I, Claudius visits the Times: When we look at the way our "press corps" works, we often think of I, Claudius.
I, Claudius started its life as a Robert Graves novel. (In 1998, the Modern Library ranked it as the fourteenth greatest of the twentieth century.)
In 1976, the BBC created a 12-part TV adaptation. In this country, the series became a massive hit on PBS.
Why do we think of I, Claudius when we look at the work of the press corps? In I, Claudius, Graves portrays the difference between what the Roman masses are being told and what is actually happening behind the scenes, in the halls of power.
For that reason, we think of I, Claudius when we look at the way organs like the New York Times "report" Bill Clinton's past scandals, real and imagined. When we look at a passage like this from last Friday's editorial:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (1/8/16): For decades Mrs. Clinton has helped protect her husband’s political career, and hers, from the taint of his sexual misbehavior, as evidenced by the Clinton team’s attacks on the character of women linked to Mr. Clinton. When Mr. Clinton ran for president in 1992, Mrs. Clinton appeared on television beside him to assert that allegations involving Gennifer Flowers were false. In 1998, he admitted to that affair under oath. After the Monica Lewinsky affair emerged, some White House aides attempted to portray Ms. Lewinsky as the seducer.In the case of Gennifer Flowers, did Bill Clinton "admit to that affair under oath?"
Unless your only goal in life is casting Clinton as a liar, we'd have to say that no, he pretty much didn't.
As a start to this ludicrous story, consider one part of Gene Lyons' new column at The National Memo. In this passage, Lyons is reacting to that same New York Times editorial:
LYONS (1/13/16): "When Mr. Clinton ran for president in 1992,” editors chided, “Mrs. Clinton appeared on television beside him to assert that allegations involving Gennifer Flowers were false. In 1998, he admitted to that affair under oath.”In the exciting tabloid report for which she was extremely well paid, Flowers had claimed a torrid, twelve-year love affair with the Arkansas governor. There is exactly zero reason to believe this claim was true—and Clinton never "admitted" to any such "affair."
Actually, no he did not. In the famous 60 Minutes interview, Bill Clinton had acknowledged “causing pain in my marriage.” He added that most adults would understand what that meant.
Testifying in 1998, he admitted a single backseat tryst with Flowers, very far from the 12-year relationship she’d claimed. In her own deposition, she testified to earning more than $500,000 posing as Bill Clinton’s mistress. Besides claiming college degrees she’d never earned, beauty titles she’d never won, and even a twin sister who never existed, Flowers also managed to write an entire book without stipulating a single time and place where she and her famous paramour were ever together.
Fans of MSNBC’s Hardball have evidently forgotten the August 1999 episode in which Flowers was permitted to accuse Bill Clinton of having political opponents murdered, while host Chris Matthews told her how hot she was.
Bob Somerby found the transcript: “You’re a very beautiful woman,” Matthews panted. “He knows that, you know that, and everybody watching knows that. Hillary Clinton knows that!”
For better or worse, Flowers turned out to be one of the least reliable people who ever managed to find her way into an important place in the national discourse. Her original tabloid "tell-all" featured gruesome, embarrassing errors. (Example: She claimed the torrid affair began at a Little Rock hotel—several years before the hotel first opened its doors.)
As Lyons noted, Flowers' colorful accounts of her own life were filled with strange, embarrassing misstatements. By 1999, she was making money through a web site which listed the Clintons' many murders—the murders she detailed for the leering Matthews, who never met a Clinton accuser who didn't make the blood course swiftly through his veins.
Flowers' half-hour appearance on Hardball was so awful that she was quickly booked to do the full hour on Hannity & Colmes, on the Fox News Channel. In that setting, she repeated her tales of multiple murders, adding the claim that Hillary Clinton is the world's most gigantic lesbo.
For what it's worth, this sort of thing was nothing new for Flowers by that time. In the 1995 book to which Lyons refers, the great truth-teller described the first time she met Mrs. Clinton, then the governor's wife:
FLOWERS: I was shocked. She looked like a big fat frump with her hair hanging down kind of curly and wavy. She had big, thick glasses; an ugly dress; and a big, fat butt.Flowers was quite a wordsmith—although, to be completely fair, Maureen Dowd later wrote similar columns about Howard Dean's thoroughly admirable wife. Nor was this sort of social commentary restricted to Flowers' ridiculous book. As part of a photo spread in Penthouse, Flowers issued a challenge:
"I dare Hillary to bare her butt in any magazine. They don’t have a page that broad," Flowers thoughtfully mused.
For the record, there was more of this sort of thing in Passion and Betrayal. As a courtesy to the whole world, we think we'll take a pass on that material this time around.
Question: Why on earth would any "press corps" pay attention to claims from a person like this? For a quick refresher, let's return to Lyons' text:
"Besides claiming college degrees she’d never earned, beauty titles she’d never won, and even a twin sister who never existed, Flowers also managed to write an entire book without stipulating a single time and place where she and her famous paramour were ever together."
Why would journalists believe any claim from a person like this, except a claim the person could prove? For us, the answer goes something like this::
By the late 1990s, our "journalists" had ceased to be actual journalists. In line with that fact, they were prepared to accept any claim about Bill Clinton, no matter how absurd it might be, no matter how clownish the source.
Did Bill Clinton ever admit to an affair with Flowers? If we're still speaking English, actually no, he did not. The discussion in question occurred under oath as the lascivious Inspector Starr peeped into the underwear drawer and rummaged all around.
Under an arcane, extremely broad definition of sexual relations, Clinton admitted to one such encounter with Flowers. He didn't admit to intercourse. He didn't admit to oral sex. He certainly didn't admit to anything that would normally be called "an affair." But the rest of the peeping toms were buying ink by the barrel, and they were eager to brand him as a liar. So the claim the Times repeated last week quickly gained system-wide purchase.
This led to the stupidest single statement of the endless Clinton/Gore/Clinton wars. Needless to say, it was penned by Frank Rich:
RICH (3/21/98): We now know that the Clintons also got away with exceedingly disingenuous image-mongering in their famous '92 appearance on the show, during which the soon-to-be President responded to a question about a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers by saying "That allegation is false." This year, in a sworn deposition, Mr. Clinton conceded having an affair with her, disputing only its duration.According to Rich, Flowers and Clinton disagreed only about the "duration" of their affair. Here's what the fraudulent fellow meant, although his readers had no way of knowing:
Flowers said the duration had been twelve years. Clinton said ten minutes.
As for Rich, he continued his misconduct all through the coverage of Campaign 2000, and for years beyond. He was still trashing Gore as a fake and a phony 1) when Gore came out against war in Iraq in 2002 (Rich never actually did) and even 2) when Gore's important film, An Inconvenient Truth, first appeared.
Rich only dropped his trashing of Gore when Gore won the Nobel Peace prize. At that time, as such life forms do, Rich executed an instant 180, turning into a fawning admirer of the man he had endlessly savaged, helping send Bush to the White House.
Today, we liberals think Rich is a brilliant intellectual leader. How much more do you have to know about us? But all these many years later, the New York Times editorial board has returned to the formulation the Clinton-haters always loved. As always, they refuse to give you the background information about that thrilling "affair."
Hillary Clinton understands, and understood, the background concerning Flowers. Nor was Flowers the only famous Clinton-accuser whose exciting stories turned out to be blatantly bogus.
Tomorrow, we'll recall the behavior of Kathleen Willey, with the hideous Matthews lustily involved once again. But let's return to that basic point concerning Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton understood the ugliness and the factual phoniness of Flowers' various stories. She knew that this particular accuser was perhaps a bit of a nut. She understood that nutty, extremely unpleasant people sometimes make nutty, ugly claims, perhaps because large sums of money are changing hands. If we might quote from Lyons again:
"In her own deposition, [Flowers] testified to earning more than $500,000 posing as Bill Clinton’s mistress."
(At the time, Flowers' Arkansas state job was paying her roughly $17,000.)
Did Hillary Clinton believe her husband if he told her that Monica Lewinsky was also full of crap? We don't have the slightest idea, and there's no way to find out. But she was operating in the real world, which includes false accusers, not in the manufactured factual sphere produced at crime scenes like the Times.
I, Claudius painted a fascinating portrait of powerful people who were deeply dishonest. People like that haven't disappeared from the planet. In many cases, similar people are hard at work at the Times.
There is no way—no way at all—to get us liberals to accept the fact that this is the actual shape of our world. Maddow and Hayes will never tattle on other members of the guild. Then again, neither will anyone else. It simply isn't done.
In a move to increase her wealth and her fame, Maddow actually vouches for the greatness of Matthews! It's hard to stoop much lower than that, but that's the world Graves described.