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15 February 1999

Smile-a-while (part I): Forever spun

Synopsis: Monica’s tape convinced us again. The press corps just loves getting spun.

Commentary by Tom Oliphant
The NewsHour, PBS, 2/4/99

Perjury Charge Is Faltering
Guy Gugliotta and Eric Pianin, The Washington Post, 2/3/99

Senate still fuzzy on finale for impeachment saga
Tom Squitieri and Jessica Lee, USA Today, 2/3/99

‘Monica’ Playing Here. Plenty of Seating Available.
Frank Bruni, The New York Times, 2/3/99

Commentary by Bill Sammon
Hardball, CNBC, 2/5/99

Commentary by Brian Williams, Cambell Brown
MSNBC, 2/6/99

Public Hears Lewinsky’s Testimony as Videos Are Played in Senate
Melinda Henneberger, The New York Times, 2/7/99

Only senators had seen the Monica tapes, but Tom Oliphant knew what was coming:

OLIPHANT (Thursday, 2/4): The canard about a 21-year-old intern may never have been true, but this is a young woman. The sordid nature of this relationship can at least be inferred by anyone, I’m told, who sees this videotape.

He’s “told” this fact? “Told” by whom? The same people who “told” him that President Clinton would blow his stack on the grand jury tapes? One thing about this celebrity press corps: they never get tired of being spun. Nothing’s more fun than having an interested party whisper some self-serving view in your ear, then rushing off to the nearest studio and repeating it, for rapt waiting minions. The problem here, as we all would soon see, was that Mo didn’t seem very young at all. She seemed more like a middle-aged harpy, pushing around poor Ed Bryant.

But no one knew this on Thursday night, as we awaited the Saturday showing. Although it shouldn’t have been that hard to discern a hint of spin in the air. GOP senators made it a point to say how young Miss Mo seemed on the tape, when they emerged from Senate screening rooms after previewing her video testimony.

No doubt about it; they’d all seen the same thing. Thad Cochran, in Wednesday’s Post:

GUGLIOTTA: Instead of the femme fatale of “news clips and news bites,” Cochran said, “I found her more vulnerable, youthful and very young.”

Every solon saw it. USA Today transcribed Orrin:

SQUITIERI: “It’s far better for the public to meet her and make up their minds,” Hatch said. “I found her to be young, vulnerable, and credible.”

Susan Collins was spinning extra hard, earning Brownie points before voting “Not guilty.” The Times’ Frank Bruni was especially thoughtful in typing up her canned response:

BRUNI: Some of [the senators’] reactions...betrayed the kind of surprise people often experience when they get an extended, up-close view of a celebrity whose appearances have been fleeting. “Monica looked breathtakingly young,” Ms. Collins marveled.

Yep. We love it when scribes don’t just type up the spin, but make a point to pretend that it’s genuine.

And needless to say, Bill Sammon was there, embellishing the spin with some howlers. The analysts roared as Sammon spoke. Does this guy ever get anything right?

SAMMON: We’ve already heard this from the last couple of days, from the senators who have seen this, it’s her youth, it’s her vulnerability, it’s the impact of, jeez, this 50-some-year-old guy and a 21-year-old girl. It’s going to be the last hurrah for the details of this case to take their toll on Bill Clinton.

Funny the guy should be talking about “details,” while getting the actual details so wrong. Their actual ages? 49 and 22. Funny how Sammon’s honest mistake made Bill older--and made Monica young.

Video day dawned bright and unclear as Brian Williams passed on other spin:

WILLIAMS: Today, the videotape. The three videotaped depositions. Lewinsky, Jordan, Blumenthal...Sidney Blumenthal, the one-time Washington journalist turned White House aide, who had a contentious--we are led to believe--session with the House managers.

As it turned out, Sid had behaved like a lamb. Once again Bri had been spun.

But meanwhile, you want to talk about young! Model-ready Campbell Brown was standing in pearls at the White House:

BROWN: It may have caused people here to squirm in terms of reminding the country how young she was.

“Reminding” the country how young she was? How could the country have ever forgotten? Because, as Oliphant’s remark on The NewsHour reminded us, the same corps that was spreading the latest GOP spin had done the same thing for an entire year’s time, obediently telling their poor abused viewers that Lewinsky had been 21. (Enjoy our incomparable “Forever young” series. Links at THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/99.)

By Saturday night, on Capital Gang, pundits were saying Mo hadn’t seemed all that young. But for a few heady days, with the press spinning gaily, Mo once again had become forever young.

Coming unspun: Page one of the New York Times, Sunday morning:

HENNEBERGER: “That woman” came to the Senate today, on videotape, and contrary to advance word from Republicans that she had seemed shockingly young--just a girl, really--Monica Samille Lewinsky instead came across as mature, composed, and ready for a career in the law.

We’re gonna guess that the source was Ed Bryant.