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16 March 1999

Life in this celebrity press corps: A whole lot more profile than courage

Synopsis: Those crafty pundits are playing it dumb in the matter of Juanita Broaddrick.

Commentary by David Gergen, Larry King, Dee Dee Myers, Jeff Greenfield, Dorothy Rabinowitz
Larry King Live, CNN, 3/8/99

Commentary by Dorothy Rabinowitz
Fox News Sunday, Fox, 2/28/99

Commentary by Kevin Hickey
Drudge, Fox, 2/27/99

We hope David Gergen showed more imagination back when he served those three sitting presidents! Larry King had just interviewed Kevin Hickey, the 28-year-old son of Juanita Broaddrick; and in the very next segment, he asked poor Gergen to react to what Hickey had said:

GERGEN: Well, Larry, I kept thinking, listening to him as the two of you talked, what mother would tell her son that she’d been raped if it hadn’t happened? That’s what really gave me pause. I think it added to the credibility of the story. It’s possible that they’re participating in some huge frame-up of the president. But he seemed like a plain vanilla kind of guy. He was persuasive. [Gergen’s emphasis]

Would a mother fib to her son about that? Gergen’s tone made it perfectly clear that he thought that was pretty strange stuff.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing if Mrs. Broaddrick’s story is accurate. We’ve said that one of the obvious possibilities is that Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges are true. But when such serious charges are lodged against public figures, we do ask pundits to play it straight--not to issue statements like this because to do so is safe and self-serving.

What kind of a mother would falsely say this? That’s simple--a mother who’s lying. And one would think a man of Gergen’s experience would know that, in real life, people lie all the time. Indeed, evidence overwhelmingly seems to suggest that other Clinton accusers may well have been fibbing. Gergen’s suggestion that no one would lie about this is so silly it deserves our contempt.

So too with the second part of Gergen’s statement, where he discusses Kevin Hickey’s demeanor. Gergen only considers the possibility that Hickey has joined his mom in a plot. But if Broaddrick is telling an inaccurate story, there is no reason to think that Hickey would know it. The fact that Hickey seems “persuasive” doesn’t mean his mother’s story is true.

But Gergen’s reading excited the panel. King questioned Dee Dee Myers:

KING: Dee Dee? You worked for Clinton.

MYERS: I’m certainly not going to raise any questions about the credibility of Juanita Broaddrick or her son, Kevin, who I think told his story quite--

Larry jumped in:

KING: David made a good point. What mother would lie to her son about being raped?

MYERS: Yeah, you’d hope that nobody would.

And you’d also “hope” that no journalists would cover their keisters, but sometimes famous people surprise you. Obviously, none of the panelists has any way of knowing whether Mrs. Broaddrick’s story is true. But few folks are willing, in the current climate, to say what Tony Blankley said on 2/24. You often can’t tell when a person is lying. In this matter, none of us knows what is true. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/25/98)

Nope. In the current climate, pundits know just how this tale should be spun. The Gergens will tell you that no one on earth ever lied about something like this. The notion, of course, is completely absurd; it’s prosecutorial punditry at its worst. But when some folks offer counsel these days, we’re seeing more profile than courage.

Clinton doesn’t speak. For the record, both Gergen and Myers eventually said they’re not asserting that they believe Broaddrick’s charges. But Jeff Greenfield piped right up; he was “astonished” that G & M didn’t say more! He was “astonished,” he would have us believe, that they didn’t say it couldn’t be true. And Greenfield knew just where it all had to lead. “This requires the president to say more than a legalistic denial of an assault.”

Gergen agreed that President Clinton “needs to say more” on the charges. But neither Greenfield nor Gergen made the obvious point about why Clinton almost surely will not. It has been widely pointed out that any such statement would open Clinton up to defamation charges. Given the litigious environment of the past five years, it is absurd to think that Clinton would choose to lay himself open to that.

So in the course of a half-hour segment, none of the panelists stated the obvious: that people do lie, about all kinds of things. None of them stated the obvious reason why Clinton will avoid making comment. Which part of the story did we hear on this show? The part that makes the charges seem true. And the part that makes Clinton’s refusal to speak seem to be--what else--guilty conduct.

Never mind: Dorothy Rabinowitz is a self-proclaimed expert at knowing who’s telling the truth. But it turns out that isn’t her only skill--she can also discern who will sue you! So we learned on February 28, when she appeared on Fox News Sunday. In the questioning, Tony Snow proved that there’s someone in town who is still capable of making fair points:

SNOW: Isn’t the president in a no-win situation. If he talks, doesn’t he get into more trouble?

Rabinowitz knew how silly that was:

RABINOWITZ: ...As far as I can tell, and I think as far as anyone else can tell, this woman and her family have absolutely no intention of doing anything, of writing a book, of filing a lawsuit, of doing anything, and so the explanation that he must sit in reverent isolation over this because he’s afraid of a lawsuit is I think just bonkers.

But here was Kevin Hickey, on Drudge, the night before:

DRUDGE: Let me ask you a question. If in fact the president himself does deny it, out of his own mouth...will you launch any lawsuit?...

HICKEY: ...That would have to be a bridge that we would cross if we came to it. The way the last two or three days have gone, we’ll never come to that bridge if he never comments on it.

Oops! Never mind! But in this passage, at least we see the powers of those who assure us they just know who is telling the truth.