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23 March 1999

Our current howler (part V): Becoming the Emery

Synopsis: Noemie Emery does a good imitation of the things that she hates in Bill Clinton.

Just Rape Noemie Emery, The Weekly Standard, 3/15/99

Conservative writers just hate the way you have to parse Clinton’s statements so deftly--the way you have to examine each word to see when he’s left an escape hatch. And that’s why the analysts were shaking their heads when they read this excerpt from Noemie Emery, in her screed in the March 15 Standard:

EMERY: [Clinton’s] legacy now has been set in concrete: He is the first elected president ever impeached and acquitted; and the first president to be credibly charged with a rape.

The slippery writer puts “credibly” in because one other recent president has been so charged. And it’s a president Emery wouldn’t want to bring up--at least not in this particular context.

But Emery’s slickness pervades this piece--she creates a textbook on slick, slippery writing. And her piece shows the depths to which the Standard has sunk in its frustration over Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges. The Standard is angry over the charge--and unwilling to admit that the charge could be untrue. So its writers imply what they can’t hope to prove--and Emery acts out her frustration and anger.

Emery builds a shrine to the slippery word “credible,” invoking it again and again:

EMERY: Thus, Juanita Broaddrick’s credible charge of a rape accompanied by physical too meaningless to merit a word of reproach from, among others, Gloria Steinem...

EMERY: After a few days, Patricia Ireland did issue a statement finding credible both Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges and the long years of silence that followed them...

EMERY: The most vocal defenders of women are perfectly content to let a proven liar who has been credibly charged with rape and battery stay on in the White House unquestioned.

EMERY: [Clinton] is the first elected president ever impeached and convicted; and the first president to be credibly charged with a rape.

But the question is not whether Mrs. Broaddrick is credible; the question is whether her story is true. Emery slickly shills the first term to keep our thoughts from drifting off to the second. As we see in the third quotation above, Emery is able to use the word “proven,” is a setting where the word applies. She understands the difference in terms; she just doesn’t want to address it.

Did President Clinton assault Mrs. Broaddrick? In our view, there’s no way to find out. The Standard wants us to trust its judgment, and expresses frustration that the public won’t follow; but it is precisely Emery’s slick, slippery spinning that warns the public away from its lead. Would the average person, for example, think it fair to say that feminist leaders are “perfectly content” with the current situation? How can Emery possibly know if the (NOW) officials are “perfectly content?” The answer, of course, is she doesn’t know. But she’s perfectly willing to say it.

And all through this piece we see slick spinning, from the type of writer who has persuaded the public to stay far away from this mess. The public has fears about Clinton’s alleged slickness, but with Emery, it’s all right on the surface. The spinning doesn’t stop, from beginning to end, as Emery grinds out her call to arms. And why has the public held back from her movement? It’s because of slick writing like this: EMERY: First, the feminists said it was unimportant if a governor dropped his pants in front of a total stranger (who worked for the government).

But Emery, slickly, doesn’t quote these “feminists,” because, of course, the quotes don’t exist. No one on earth has said the things that Emery scripts for her straw women:

EMERY: Then they said it was fine with them if the same man as president physically assaulted a volunteer in the Oval Office when she came to him seeking paid employment.

We’d love to see Emery give the cite where “the feminists” so glibly said that.

But Emery, of course, doesn’t deal in direct quotes; she is able to discern deeper meaning. As Dorothy Rabinowitz divines who is telling the truth, Emery perceives what “the feminists” really are saying. The tired old structures of demonstration and proof don’t apply for True Believers like this. You simply decide what you want to be true. If it feels good, write it:

EMERY: In that last instance [the Paula Jones case], Gloria Steinem formulated what came to be known as her “one free grope” theory...Now, Steinem is silent, though she might want to upgrade her theory to “one free rape,” so long as the accused is in favor of free abortion. Perhaps Hendrik Hertzberg will call this a rape trap. Perhaps William Styron will apologize once again to the French for our monstrous prudery, and Arthur Miller will write something else about witch hunts. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. may tell us in the New York Times that gentlemen always lie about rape, to protect their wives and their victims.

There. That felt good. It felt good to drag, right through the mud, people who differ from Emery Thought. But of course, if Hertzberg or Miller were going to say these things, they’ve had plenty of time to say them by now. It’s always easy to make one’s case--when one just invents quotes for the trashed opposition.

The Standard’s March 15 cover asks, “Can’t We Just Move On?” And the question is answered: “No.” But is it surprising that the public wants to “move on,” rather than spend more time around writers like this? In the Balkans, Serbs and Albanians can’t even agree what to call the land in dispute. And one gets the same feeling, reading slippery constructions by the ever-spinning dervish Ms. Emery:

EMERY: Mrs. Broaddrick at the time of the incident told five other people; Professor [Anita] Hill says that she told one.

Get it? Mrs. Broaddrick is on our side, so her assertions are fact. Professor Hill is from over the ridge--so we report that she “says” she told someone.

We have stated before--and we say it again--we think The Weekly Standard is a lively, vibrant journal. And we think its editor, William Kristol, is one of the brightest, most chipper fellows in town.

But the United States is not the Balkans, and people will not be drawn into this kind of mess. If Emery Thought is the wage of persistence, the public--every time--will move on.

Where her mouth is: Emery complains that feminist leaders won’t comment on Broaddrick’s charges. Meanwhile, she approvingly cites Kathleen Willey’s charges, but doesn’t mention our friend Linda Tripp. Tripp’s grand jury testimony clearly suggests that people do make things up about Clinton. We now invite Emery to get right with the truth--to report the things Linda Tripp said. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/8/99, with links to previous reporting.)

We simply had to include it: Emery, nearing her conclusion:

EMERY: Broaddrick’s charges bring up another quality of Bill Clinton’s that is even more disturbing than anything broached so far: his strained relationship with what most people regard as real life...Clinton’s reaction to Mrs. Broaddrick’s story seems strange. Accused of a crime that is vile and violent, he seemed not merely unmoved, but elated. The day after the Dateline interview aired, said a cheerful story in the New York Times, he was all smiles as he glad-handed supporters, “so sunny in his own remarks that he converted even his bad news to good.” What kind of a man is turned on by rape charges? [Our emphasis]

We hope it isn’t necessary to discuss the strangeness of Emery’s highlighted remark. A public appearance on 2/25 means that Clinton “is turned on by rape charges.” Truly, this really is life in the Balkans, where the opposition is spun to The Other. We do not know if Mrs. Broaddrick’s charges are accurate. But we do know one thing, and we think that it’s good. Half a world away from Kosovo, the bulk of people will not play like this.