The surprise firing of NBC’s Matt Lauer for sexual harassment shines a new light on Lauer’s role in helping then-President Bill Clinton save himself from getting kicked out of office.
By the time Clinton was elected president in 1992, liberals had reached critical mass in America’s newsrooms. Although not the most obvious, Lauer was one of them. He and his colleagues filtered the information flow to suit their needs.
In the years that followed, two phenomena would test the effectiveness of these filters. One was the democratic power of the Internet. The other was the outrageous behavior of Clintons.
On Jan. 26, 1992, America writ large first met Hillary Clinton. Earlier that month, Arkansas state employee Gennifer – with a “G” – Flowers confessed to a tabloid that Bill Clinton had been dallying with her for some 12 years.
In a desperate attempt to save Bill’s candidacy for president, the Clintons agreed to be interviewed by Steve Kroft on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
To his credit, Kroft forcefully stuck it to the Clintons. In the not so distant past, news people expected the truth from public officials, even Democratic front-runners for the presidency. Starting with this interview, the Clintons would dramatically lower that expectation.
When Kroft asked Bill if he had an affair with Flowers, he answered, “That allegation is false.” Hillary, her hands lovingly intertwined with Bill’s, nodded in affirmation.
Of course, they were both lying, Bill with much greater skill. Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey would soon immortalize Bill as “an unusually good liar.”
Later in the “60 Minutes” interview, Bill swore, “I have absolutely leveled with the American people.” He had done no such thing, and Kroft knew it.
Skeptically, Kroft asked Bill if he thought the interview would help quiet the furor. Clinton answered, “That’s up to the American people and to some extent up to the press. This will test the character of the press. It is not only my character that has been tested.”
By Clinton standards, the media would pass the test, ace it even, and at their prompting, so would the public. Clinton gave the media just enough cover to “move on.”
The Clinton years were a turning point in the history of journalism. Although liberals had been on a long march through America’s newsrooms for years, it was not until after the Republican sweep in 1994 that they largely abandoned their role as watchdogs.
America has always had scoundrels, but never before had the media collectively championed one, let alone two. Throughout Clinton’s presidency, Bill and Hillary lied as necessary to protect the Clinton brand.
In 1998, Hillary had plenty of opportunity to hone her craft. That year the story of Bill’s sordid sexual history with intern Monica Lewinsky broke into public view.
Unable to contain the story, the media largely endorsed the Clinton plot twist in which the truth tellers – the whistleblowers, the prosecutors, the “bimbos” that erupted – were the villains and the Clintons the besieged protectors of the progressive legacy.
It was during this period that Matt Lauer got to play his small role in American history. Six years and a day after she lied on “60 Minutes” to protect Bill’s candidacy, Hillary lied on the “Today” show to protect his presidency.
“There isn’t any fire,” she told Lauer about the “smoke” surrounding her husband and Lewinsky. Unlike Steve Kroft in 1992, Lauer did not challenge her, not at all.
In fact, he shifted his inquiry from the perjury and obstruction of justice charges facing the president to the fairness of independent counsel Ken Starr’s “30 million dollar” investigation.
This was all the license Hillary needed to introduce a new and memorable subplot. ”The great story here,” she said ominously, “is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”
If Lauer failed to see through the subterfuge, the late Christopher Hitchens did. Said he of the Clintons in his indispensable book, “No One Left to Lie To,” “Like him, she is not just a liar but a lie; a phoney construct of shreds and patches and hysterical, self-pitying demagogic improvisations.”
The proudly left-of-center Hitchens took his title from a quote by Democrat David Schippers, the chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.
Said Schippers for the ages: “The president, then, has lied under oath in a civil deposition, lied under oath in a criminal grand jury. He lied to the people, he lied on his cabinet, he lied on his top aides, and now he’s lied under oath to the Congress of the United States. There’s no one left to lie to.”
Today, not even to Matt Lauer.