28 February 1999
Life in this celebrity press corps: All or nothing at all
Synopsis: It never occurred to the cheerleading press: some tales are part true and part false.
MO for a President?
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 2/25/99
Commentary by Steven Salzburg
Hardball, CNBC, 2/24/99
Imagine, then, that a woman engages in consensual sex that gets a little bit rough. So rough, in fact, that her upper lip gets injured in an observable manner. She has a roommate coming back to the room; she has a husband and a boyfriend to explain to as well. So she makes up what seems like a harmless tale about having been assaulted.
Did something like that happen with Mrs. Broaddrick? Obviously, at THE HOWLER, we cant say. But is it possible that something of that sort occurred? Of course it is; of course its possible. Of course its possible that Mrs. Broaddrick is fibbing about what may have happened that day. Despite Pat Irelands absurd, self-saving rules, defining what folks get to wonder and say, the fact, well known to this planets dwellers, is quite simple: people lie all the time! So yes, dear readers, we must tell you the news. Sometimes, accusers do fabricate.
But life in this celebrity press corps means always believing accusers. Pundits find ways to play double-d dumb and pretend accusers claims must be true. Which brings us back to our man, Michael Kelly, the perpetually furious National Journal savant, and his very telling critique last week of Mrs. Broaddricks very serious charges.
Yesterday, we watched Kelly tell a standard story; Broaddrick lacks motive to lie. The fact that she isnt out selling a book means theres no reason at all to be fibbing.
Its a recitation a third-grader might write--or a scribe whos in love with Big Scandal. Its the wide-eyed tale of a willing scribe who knows how he wants the Big Story to end.
But Kellys cheerleading for Broaddricks claim leads to another bit of daft, silly parsing. Kelly affects to have no idea that a story can be part true and part false. If any part of the story even seems to be true, then to Kelly, thats proof that the whole thing is true. No one on earth ever thinks such strange thoughts--except the celebrity press corps.
Lets review the part of Kellys column where he just marvels at how true it all seems:
KELLY: Broaddricks account is highly specific, filled with small, precise points of recollection that do not seem the sort of details someone would make up...
Kellys belief that he knows what kind of details people make up is, of course, unbelievably foolish. If were going to convict people of rape on this basis, we might as well just call in a team of phrenologists and trace the bumps on accused peoples heads. This same argument-from-detail has been offered elsewhere (see Dorothy Rabinowitz on todays Fox News Sunday; Ann Coulter on Hannity & Colmes 2/25). Lets review the rest of Kellys presentation about the amazing things Broaddrick remembers:
KELLY: ...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 little detail not sound very, very much like our Bill?
Again, the inanity of Kellys writing is breathtaking. The notion that one would convict a public figure of rape on this basis simply defies comprehension. A person accused of the most serious of crimes stands convicted because a reported comment sounds very much like him. This is writing so foolish that ones cheeks start to rouge, and one feels ones eyes glancing away.
But what is especially striking about Kellys comment is what Kellys rumination leaves out. It doesnt occur to Kelly that Clinton may have made this comment, without committing the alleged act of rape. To state the obvious, Broaddricks story may be partly true, and false in the part that actually matters. Nowhere does Kelly seem to grasp a simple fact: some stories are part true and part false.
Could Clinton have come to Broaddricks room, and made the comment, and not have committed the alleged assault? The answer is: of course he could have. Of course its possible that Broaddricks story is partly true, but false in the part that matters. The possibility would occur to almost any observer who had ever spent ten minutes on the planet. But it seems to be a foreign notion to a good deal of the cheerleading press.
All over the press corps one finds scribes like Kelly, who seem to think that if some part of Broaddricks story is true, then the story is true in the whole. On Dateline, Lisa Myers trumpeted minor details shed been able to confirm, as if that could confirm the assault itself! On TV, pundits discussed the charge for hours without grasping the problem with this line of thought. Steven Salzburg, on Hardball, completely stood out when he offered a more complex thought:
SALZBURG: I think one of the problems here, you say, Well, why dont they mount a defense and publicly come out? If there was sex at all, its very hard with the president in the position hes in to make a defense which is, Wait a minute. You know, what really happened was there was some rough sex, but it wasnt rape. Thats just not the kind of defense thats going to get you very far.
Salzburg here suggests an obvious possibility, one which completely escapes Kelly. He suggests the possibility that some sexual encounter did occur, but that Broaddrick may not be describing it accurately. If Broaddrick describes many details correctly, that does not address the ultimate question. Even if Clinton was in Broaddrocks room that day, making remarks about old run-down prisons, one can hardly tell from that irrelevant fact if a sexual assault did occur.
But life in this celebrity press corps means always believing accusers. If they say one thing that sounds like its true, that suggests their whole tales on the mark. Here at THE HOWLER, we do not know if Mrs. Broaddricks charges are true. But neither of course does Michael Kelly. Hes just practiced in hiding that fact.
Summary: Our complaints about Kellys analysis (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25-2/28):
- Mrs. Broaddrick does not seem to be writing a book; he pretends there can be no other motive to lie. This, of course, is utterly foolish. People lie all the time, for many reasons.
- He suggests that because she came forward reluctantly, that means she is telling the truth. That is, of course, plainly false.
- He suggests that, if some detail in the story sounds like its true, the basic charge must be true. Also false.
- He describes Kathleen Willeys story as part of a pattern, without telling you that her story has been contradicted under oath.
- He finds in the Lewinsky matter a pattern of rape. This is the basis for his articles title. It is surely his strangest conception.
Michael Kelly wants to say that the charges are true. Hell spin all day to say it.