Conclusion—The stampede we rode in on: An incomparably clever observer might call it the press corps stampede we rode in on.
The events in question take us back to the spring of '98. In January of that year, reports had surfaced alleging that President Clinton had engaged in consensual sex with a "21-year-old intern."
The young woman in question had actually been a 22- to 24-year-old federal employee during the sporadic affair. Engaging in their favorite pastime, journalists kept improving the story in the manner described all through the resulting year of impeachment, which led to the war in Iraq and uncountable numbers of dead children in various parts of the world.
That said, whatever! It was a time of excitement and joy all through the upper-end press corps. Ever since 1987, when they finished Gary Hart, they had devoted themselves to a basic idea—journalists were principally charged with the task of catching major pols, but mainly just Dems, in the act of having a girl friend.
In the case of Hart, they'd accomplished this task by hiding in the bushes outside his Washington home. This new case was especially provident, since it let the journalists pretend that they were really concerned with some form of workplace harassment, or perhaps even with some type of assault.
In January of this year, the claim about Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had sent these people into a tizzy. Two months later, the story suddenly improved.
It was heaven! On March 15, Kathleen Willey, a fomer White House volunteer, "alleged on the TV news program 60 Minutes that Bill Clinton had sexually assaulted her on November 29, 1993, during his first term as President."
We're quoting the leading authority on this TV event. As noted, Willey's allegation was made on 60 Minutes, a TV show that never shies from boosting its ratings in such dramatic ways.
To state the obvious, Willey was making a highly consequential charge. She wasn't alleging some sort of consensual act, the type of behavior that had driven them wild in the case of Hart.
Willey was alleging a type of assault—and sure enough! The boys and girls of the mainstream press just knew she was telling the truth!
Try to understand! None of them had ever set eyes on Willey before this TV show aired. They had no apparent way to judge the truthfulness of her claims, or to judge her general honesty.
That said, Willey was conventionally attractive, and she plainly seemed to be upper-middle class. On this basis, a gang of lovesick boys mounted steeds to stampede off and swear that she was plainly telling the truth.
Already, a reader may perhaps be able see some similarities to a more recent TV event. That said, let's return to the great stampede of 98, the stampede we rode in on.
This site was about to launch when Willey made her appearance. By the previous fall, we had already decided that the lunacy of the upper-end press had become too vast to ignore.
We had no way of knowing how much crazier their conduct was about to become—no way of knowing how many tens of thousands of children would die around the world.
That said, their lunacy was vast when Willey appeared on 60 Minutes, as was their love for the conventionally attractive, well-dressed Clinton accuser.
Truth to tell, the lovesick boys had no way of assessing her general honesty. They also didn't know what lay ahead:
They didn't know that Willey's account would be challenged, under oath, by a White House co-worker who was helping lead the charge against Clinton in the Lewinsky matter.
They didn't know that a later accusation by Willey would be shown to be flatly false, though not before it came this close to getting a journalist killed.
They didn't know that Willey would end up earning her dough as a crackpot right-wing talk show host pimping the Clintons' many murders. Perhaps most strikingly, they didn't know that Ken Starr's successor in the pursuit of Bill Clinton would formally say, in his final report, that he and his office had considered charging Willey with perjury, she had lied to them so often.
Oof! The lovesick boys had no way of knowing how Willey would turn out. That said, they went off on one of their stampedes. They stood in line to tell the world how truthful their fair lady was.
They all just knew she was telling the truth! George Will started the clowning on March 17, telling readers this:
WILL (3/17/98): With Kathleen Willey's "60 Minutes" appearance, the crisis of Clinton's presidency reached an adult moment..What kind of person can continue the intellectual contortions necessary to sustain doubt about who is lying?...Will had never set eyes on Willey before—but he knew who was being mendacious! Who could doubt it, he asked.
Willey’s painful—for her, and for her civilized viewers—appearance drew dignity from her patent reluctance, and her grown-up’s incredulity about Clinton’s crudity at the time and his continued mendacity.
Others scrambled to voice the same judgment. William Safire knew Willey had been truthful. “Here was no slick Willey,” he wittily said in his New York Times column on March 19.
Maureen Dowd endorsed Willey too, comparing her to Anita Hill. In the Washington Post, Michael Kelly penned a loud rant in which he affirmed every word Willey said, sarcastically pretending he didn't believe the new accuser.
In USA Today, Walter Shapiro accused the White House of “smears” for suggesting that Willey wasn’t being truthful—although Shapiro himself was only “95 percent convinced Willey’s charges are true.”
Shapiro's column took the form of an imaginary memo to a Democratic senator. We like Walter a lot, from the old days! But the column started like this:
SHAPIRO (3/18/98): It is time that a senior Democrat like yourself expressed publicly the repugnance that so many in the party privately feel about the president's conduct toward Kathleen Willey.In Shapiro's column, Willey was "highly credible," the White House was engaging in "smears." His imagined senator shouldn't take "the easy road," in which he would say that he didn't yet know who was telling the truth.
We all realize what the easy road is. Duck the questions whenever possible and, if cornered, mouth bland platitudes like, "These are serious allegations. But President Clinton has denied them. And until all the facts are in, I am in no position to make a judgment."
But we both know that Willey was a highly credible witness both in her reluctant deposition in the Paula Jones case and her appearance on 60 Minutes. This, of course, has not prevented the White House from trying to smear her as they practice their desperate scorched-earth tactics to survive another news cycle.
Remember, these pundits were vouching for an accuser on whom they had never set eyes in their lives. Beyond that, they were endorsing a person whose odd financial and personal problems were already being described in some newspapers’ news pages.
Nonetheless, the swoon for the plainly truthful Willey swept all through the press. No one fell harder than Chuck Lane, then editor of the New Republic.
Lane may have copied off Safire's paper. His wonderfully witty column was headlined “Unslick Willey:”
LANE (4/6/98): 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...So the president is a groper and a liar. He must be held accountable.Lane didn't even attempt to say how he knew that Willey was telling the truth, or how he knew that Clinton had used force, or how he knew that Clinton had been “a groper.” As he joined the stampede, he didn’t devote a single word to the task of defending the judgments he said were "pretty clear."
Lane's certainty was especially striking because he mentioned several factors which were already raising doubt about Willey's overall deportment.
Did the stampede these pundits performed perhaps resemble a current stampede? This fleeting passage from Lane's essay may seem familiar too:
LANE: Not to mention the fact that Willey’s lawyer tried to sell her story to a publisher for $300,000—because she’s still desperate for cash to make restitution to a client from whom her late husband had allegedly embezzled and whom Willey declined to pay from the proceeds of her husband’s $1 million life insurance policy.Willey had been trying to sell her story before she told it on 60 Minutes! Please note:
Despite receiving a million dollar insurance payout, she had stiffed a creditor for some undisclosed amount! Still, the lovesick boys of the mainstream press stampeded off, yelling and hollering in support of her obvious truthfulness.
We're only showing you the words of a few of these stampeders. They'd never set eyes on Kathleen Willey, but they knew she was telling the truth!
The children behaved this very same way when Stephanie Clifford appeared on 60 Minutes two Sundays ago. Displaying the type of undisguised dumbness which can only exist in an idiocracy, they swore that the feminist hero Clifford was plainly telling the truth.
In a more rational world, these children would have learned from the earlier stampede, in which pundits rushed to stupidly swear that Willey just had to be truthful.
In our world, they didn't learn from that prior debacle because of what happened next:
Starting in the fall of 1998, Willey's exciting claims became subject to serious impeachment. First came the sworn testimony of Linda Tripp, who said that Willey had long plotted and primped, hoping to generate a love affair with Bill Clinton.
Tripp's sworn testimony reached the world as part of a very large, famous "document dump"—and the press corps hurried to cover it up. Very few people ever heard what Tripp had said, under oath, about her workmate and friend.
(For more detailed reporting, click here.)
The deranged boys and girls of our mainstream press corps basically shut this news down. A code of silence was in effect, protecting the accuser they loved.
More potential embarrassments followed. They too were disappeared.
In January 1999, Elizabeth Holtzman appeared on Hardball and mentioned the fact that Tripp had challenged Willey's claims. Chris Matthews, who pandered to Willey for years. landed on Holtzman like a ton of bricks, denying her accurate statements.
Holtzman’s accurate statements on Hardball disappeared down the memory hole. Pundits were able to keep pretending that Willey’s treasured claims were perfectly credible.
Then came the gruesome event in May 1999, when Willey accused journalist Cody Shearer of threatening her in the dark outside her home.
Finally! A frightening physical threat! Does this sound familiar too?
Willey's accusation was made on Hardball, thanks to Chris Matthews' disgraceful behavior. In the wake of this disgraceful cable event, Shearer was able to prove that he had been three thousand miles away on the evening of the alleged threat—but not before a mentally ill man with a gun had been arrested at his Washington home, where he had apparently gone in order to shoot him.
Willey and Matthews could have gotten Shearer killed. You've never heard about this disgraceful event 1) because discussions of gruesome press corps misconduct simply aren't allowed and 2) because the press corps [HEART] accusers.
Eventually, Robert Ray dropped his bomb on Willey's head. In March 2002, he released his final formal report on the Clinton investigations.
Oops! Ray’s report included a special appendix about Willey. In it, Ray noted that Willey “had given substantially different accounts in two sworn statements and had lied to the FBI about her relationship with a former boyfriend” (Ken Fireman, Newsday, 3/7/02).
In Nina Totenberg’s words, Ray “concluded that it was impossible to convict based on Willey’s words [because] she’d lied so many times, including to the prosecutors.”
To all appearances, Ray had even considered prosecuting the press corps’ dearly beloved. “Following Willey’s acknowledgment of the lie, the Independent Counsel agreed not to prosecute her for false statements in this regard," Ray strikingly wrote as part of his formal report.
Did the boys and girls of the mainstream press corps report this startling news? After years of sweating by Willey's words, did they have the decency to tell the public what Ray had said?
Surely you jest! A few news orgs offered fleeting reports about what Ray had written. Elsewhere, the code of silence held, leading to an astounding moment on CNN's Capital Gang, which was still a major program that that time.
As far as we know, no TV show ever reported what Robert Ray said. Not Brokaw; not Rather; not Jennings; not Lehrer. Loudmouth Chris Matthews—who pimped his darling Willey for years—never told his Hardball viewers that his most beloved, dearest accuser had been disowned by Ray.
As usual, though, CNN's "gang” made a grievous misjudgment. Their behavior was comical even by press corps standards.
Ten days after Ray’s report was released, the gang aired “a Capital Gang classic to mark another Clinton anniversary.” In a truly ludicrous moment, the gang played four-year old videotape in which several pundits told the world how credible Willey was!
Ten days earlier, Robert Ray had suggested that Willey lied so much they considered charging her with perjury. But people! When the mainstream "press corps" loves you, they love you all the way!
Even when the four-year-old videotape finished playing, praise for the wonderful Willey continued. Incredibly, Al Hunt once again said, in real time, how credible she'd always been:
HUNT (3/16/02): You know, I still think that Kathleen Willey was far more credible than Paula Jones or Juanita Broderick or any of those other people. And it was about sex, Bob, you’re right, and that’s why the American people said, "Don’t impeach him."Ten days after Ray's report, he still believed in a place called Kathleen! If these life forms didn’t exist, you really couldn't invent them.
Willey went on to a career as a crackpot right-wing talk show host. At no point were you allowed to know that those lovesick pundits had made a foolish mistake in 1998 when they swore, on first sighting, that Kathleen Willey was the world's most truthful possible person.
Little children at Slate, and everywhere else, vouched for Stephanie Clifford last week in the exact same way. They vouchedfor her about The Sex; they vouched for her about The Threat.
They gazed away from her repeated efforts to sell her story for cash. In fairness, yes, they're idiocrats, but so was the generation of corporate pundits before them.
It was just like the spring of 98! They plainly had no way of knowing, but they swore that Clifford was telling the truth! According to every international expert, such foolishness signals an idiocracy. We've all been living in one for at least thirty years.
Were the children exposed to too much lead? How about pundits like Hunt and Lane and the others who came before them?
We don't know how to answer your question. As we wait for Mr. Trump's War, it may just be that this is the way the human brain turned out.
For extra credit only: For a bit more detail about some of this, you can just click here.
What about Gennifer Flowers, you say? Idiocracy sufferers, please! Please don't even ask!