile liar.

To sustain this claim, the talker had to ignore the fact about the Jones definition which he now promotes with such gusto. Because Clinton spokesmen had stepped forward last spring to explain the president’s deposition. The sexual encounter to which Vile had copped had not been an act of intercourse, they said. It had been a grope-n-grab session in a Little Rock bar, which Clinton had been forced to describe as “sexual relations” because the definition imposed by the Jones lawyers had been so far-reaching and all-encompassing.

This definition, which Matthews now understands so well, was completely opaque to him then. His trademark rants upon the subject continued well up toward the fall. He railed against Clinton spokesmen for daring to say that Clinton still claimed he had not slept with Flowers. Even as late as August 19, here he is, in trademark fury, complaining that White House spokesmen may soon reinterpret Clinton’s admission of an “inappropriate relationship” with Monica Lewinsky:

MATTHEWS: ...And by the way, I’m not being paranoid because I’ve watched this crowd. Every time--remember with Gennifer Flowers, he swore under oath he had a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers, and three days later, practically, Mandy Grunwald is on this program and James Carville is on other programs spouting the line, “Oh, he could have bumped up against her in a bar. He didn’t have sex with her.” So in other words, “sex” under their definition is broad enough to include touching somebody around the shoulders in a bar or something, but narrow enough to exclude oral sex. What an amazingly elastic definition this crowd has come up with.

On August 19, five months after the issue appeared, the talker was still puzzled by the Jones definition. He pretended not to know that the definition in question was imposed on Clinton by the Jones lawyers. And while now he expounds for all to hear on how broad and far-reaching the definition was, then he pretended not to grasp how that might have affected Clinton’s testimony. As the talker now makes clear, the Jones definition was so all-inclusive that it included all sorts of conduct that fell short of intercourse. But when knowledge of that obvious fact helped Clinton’s case, the talker feigned incomprehension.

Yep. The analysts chuckled and shook their heads as they heard the talker’s spiel last week. And they said to themselves, one more time, as soon as the evening’s last high hard one was fired: for a guy who hates deception so much, this guy has some odd ways to show it.

For clarity: We do not know if President Clinton engaged in intercourse with Gennifer Flowers. We don’t know if Clinton told the truth when he called her “a woman I didn’t sleep with.”

But it was always clear that the Jones definition included conduct falling far short of sexual intercourse. The talker knows it now, when it hurts Clinton’s case. But when the obvious fact helped Clinton’s case, a talker did not understand.

Visit our incomparable archives: Three NBC pundits feigned incomprehension last spring. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/12/98, to recall their embarrassing performance.