8 October 1998
Smile-a-while: Forever young
Synopsis: The Washington Times misstates Monicas age to tell you the story they like.
The Witnesses Recall the President and the View From Outside His Door
John M. Broder, The New York Times, 10/4/98
Assorted articles from the Washington Times, 9/98
We knew it was time to report this story, when the analysts brought us this troubling excerpt. John M. Broder was describing the antic events inside that wild Bill Clinton White House:
BRODER: A Secret Service agent challenges Ms. Lewinsky, then a 21-year-old intern, about her business in the West Wing until the President directly orders him to admit her to the Oval Office and to close the door behind him.
The problem? Broders report of Lewinskys age--his reference to a 21-year-old intern. When we saw this canard had even spread to the Times, we knew it was time to take action.
Lewinsky, of course, had been 21 years of age when she first arrived to work at the White House; but she turned 22 in August 1996, long before she flashed her thong at the admiring, more mature chief exec. Nope--Clinton never so much as spoke a word to that 21-year-old intern we hear referenced so often. For the record, at the time that the ogling and groping began, President Clinton was 49, Ms. Lewinsky was, a lass, 22.
But it just sounds so much better to say 21 that the conservative press hasnt been able to resist it. Yep--those very same conservatives who hate Clinton so much--you know, because they constantly catch him shading the truth?--have persistently spoken about the 21-year-old intern, because it makes their tale sound so much better. The analysts howl when they see it in print, and theyve asked our permission to research the story. But weve tried to stick to bigger topics--until the misstatements about Monicas age even began to infect the great Times of New York.
So yesterday morning we finally gave them the word, and the analysts swung into action. They headed off to leaf through the Washington Times, to document the way that conservative paper has fibbed about Mo-mos maturation. There were boundaries: they could scan September papers only--last half of the month!--as a way to keep the thing in perspective. And they headed off to our HOWLER archives, to thumb through big piles of the Times.
On the way home, they a-chestnutting went, as they love to do in the autumn. Its a tradition they first read about in their Thoreau, and they insist on paying their annual homage to simplicity and true, honest living. But when they finally returned with their research completed, we were shaken to our very foundation. It was true--some very big names in conservative news have been playing the Lewinsky canard!
There was Pat Buchanan, on September 23: The scandal that roils this city is about far more than whether Bill Clinton exploited a 21-year-old intern. He echoed Tony Snow, from two days earlier: Future schoolbooks seem certain to remember the man from Hope as a man who...fell for a 21-year-old intern.
The error was in the Times so often they might as well program a special key for their keyboards! On September 17, Donald Lambro worked a new hyphen into the stew: Perhaps the worst of [Clintons] evasions is his argument...that he did not have sexual relations with the then-21-year-old intern. And you just knew Mona Charen would be tangled up in this mess. September 16: Was she stupid to believe his lies? Sure. But 21 is a stupid age, mused Mona.
We especially loved the ironies found in the titles of the phonified pieces. He got his rocks off with a 21-year-old girl, Jerome Marcus wrote (September 23), in a piece entitled A Liar in the House. And the article in which Snow had played 21 was entitled Presidential parsing and pretending. (On that day, three different columnists said that Clinton had smooched the 21-year-old kid-from-the-coast.)
But we know just what youre thinking. Youre thinking: What possible difference could it make, if Lewinsky was 21 or 22? (A partial answer: it makes enough difference for pundits to keep fudging the facts, to make their stories come out a little better...)
But no, we dont think that it matters in judging the president, whether Lewinsky was 21 or 22. As we have told you, we think the president showed appalling judgment in engaging in the conduct he did. We think the judgment he showed was so remarkably poor that, in our mind, it does raise a perfectly legitimate question as to whether he should continue in office.
But we also think that it isnt just presidents who ought to be held to some standards. Silly us--we also think that these here journalist fellers should observe a few basic rules too. We dont think that scribes get to change basic facts, to make sure they end up with a story they like. And we think that, nine months after Monica flashed on the scene, the Washington Times should be able to cipher how old the kid was at-the-start.
But when this habit spread to the New York Times, a paper just famous for getting it right, we felt it was time that we get off our duffs and blow the lid off this festering story. Monica Lewinsky was 22 years of age when she began making eyes at the commander-in-chief. In fact, by the time of the incident about which Broder wrote, she was almost 22 and a half!
Anyway, weve tried to show you, again and again, how this celebrity press corps loves making it up. Weve shown you how theyll pick and choose facts to tell you the story they like. And conservative pundits--a little like Bill--just found themselves drawn to Miss Monicas youth. Were sure they tried hard to resist at the start. But by now they seem wed to their conduct.
Postscript: Last two weeks of September 98. Washington Times, weekdays only:
Writers who said Mo-mo was 21-at-the-start:
Writers who stated her age correctly:
None. (Editorial policy.)
Even those truth-loving people! From todays Washington Times (10/8/98): The underlying act in Monicagate was the presidents involvement with a 21-year-old intern. The author? A lawyer, from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Say hello to our friend, David Limbaugh!!!