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4 February 1999

Smile-a-while: Still somewhat forever young

Synopsis: A pundit, watching the Senate trial, finally picked up on Monica’s age.

Commentary by Mark Shields
Russert, CNBC, 1/31/99

Good and Plenty
David Brooks, The Weekly Standard, 2/1/99

Commentary by Senator Jim Bunning (R, KY)
Watch It!, MSNBC, 2/3/99

The analysts were all in the Viewing Chamber, watching Russert last Sunday night, and a lusty cheer went up from the crew when Mark Shields finally got her age right:

SHIELDS: I guess this is the thing that really bothers me as a liberal. The president of the United States has an intern--I don’t care what you say, how worldly she is--she’s 22 years of age!

Shields had described attending the impeachment trial, where he must have seen Greg Craig’s defense speech, the one where Craig finally told the world that Mo hadn’t been 21 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/21/99). When Mo met Bill, she was 22 years of age--in fact, she was almost 22 and a half--as we’ve told the readers again and again in our endless “Forever young” plaints (see archive listings, below).

But it sounds so much better to say “21” that conservative spinners couldn’t resist it; they fibbed all year about Monica’s age in their quest to prove Clinton lacks character. And the whole mainstream press corps, for one complete year, just typed up the story the spinners all told. You know--the way Mark Shields had done last month, right there in the glorious Post?

SHIELDS (12/29/98): In his three public statements since admitting to an “inappropriate relationship” with a 21-year-old White House intern, Clinton had revealed a political tin ear.

Shields told Russert he’d attended the trial with fellow Post scribe Mary McGrory. We hoped that she’d watched closely too, because we remembered what she had just written:

MC GRORY (1/14/99): Other involved in the scandal have done stupid things, including the president, who in the middle of fighting a court case on sexual harassment, embarked on an affair with a 21-year-old intern.

And the analysts hoped she didn’t watch the wrong speakers. Because even in the solemn impeachment tribunal, it was possible to hear a GOP manager make an absent-minded error like this:

REP. JAMES ROGAN (1/14/99): The president committed perjury before the grand jury when he testified about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old intern...

Rogan liked the irrelevant, false info so much, he went ahead and just said it again:

ROGAN (1/14/99): [W]hen the relationship really began in 1995, she was not a paid employee of the White House, she was a young, 21-year-old White House intern.

Of course, it’s hard to go too hard on Jim, because he got it from that gruff David Schippers. The grumpy House counsel said this to the JudeCo in his grouchy statement 12/10:

SCHIPPERS: President Clinton claimed that he engaged in wrong conduct with Miss Lewinsky, quote, on certain occasions in 1996, and once in 1997, closed quote. Notice he didn’t mention 1995. There was a reason. On the three occasions in 1995, Monica was a 21-year-old intern.

“A conscious indifference and complete disregard for the concept of the truth.” Those are the words the spinning Schippers had sputtered concerning Vile Clinton.

But who could really blame it on Dave, the “avuncular” fellow the press corps all adored? After all, he’d gotten the idea when Ken Starr was so slick. Remember? In his famous report?

THE STARR REPORT: Monica Lewinsky...obtained an internship starting in early July, when she was 21 years old.

Two weeks later, she turned 22. Starr told you, in a footnote he printed below, for all to see, in the world’s smallest print.

Yep. We’ve given occasional lists before of all the scribes who reported it wrong, so the analysts cheered to see that the tide at long last was starting to turn. But we knew our work was not yet done when the Weekly Standard arrived last week. In an excellent piece called “Good and Plenty,” David Brooks was still shoveling this:

BROOKS: Many people were willing to condemn his perjury, but nobody wanted to moralize about the president’s adulterous affair with a 21-year-old intern.

You hate to lose an excellent tale, and that “21-year-old-intern” was queen of the prom. And one GOP solon took to the air to show the way true love really dies. It was Senator Jim Bunning, right there on TV, to whom Mo was still halfway forever young:

BUNNING (2/3/99): All I can tell you [from watching Lewinsky’s taped deposition] is that her memory is not as good as it might be, and she looks awfully young. By that I mean if you subtract three years from the day that she was deposed this time to when the first occurrence started, she was just 21 or 22 years old.

It’s what politicians call “splitting the difference.” You can take home the number you want.

Yep. It seems they grow up too fast, these kids. To the senator, Mo was still somewhat young.

Culpa nostra: You’ve asked us why we just keep talking about Miss Monica’s age.

  1. It’s astounding, and revealing, that the mainstream press couldn’t get this fact right for an entire year. This in the course of reporting each day on the world’s top political story
  2. It’s remarkable to see how the mainstream press couldn’t see through simple GOP spin.
The inability to discern facts as simple as this reveals the problem at the heart of the press corps. The fact itself is of no importance. The press corps’ incompetence is.

By the way, people who misstate simple facts for a year are unlikely to understand other simple facts, either. Doubt us? Read on tomorrow as we report on a blizzard of recent big news channel howlers.

Visit our incomparable archives: Enjoy each embarrassing, delicious episode in our unmatchable age-of-Mo series:

Forever young: THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/8/98
Still forever young: THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/98
Leno gets it right!: THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/10/98
Still forever young, continued: THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/11/98
Forever officially young: THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/16/99
No longer forever young: THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/21/99