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Caveat lector


17 March 1999

Our current howler (part I): Lowered Standard

Synopsis: The “Weekly” threw basic standards away in a remarkable issue on Broaddrick.

Our Fearless Press
David Frum, The Weekly Standard, 3/15/99


We decided we’d have to review the matter when we came to this passage in David Frum’s piece--just one of many remarkable articles in the Weekly Standard’s March 15 issue:

FRUM: The strongest counter-evidence against her story--that she had earlier signed an affadavit denying the rape--actually tended to confirm it. As we now know, Clinton’s protectors have made a habit of collecting false affadavits from women linked to their man.

Frum was discussing Juanita Broaddrick’s charges against President Clinton. His article was one of five on Mrs. Broaddrick in the March 15 Standard, whose cover said (and believe us, they meant it): “Can’t we just move on? No!”

And we decided we couldn’t move on either, without stopping to comment on Frum’s strange remark--without stopping to comment on the devious writing which litters this remarkable issue. The articles on Broaddrick are teeming with howlers--with prosecutorial writing as slick as it gets. Slippery, devious, evasive, untrustworthy--these are terms that the Standard once applied to Bill Clinton. Now, in an issue teeming with writing as bad as it gets, we see Standard writers display all the traits that the journal claims to hate in Vile Bill.

Look for example at the remarkable passage we have quoted above from Frum. Frum’s first assertion: Because Mrs. Broaddrick has previously sworn that no rape occurred, that “tends to confirm” her rape charges. We have written before on this remarkable claim--that past sworn lying enhances credibility. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/99, for past comments on this striking tale.

We’ve said it before, and we say it again: We think Mrs. Broaddrick gives a perfectly plausible account of her failure to place charges at the time of the alleged assault. And we think she gives a reasonable account of why she filed an allegedly false affadavit with the Paula Jones lawyers, and of why she wouldn’t testify to the FBI when they were sent to her by Kenneth Starr.

But the fact that Broaddrick’s account is plausible surely doesn’t mean that it’s true, and it takes an unblinking true believer to argue as Frum does here. No, it does not make a witness more credible when she says she has lied under oath in the past--and when we see that she has avoided every possible forum in which her account would be subject to examination. It doesn’t take a devious mind to see that this could stem from a shaky or false story; and Frum has simply stopped trying to be fair when he makes absurd statements like this.

But what is most disturbing about Frum’s presentation is the reason he gives for his posture. Broaddrick’s denials “tend to confirm” her charge for a very specific reason:

FRUM: As we now know, Clinton’s protectors have made a habit of collecting false affadavits from women linked to their man.

In short, Frum says the allegedly false affadavit is all just a part of that debbil Wild Bill’s well-known pattern.

But surely, even Standard editors must see what is wrong with Frum’s remarkable construction. Mrs. Broaddrick and her lawyer--a Republican office-holder--have made clear that her affadavit was not requested or proposed by Clinton’s men. Commentators have widely said that this explains why Ken Starr didn’t pursue Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges (as part of his obstruction count). And House managers have said that this is why her case wasn’t part of their counts.

Everyone knows this, but there is Frum, pretending he just never heard it. Frum assures readers that a rape has occurred on a basis he surely must know to be false. Mrs. Broaddrick’s past lying now proves that she’s truthful, because it’s all just a part of that Bill Clinton pattern. Except, all witnesses agree that the pattern didn’t happen. Frum pretends that it just wasn’t said.

Is it possible that Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges are true? Of course that is one of the possibilities. But could it also be true that her charges are false? In fairness, that is possible too. Frum’s presentation is startlingly devious--striking conduct when the charges are so serious. Our question: If Frum can’t be minimally fair to the accused, can’t he at least show some basic respect for his readers--and for our 2500-year-old public discourse, whose simple standards he so strangely disregards?


Visit our incomparable archives: On March 1, the Hardball gang (who else?) also pretended that Broaddrick’s affadavit was part of a “pattern.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/2/99.

Tomorrow: We probably should have seen it coming March 8 when Fred Barnes pulled an odd Love Child II.