Interlude—The children staged a swoon: As a matter of general theory, journalists are not supposed to fall in love with accusers.
Sometimes, accusations turn out to be false. Sometimes, accusers turn out to be a bit squirrely.
For these reasons among many others, journalists are supposed to approach accusers and accusations with appropriate caution. Given the modern press corps’ low caliber, that frequently doesn’t occur.
It didn’t happen in 1998, when Kathleen Willey burst on the scene in a dramatic 60 Minutes appearance. It isn’t happening today, as children on The One True Channel fashion their own accusations against everyone who happens to waddle into their limited, partisan field of view.
By now, Willey is regarded as a somewhat shaky source by a wide range of observers. The reasons for this are obvious.
In recent years, Willey has made the standard wild accusations about the murderous Clintons. Back in the day, weird events quickly turned up from her personal life. In his final report on the Clinton probe, independent counsel Robert Ray made a point of noting the fact that Willey had lied in the course of the investigation. He explicitly stated that he had agreed not to prosecute her.
That doesn’t mean that some statement by Willey is automatically false. For sensible observers, these developments may heighten the sense that we ought to be careful about accusers and their colorful claims.
Back in the day, the boys and girls of the celebrity press corps weren’t cautious about Kathleen Willey. They could tell she was telling the truth!
Willey appeared on 60 Minutes in March 1998. Few journalists had ever set eyes on her before that thrilling engagement.
They had no history with Willey. She had no public track record.
Aside from her well-chosen clothing and her good hair, there was no apparent way to judge Willey’s credibility. That didn’t stop the various children who had fallen in love with accusers, as long as their accusations were aimed at the Clintons, then at Candidate Gore.
After Willey did 60 Minutes, the stampede began. Willey was conventionally attractive. She was upper middle class manners.
Plus, she was accusing Clinton! These three factors meant that she was plainly telling the truth.
Tomorrow, we’ll return to Chris Matthews’ astounding behavior when he interviewed Willey fourteen months later, in May 1999. We’ll look at what he did in the two nights after his interview with Willey. We’ll look at what he did the next week, after his appalling conduct almost got somebody killed.
We’ll look at what NBC News didn’t do. We’ll wonder why they didn’t do it.
Today, Matthews still froths on the air every night. He still engages in the clownish conduct which is his stock in trade.
Today, though, his misconduct is aimed in a different direction in the partisan wars which define cable “news.” For that reason, Rachel Maddow has frequently praised his obvious greatness.
Matthews is her “beloved colleague,” she once jaw-droppingly said.
Back in the day, Matthews staged a love affair with Willey, perhaps his favorite accuser. But long before he displayed his fealty to his faire lady, many others had already done so.
After her 60 Minutes appearance, they stampeded off, trying to top each other in their declarations of true belief. The various pundits all could see that Willey had plainly been telling the truth. They competed to see who could vouch for her honesty in the most ridiculous fashion.
As time went by, it became clear that Willey’s a fairly shaky witness as a general matter. In real time, the children insisted she was telling the truth. To recall what some of the children said, when they had no idea who she was, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98.
(We apologize for formatting problems, which we can’t now correct.)
In 2002, independent counsel Robert Ray cited Willey’s lies as part of his final report on the probe of President Clinton. Result? Big newspapers disappeared this part of Ray’s report, and major pundits continued to swear by Willey’s credibility.
To review that embarrassing part of the story, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/10/03.
Journalists shouldn’t [HEART] accusers! Beyond that, they should be careful about pimping accusations. But that’s true in the world of civics textbooks, not in the world where we live.
The press corps loved accusers back then. Chris Matthews loved one accuser so much, he almost got somebody killed.
At the present time, we’re seeing a lot of love for accusations on our “liberal” “news channel.” The policy was bad back then. The policy’s bad today.
Tomorrow: Where Matthews went from there
One crowning example: After Willey appeared on 60 Minutes, journalists raced to vouch for her obvious credibility. They had never set eyes on her before, but they could see she was truthful.
Chuck Lane embarrassed himself in The New Republic. Wonderfully clever headline included, here’s the start of his TRB column:
LANE (4/6/98): Unslick WilleyLane never explained how he knew that Willey was telling the truth about these matters and that Clinton was lying. The children could tell that Willey was telling the truth!
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 Clinton's alleged dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. With Monica, it was consensual. The president's advance toward Willey even included a modest measure of physical force. It was made to a married woman whose husband was an acquaintance of the president and the first lady. It took place as that same married woman was asking the president for a paying job so she could rescue her family from financial disaster. And it started in the Oval Office during business hours, with a Cabinet officer cooling his heels outside. Yuck!
So the president is a groper and a liar. He must be held accountable.
For the record, William Safire had already played the slick/unslick Willey card. “Here was no slick Willey,” he cleverly wrote in the New York Times on March 19, as he rushed to judge the new accuser’s “gripping interview.”
Journalists should show considerable caution concerning accusations. True then, still true today.
Except on cable “news.”