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22 March 1999

Our current howler (part IV): Kill the prig

Synopsis: When Lanny Davis suggested an obvious possibility, the Standard became Lord of the Flies.

Juanita Broaddrick and Us
William Kristol, The Weekly Standard, 3/15/99

The Unaccountable President
Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard, 3/8/99

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

So Much to Betray
“Scrapbook,” The Weekly Standard, 3/22/99

The odd thing is, the Standard seems to know that the Broaddrick matter can’t be resolved. Three times in the March 8 and 15 issues, the writers make a representation about the current White House position. Here it is, expressed by William Kristol:

KRISTOL: Instead, the president is stonewalling, and Clinton allies are spreading the word that the April 25, 1978 encounter was one of consensual sex.

Fred Barnes had said almost the same thing in the March 8 Standard:

BARNES: Nor should the media settle for the White House spin that, as NBC White House correspondent Claire Shipman put it, “If there was an encounter, it may have been consensual.”

David Frum, in the March 15 issue, is more insinuative in his choice of expressions:

FRUM: White House sources tell reporters on deep background that, yes, the sex occurred, but Broaddrick really wanted it.

It is odd then to read Frum’s suggestion, in the very next paragraph:

FRUM: “Watching Clinton walk away from this one is especially frustrating, but what can be done?” asked Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter. Well, here’s an out-of-left field suggestion: Why don’t we try to discover the truth? Bill Clinton refuses to say where he was on the morning of April 25, 1978. It’s not beyond the resources of Alter’s colleagues to sleuth out his whereabouts that day...

But Frum has just said, in the preceding paragraph, that Clinton has in fact “told us where he was.” According to Frum, he has told us he was in Mrs. Broaddrick’s hotel room, engaging in consensual sex. It is hard to imagine how Frum can think we are going to “discover the truth” about that. But surely, sleuthing out Clinton’s whereabouts couldn’t settle the matter at question.

Once again, the irrationality of a Standard presentation seems to reflect the Standard’s frustration--frustration with a charge the journal’s writers are inclined to believe, but must know they can’t prove to be true. Because of their assessment of President Clinton, Frum and the others believe Broaddrick’s charges. And it is of course perfectly possible that they are right when they make that judgment.

But it is also possible that they are wrong--that Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges are somehow not accurate--and an irrational strain invades the Standard as writers struggle to deny this is true. On March 22, the Standard’s “Scrapbook” cites a “fantastic rant” in the New York Observor, in which Ron Rosenbaum discusses former White House aide Lanny Davis. Without attempting to reprint all of Rosenbaum’s invective, here’s where Scrapbook gets to the nub:

SCRAPBOOK: What most ticked off Rosenbaum was Lanny Davis’ attack on Juanita Broaddrick. “How do we know she didn’t lie to all her friends?” Davis had been quoted in the Washington Post.

We can’t review the full Davis quote--Scrapbook gives no specific citation--but the point of Davis’ question seems obvious. It is of course possible that an event occurred between Clinton and Broaddrick which Broaddrick misdescribed at the time. To act as though that is not possible is to say that no one on earth (except Bill Clinton) ever errs or misleads. Since Davis’ general assessment of President Clinton differs from that of the Standard, it is hardly surprising that Davis would wonder if Mrs. Broaddrick’s original account was untrue.

But Rosenbaum, “ranting,” goes semi-postal in responding to Davis’ question:

SCRAPBOOK: “Amazing,” wrote Rosenbaum. “Without knowing the facts, without pausing for a moment to wonder ‘Gee, he’s lied to me so many times before and I’ve looked like such a fool so many times before for defending him, wouldn’t it be a good idea to hesitate for just a moment before smearing a woman who says she’s been raped and calling her the liar? Don’t I have any responsibility to think twice before mouthing off, just this once?’ Even if he (apparently) doesn’t care whether Bill Clinton screwed Juanita Broaddrick, he knows Bill Clinton’s screwed him repeatedly. But there he is, lining up, assuming the position so eagerly, so readily, once again.”

Why do people as bright as the Standard’s editors effuse over work so dim? Davis does not call Broaddrick a liar in the quote cited. If the Davis quote is accurate, he has merely stated the obvious: it is possible that Mrs. Broaddrick may have misdescribed something that occurred between herself and Clinton. This is obviously one of the possibilities which any fair person would consider. Dimly, Rosenbaum says Davis doesn’t know the facts, but Rosenbaum, of course, doesn’t know the facts either; that doesn’t keep him from suggesting, in his rant, that Clinton has committed a rape. The notion that one must “know the facts” makes way for these claims against Clinton. Rosenbaum’s suggestion that Davis “doesn’t care” about possible abuse is of course not implied by Davis’ question; and Rosenbaum’s inability to dispute Davis without engaging in rank sexual imagery is a top-notch sign of a low-rate mind. It is odd to see Rosenbaum’s smarmy, dumb “rant” praised by the values-driven Standard.

Rosenbaum reverts to a type of claim which we have critiqued before in THE HOWLER. According to Rosenbaum, if one states the obvious--that an accusation may be false--then one has engaged in a “smear” of the accuser (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/10/99). And because Davis has engaged in a “smear” of Mrs. Broaddrick by wondering if her account is true, Rosenbaum is free to denigrate him personally, in a vulgar sexual manner. The argument makes no sense at all, and the vulgarity of Rosenbaum’s attack on Davis turns the Standard into Lord of the Flies. But it isn’t as if it hasn’t happened before. Tomorrow, we review Noemie Emery.

Catty: Rosenbaum blames the Yale Daily News for Lanny Davis’ alleged disorders. Poor baby:

ROSENBAUM, QUOTED BY SCRAPBOOK: When I arrived, an alienated outsider at Yale, Lanny Davis was already on his way to becoming the ultimate Insider, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, an exalted position that is not attained without strenuous sucking upward...I think it is not insignificant that the initial heated competition for a coveted place on the ladder to the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News was, appropriately enough, called ‘Heeling.’ It is, you will not, a term adopted from dog training...

Me-ow! Ron gives good rant! Our reading: Poor abused Rosenbaum doesn’t like Lanny Davis. But what on earth could that have to do with determining the truth of these charges?