WASHINGTON — “When the ‘Monica situation’ broke in January 1998, it
touched off one of the most incredible series of leaks, lying, stonewalling
and obfuscation I’ve ever seen.”
No, Cal Thomas didn’t say that. It was Helen Thomas, dean of the White
House press corps, in a rare fit of candor about a Democratic president.
It’s quite a damning statement, too, particularly in the context of just
one scandal. Thomas has covered every president since JFK, including Nixon,
so she’s seen a fair piece of lying and stonewalling.
But she buried the complaint in her latest book. Like others in the press
corps, she never put it to President Clinton directly. Republican presidents
weren’t so lucky.
“Reporters at every turn accused Reagan of duplicity, challenged his
credibility and shattered his composure,” writes Thomas, celebrating the
feverish Iran-Contra coverage.
The press corps even took the liberty of bundling that scandal with minor
ones and associating Reagan with what it called an overall “sleaze factor.”
Nixon also wasn’t spared. His administration was written off as
“crooked.” He was branded “Tricky Dick.”
Yet Clinton is still just “Mr. President.”
The national press, usually so good at calling things by their proper
names — cruelly so at times – has yet to coin any nickname for Clinton.
(Paul Greenberg, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s editorial editor, came up
with “Slick Willie.” But no big East Coast newsroom has rubber-stamped its
After eight years of rank corruption, reporters in this town are by and
large still reserving judgment on Clinton. Maybe it’s because they’d be
judging themselves, too.
Most have a personal, not just political, stake in Clinton. A whopping 89
percent of Washington reporters and 60 percent of bureau chiefs voted for
him in 1992 — compared with just 43 percent of the popular vote.
Surveys going back to the ’60s show the press has always voted to the
left of the public. But the Clinton disconnect (a gap of 46 percentage
points) is the greatest of all, which makes me think the attraction is more
Maybe it’s because most editors today are baby boomers and, like Clinton,
smoked pot and loathed the military. Maybe it’s because he’s a reflection of
their own morals. Or maybe they just like his cool hair.
Whatever, the national press remains intoxicated by Clinton and can’t
seem to summon the spit to call him for what he is — the most corrupt
president in American history, and quantifiably so.
That phrase, “the most corrupt president,” has been bandied about so
often in Republican circles that it’s become a cliche. And that’s allowed
the press corps to dismiss it as hyperbole.
It’s not, and I’ll prove it for any of the White House court jesters
willing to stop batting their eyelashes at His Nibs for five minutes. The
Clinton administration has the dubious honor of breaking the record for the
most number of:
- Convictions and guilty pleas
- Cabinet officials under criminal investigation
- Independent counsels named (Attorney General Janet Reno has had to
tap more than all other attorney generals combined)
- White House lawyers
- Claims of executive privilege
- Presidential legal bills
- Witnesses who fled the country or took the Fifth
- Key witnesses who died unexpectedly
- Illegal foreign donations accepted
Now let’s zero in on Clinton. No other elected, sitting president
has ever been:
- Recommended for disbarment
- Guilty of violating The Privacy Act
- Held in contempt of court and fined for giving false and misleading
answers under oath
- Sued for sexual harassment
- Forced to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit
- Accused of rape
- In business and/or good pals with more convicted felons
Now after 39-plus scandals (the White House counsel’s office’s own
internal count) and seven special outside investigations, you’d think
Clinton’s crookedness would be bumper-sticker obvious to even his sappiest
apologist (Dan Rather) and shrillest shill (Eleanor Clift).
Just witness the last press conference. Clinton called the scandals
“bogus” and reporters sat there with their faces flapping. Gee, what
beautiful silk you’re wearing today, Emperor.
“The word ‘scandal’ has been thrown around here like a clanging teapot
for seven years,” Clinton huffed. “And I keep waiting for somebody to say —
I noticed there was one columnist in the Washington Post that had the
uncommon decency to say, will no one ever stand up here and say that a whole
bunch of this stuff was just garbage and that we had totally innocent people
prosecuted because they wouldn’t lie (about me and my wife)?”
Yeah, and I’m still waiting for somebody among the media elite to stand
up and call all your clanging scandals by their proper name: Corruption. And
you by yours: crook.
By holding back and affording this president an unusually high degree of
respect, the group of people who are supposed to report history are letting
Clinton revise it, as he grapples for a clean legacy.
Even the nation’s mostly liberal scholars acknowledge the Clinton crime
C-SPAN’s recent survey of historians ranked Clinton the most unethical
president — more so than even Harding and Nixon. As presidents go, that
makes him lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
Sure, the press had taken some stabs at stereotyping Clinton. But the
closest we’ve gotten to an unvarnished expression of all these scandals is
“Clinton fatigue.” How polite. How conveniently vague.
The normally brutal wordsmiths can’t even bring themselves to say
Clinton’s lied. Instead, we get a garden variety of euphemisms, from
“dissembled” to “parsed” to “shaded the truth.”
Look, he lied. There, was that so hard? Now try this: He’s still lying.
Now the big step: He’s a liar, a certified public liar.
This is not name-calling. This is simply reporting facts.
Let it go, you say, Clinton’s headed for the exits soon anyway. Does it
White House ostrich corps
Does weather to a pilot? If the press keeps glossing over the lies,
they’ll let our most powerful elected official institutionalize lying. Who
will trust a president again?
And if the White House ostrich corps keeps talking around the stinking
elephant in the middle of the Oval Office, they’ll let Clinton
institutionalize corruption. Who will trust the Constitution again?
If they really wanted, the adversarial press could have turned Clinton
into a pariah by now. If they really wanted.
Instead, they’ve acted more like his Praetorian Guard, saving their barbs
for the “Clinton-hating zealots” in the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Look how they went into high dudgeon over Newt Gingrich. No one was
stricken with writer’s block then. Epithets were minted like pennies. They
couldn’t pin the derogatory labels on poor, old Newt fast enough.
When Clinton lost Congress in 1994 — a loss of epic proportions — the
media didn’t call Clinton a loser. No, they went after the winner: “The
Gingrich who stole Christmas,” jabbed one newsweekly cover.
They saved the “loser” insult for the 1998 election — literally. Over a
cover photo of Gingrich, Newsweek blared: “The Loser.”
The media won’t think the worst of Clinton. Just his detractors.
With this presidency, we’re expected to buy that his scandals are like so
many potato eyes — disfiguring but nothing rotten. We’re expected to
swallow the notion that a fish rots from the tail up.
We’re expected to believe that there is no engine driving this White
House scandal machine. Just a bunch of independently operating parts.
Felonious friend John Huang, for one, is a free-spinning wheel
unconnected to a drive train. Charlie Trie’s a spark plug detached from an
With Clinton — the man who single-handedly created a cottage industry
for independent counsels — the three-monkeys media see no evil, hear no evil and report no evil.
And nicknames escape them. Help them out, won’t you? Send your
[email protected]. We’ll publish the Top 10.