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Caveat lector

25 February 1999

The Daily Howler retrospective: Rushing to judgment--again

Synopsis: The press corps was rushing to judgment last night. They did the same thing back in March.

Commentary by Tony Blankley
Rivera Live, CNBC, 2/24/99

MO for a President?
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 2/25/99

Here at THE HOWLER, we do not know if Juanita Broaddrick is telling the truth. We do know Mrs. Broaddrick is credible. It is surely not clear that her story is false. It cannot be dismissed on its face.

But the fact that someone’s story is credible does not mean that her story is true. People who seem to be telling the truth will sometimes turn out to be lying. Press corps members should surely know that. Here, we’ll let Tony Blankley explain it:

BLANKLEY: I’m not sure why all of us, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have to trot out to our predictable positions on this issue. I watched her testimony, or her interview, just now. It was credible, but in my experience as a former prosecutor, I’ve seen people lie persuasively and I’ve seen people tell the truth unpersuasively. I don’t know what the public of even what I think ultimately is the truth to this.

Man! Tony’s liable to forfeit his pundit card, if he persists with simple statements like this!

And so here at THE HOWLER, we remind our readers of a few simple points of fact. The fact that someone doesn’t seem to be lying doesn’t mean that they’re telling the truth. You can’t be sure that someone is telling the truth, just because they strike you as honest. And you’d think that CelebCorps would be trained to know that--would be skilled at withholding their judgment.

But all over the cable dial last night, CelebCorps was rushing to judgment. They asserted that they couldn’t imagine a reason why Broaddrick would want to lie. She wasn’t selling a book; she’d come forward with reluctance; she was “a woman of a kind people like and warm to” (Dorothy Rabinowitz). We always turn to Michael Kelly for the least temperate reaction to any situation, and here he is in this morning’s Post. God bless him. The guy never fails:

KELLY: And Broaddrick’s account is highly specific, filled with small, precise points of recollection that do not seem the sorts of details someone would make up...

What sorts of details does Kelly mean? Folks, we aren’t making this up:

KELLY: ...filled with small, precise points of recollection that do not seem the sorts of details someone would make up. She remembers that she met Clinton when he made a gubernatorial campaign visit to her nursing home, and that he invited her to drop by campaign headquarters in Little Rock...She remembers what Clinton did in the moments before he suddenly kissed her: he pointed out the window at a dilapidated old prison and told her that when he was governor he would fix that up. Does that not sound very, very much like our Bill?

And indeed, perhaps it was our Bill; no one has said an encounter didn’t happen. Clinton is charged with committing a rape, not with discussing a prison. The charge is a very serious criminal charge, one that should not be argued lightly. What a surprise to find Kelly rushing for ways to pretend he that knows it occurred.

No, here at THE HOWLER, we do not know if Mrs. Broaddrick is telling the truth. But for us, the pundits’ rush to judgment last night brought to mind an earlier episode. We were taken back to March 1998, when Kathleen Willey first appeared on the scene, and the press corps stampeded to swear on their graves that they believed every word Willey said.

The writing that was done in the next two weeks was writing as bad as it gets. Columnists who had never set eyes on Willey now swore that her statements were truthful. They did this even though reporters were already describing shaky events in Willey’s life--incidents suggesting that Willey may not be a person in whom one could place total trust. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98, for our review of the past rush to trust.)

Well, it is now quite clear that Kathleen Willey may have been fibbing on Sixty Minutes. Linda Tripp’s detailed testimony before the grand jury contradicts every word Willey said. If the press corps had been willing to face that fact--if CelebCorps had been willing to report what Tripp said--then they might have learned a valuable lesson about rushing to judge what is true.

But CelebCorps doesn’t just love those accusers; CelebCorps is deep-dish dishonest. The corps has refused to tell its readers about the startling things Linda Tripp said. All over the cable dial last night, grateful pundits cited Willey as someone else who said Clinton had groped her. No one remembered to tell the world about the striking things Linda Tripp said.

So let’s make it clear: we do not assert, not for a minute, that Juanita Broaddrick is lying. One of the obvious possibilities here is that Broaddrick is telling the truth. But Michael Kelly doesn’t know if that’s true, just as he didn’t know what was true last March. It didn’t stop him from rushing back then. And it damn straight won’t slow him down now.

Visit our incomparable archives: Their names are Safire, Kelly, Will, Dowd, and Lane. Last March, they wholly embarrassed themselves, with writing as bad as it gets. (DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98)

Tomorrow: All over the networks, accusing pundits failed to tell you Kathleen Willey may have lied.