For whom the gong show tolls: We weren't planning to post today. Then, we read Charles Blow.
Headline included, his column starts as shown below. On display is a twenty-year breakdown on the part of the people we still regard as our journalists:
BLOW (5/30/16): The Ghosts of Old Sex ScandalsOther problems occur later on in this piece, as we'll note below. But good lord. Where to begin?
We are now being forced to relive the decades-old sex scandals of Bill Clinton, as Donald Trump tries desperately to shield and inoculate himself from well-earned charges of misogyny.
I say, if we must go there, let’s go all the way. Let’s do this dirty laundry, as Kelly Rowland, former Destiny’s Child, once crooned.
First, multiple women have accused Clinton of things ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Paula Jones famously brought a sexual harassment case against Clinton. The case was dismissed, but on appeal, faced with the prospect of having to testify under oath, Clinton settled the case out of court.
Clinton has maintained that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with only two women: Gennifer Flowers, a model and actress, and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.
Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his affair with Lewinsky.
Let’s just say this: Clinton was as wrong as the day is long for his affairs. There is no way around that.
But the problem was that many of the men condemning the beam in Clinton’s eye were then shown to have one in their own.
For starters, Blow says that Bill Clinton has been accused of rape, "but the problem was that many of the men condemning the beam in Clinton’s eye were then shown to have one in their own."
That is just a very, very dumb approach and construction. Once you say that someone has been accused of rape, you probably need to say something more about the strength and status of the charge, which extends beyond the claim of having "a beam in his eye."
We offer that as a basic point. Let's move ahead to Blow's account of Bill Clinton's alleged confessions.
Sex addicts, please! Eighteen years later, Bill Clinton has not said that he had a sexual "relationship" or "affair" with Gennifer Flowers, at least not in any normal sense of those terms.
In the testimony to which Blow is referring, Bill Clinton wasn't asked if he had a sexual relationship or affair with Flowers. Eighteen years later, Blow still doesn't seem to know this.
Meanwhile, was Flowers a "model and actress?"
It certainly makes the story that much more exciting! But in 1992, when Flowers published her error-laden claims about Clinton in the tabloid paper The Star, she was a $17,000 per year Arkansas state employee. Before that, she had been a local Little Rock TV reporter during some of the time covered in her error-laden string of charges, for which she testified to having been paid $500,000.
Blow's description is suitably thrilling. We'd also say it's misleading, in the way these journalistic claims have been all along.
That said, let's give Blow some credit. Though he refers to Monica Lewinsky as "a White House intern," he doesn't call her a "21-year-old intern," the erroneous description which dominated press corps accounts during the thrilling year of impeachment.
Addicts, can we talk? Bill Clinton did acknowledge having a relationship/affair with Lewinsky. The relationship lasted several years. During the bulk of that time, Lewinsky she was a 23-24 year old federal employee.
(Lewinsky was already 22—almost 22-and-a-half!—when she first encountered Clinton. Technically, she was still in her last few weeks as an intern, but she had already accepted a full-time job as a White House employee. People like Blow kept calling her a "21-year-old intern" because the erroneous claim about her age made the story more exciting. So does Blow's exciting claim today about that "model and actress." Also, Kelly Rowland! This is exciting stuff!)
Do any of these points actually matter? It's pretty much as you like it. People like Blow will continue to tell these stories in the ways they remember or like to imagine them. Blow's more consequential blundering comes near the end of his piece.
Blow spends the bulk of his piece telling readers that many of Bill Clinton's Republican accusers had "relationships" and "affairs" too. That's interesting, but it doesn't speak to the aggressive claims Candidate Trump and his willing mouthpieces now making about Hillary Clinton, the person who's actually running for president in this particular year.
Blow seems to know what Trump is saying, but he seems to have trouble staying on point. Here's how his sexy-time column ends:
BLOW: Last week, when the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was confronted on CNN with Trump’s defenses of Clinton during the sex scandals, Cohen responded that at the time Trump was simply trying to “protect a friend.” And yet, this is the same camp lambasting Hillary Clinton as an “enabler” for trying to protect a husband?Blow seems to know that Candidate Trump and his willing mouthpieces are making a set of rather nasty charges against Hillary Clinton (see his use of the term "enabler"). He also quickly wanders off point. See his instant fuzzy claim that Trump is "using a husband’s philandering as a weapon against a betrayed wife."
It’s all incredibly distasteful, yes, but it also doesn’t jibe. And, aside from the unshakable feeling that there is something tragically off about using a husband’s philandering as a weapon against a betrayed wife, I also doubt the public will have much stomach for these stories, just as it didn’t in the 1990s.
Dirty laundry, done.
As you may know, Trump and them are aggressively claiming that Hillary Clinton behaved in nasty and threatening ways toward Bill Clinton's accusers. Not long ago, we noted the sheer absurdity of one of these claims—the claim that Hillary Clinton savaged Lewinsky. The claim that she threatened Juanita Broaddrick is several times stupider still.
That said, players like Blow will never be bright enough to explain such facts to the public, or to help the pubic see what these facts tells us about the way our discourse has worked for the past several decades. They've run gong-shows throughout the era. Their gong-shows aren't likely to stop.
At present, there are two key parts to this story. Don't expect people like Blow to notice:
First: the specific charges against Hillary Clinton are well beyond moronic. People like Blow will never be able to tell the public this.
Second, and very important: several of the Clinton sex accusers lack almost all credibility. Flowers is one such person.
Good God! By 1999, she was running a money-making web site devoted to pimping the Clinton's many murders. That August, she went on Hardball, then on Hannity & Colmes, to pimp these ridiculous tales at 30-minute length, then for the full hour.
People like Blow never reported that remarkable fact! It wasn't mentioned in real time, not once. It hasn't been mentioned since.
Why did Blow's colleagues avert their gaze from Flowers' appalling, crackpot behavior? Duh. By 1999, Flowers was one of their treasured accusers. People like Blow just kept propping her up.
Today, Blow calls her a model and actress and says she did have an affair with Bill Clinton. As this hapless fellow sells us these claims, you are possibly able to see for whom the gong still tolls.
It's a simple but counterintuitive fact. On the simplest levels of intellect and character, the people we still regard as journalists are remarkably wanting.
Kevin Drum and Jonathan Chait will never be willing to tell you that. Within the guild which feeds and clothes them, it simply isn't done.
Tomorrow, we'll be starting a multi-week series in which we explore an array of such facts. We're still in the midst of a decades-old gong show. Come November, we may be surprised to learn for whom the gong has tolled.
Starting tomorrow: Don't ask, don't tell, don't inform, don't inquire