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29 October 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: The press corps Gennifer Flowers, part II

Synopsis: A closer look at the fabulous person we now know has told us the truth.

Substance vs. Sex
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, 2/3/92

The roots of the Clinton smear
Gene Lyons, Salon, 2/5/98

Let us say it again: we have no idea--none at all--what may have occurred, in the 70s and 80s, between President Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. All we know is what we read in the depositions. Flowers has claimed a torrid twelve-year affair; Clinton testified to one encounter only, in 1977, which he has apparently said was a grope-n-grab session in a Little Rock nightclub (not an act of intercourse). For the record, we at THE HOWLER have no way of knowing which party may be telling the truth.

But life in this celebrity press corps means never having to say that accusers may be lying. And so, as soon as word of Clinton’s testimony about Flowers came out, this celebrity press corps--like the hundred clowns spilling from the Volkswagen bus--began tumbling out into the center ring to assert that we “now know” that Flowers “is telling the truth.”

It was never made clear just how we knew this; we’ve never seen anyone required to spell it out. But somehow, Clinton’s testimony--which flew in the face of the Flowers account--became the proof that Flowers was telling the truth! Yep--that’s the way human reason works, inside this celebrity press corps.

Anyway, we thought, while we’re exploring the Flowers episode, it might be worth recalling the numerous indications that Gennifer Flowers may not be an especially reliable witness. Let’s take a look at the apparently shaky person we now know is telling the truth.

When Flowers first published her two-part story in The Star, Jonathan Alter immediately published a detailed article in Newsweek. In it, Alter listed various howling problems with the Flowers tale. As far as we know here at THE HOWLER, these problems have never much been resolved. Indeed, here’s Gene Lyons, of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, writing in Salon this past February:

LYONS: Flowers’ allegations failed to sink Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. In Little Rock, she was widely disbelieved...Among other things, Flowers’ resumé claimed degrees from colleges she’d barely attended, membership in a sorority she’d never joined and jobs she’d never held. Her claim to have won the Miss Teenage America crown proved false. Much was made locally of her claim to The Star that she and Clinton had many torrid assignations during 1979 and 1980 at the Excelsior, Little Rock’s fanciest hotel. The Excelsior didn’t exist until November 1982.

Just some background on the fabulous person we now know is telling the truth. Lyons labored on:

LYONS: Arkansas locals were always skeptical that Clinton had a lengthy “affair” with Flowers. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett, who has covered Clinton for more than twenty years, wrote that according to “my sources...around 1977-78, and maybe a little later, she mentioned to friends that she was having a fling with Clinton...They heard nothing from her after 1979 about a relationship with Clinton.” [Lyons’ deletions]

Lyons also made a point about the famous tapes of Flowers’ phone calls with then-Governor Clinton:

LYONS: An expert analyst told the Los Angeles Times that Flowers’ tapes had been “selectively edited” and opined that a raunchy remark by Flowers about “eating pussy” had been overdubbed.

We’re sorry to have to drag you through this, but a full review of the problem is required.

None of this means that Flowers’ claims about Clinton are necessarily false; but why has so little effort has ever been made to examine the apparent problems with Flowers’ account? Again, many of the problems that Lyons describes were listed by Alter, in his Newsweek article, the very week that her story first broke! But have you ever seen an effort in this celebrity press corps to examine the general credibility of Gennifer Flowers? Perhaps Flowers has a good explanation for the various problems that Lyons asserts. But have you ever seen the mainstream press corps try to examine these problems?

Let’s quote John Fund again, in his statement this week:

FUND: The president said Gennifer Flowers was not telling the truth; we now know she was.

Dear Reader: do you see why we roll our eyes when this celebrity press corps asserts its great love for the truth?

Postscript: The comical aspects of this matter are endless. When it was pointed out that Clinton had not in fact testified to having had sexual intercourse with Flowers, the press corps flew into a tizzy. All sorts of efforts were made by the press to hang onto their cherished new soundbite. Chris Matthews in particular has ranted and raved against those who point out the obvious fact that Clinton did not say, in his Jones deposition, that he and Flowers had engaged in intercourse. Here’s Matthews, on Hardball, August 19:

MATTHEWS: By the way, I’m not being paranoid because I’ve watched this crowd. Remember with Gennifer Flowers he swore under oath he had a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers, and three days later practically Mandy Grunwald is on this program and James Carville is on other programs spouting the line, “Oh he could have bumped up against her at a bar. He didn’t have sex with her.” So in other words, sex under their definition is broad enough to include touching somebody around the shoulder or something in a bar, but narrow enough to exclude oral sex. What an amazingly elastic definition this crowd has come up with.

But of course, it wasn’t a definition they had come up with; it was a definition the Jones lawyers had crafted for the Clinton deposition. And the simple, painfully obvious fact is: their definition of “sexual relations” included all sorts of physical contact that fell far short of intercourse. Did Clinton ever have intercourse with Flowers? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing. But he didn’t say that he did in his deposition. And, truth-loving member of the press corps that he is, it kills Matthews to have to admit it.

Meanwhile, other press figures simply pretended they hadn’t heard the Clinton camp’s explanation. The programs on which James Carville explained the president’s story included Meet The Press (April 5). April 11, Tim Russert and two other NBC pundits played dumb on Russert’s CNBC show, showing no sign they had ever heard the explanation of Clinton’s deposition. See “This celebrity press corps,” 4/12/98, for a review of this slapstick performance.

The bottom line remains: it is simply absurd to say we “now know” that Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth. But remember, folks: the press corps simply accusers. To the press corps, Genny F’s A-OK.

Read on: Just a brief look at the caliber of person the press corps simply swoons for. Here is Flowers herself, in her book Passion and Betrayal, describing the first time she met Mrs. Clinton:

FLOWERS: I was shocked. She looked like a big fat frump with her hair hanging down kind of curly and wavy. She had big, thick glasses; an ugly dress; and a big, fat butt.

Quite a wordsmith! In Penthouse, Flowers issued a challenge:

FLOWERS: I dare Hillary to bare her butt in any magazine. They don’t have a page that broad.

Back to the pages of Passion and Betrayal, where Flowers discussed Mrs. Clinton’s social habits:

FLOWERS: ...[W]hen I heard some rumors floating around Little Rock, I had to speak up. He was with me at home one evening, and I cautiously told him, “There’s something you need to know. I’ve been hearing tales around town that Hillary is having a thing with another woman.” I watched his face to see his reaction, and couldn’t believe it when he burst out laughing. I was stunned! I asked him what was so funny. “Honey,” he said, “she’s probably eaten more pussy than I have.”

Yep--just a look at the high-minded person we now know has told us the truth.