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5 December 1998

Our current howler: The corners of his mind

Synopsis: Cal Thomas complained about Clinton’s bad memory. But he had a few lapses himself.

81 direct questions, 81 direct evasions
Cal Thomas, The Washington Times, 12/2/98

For the record, we’d also guess that Vile Clinton lied, when he appeared before the Starr grand jury--we assume the prez was in Big Fib Mode when he denied touching Mo in naughty places. We’re like, what’s the point of having an affair, if you aren’t even going to do something like that? To be honest, we hope Bill touched her real good. He’s president, and we think he deserves it.

But life in this celebrity press corps means pretending that Clinton is I lying. To prove how deceptive Vile Clinton is, you reassemble the truth for yourself. And, as we’ve seen, Vile’s 81 answers to those 81 questions produced an orgy of feigned fury and outrage. We’ve rarely seen the celebrities spin so hard, to show us that Clinton’s a spinner.

In this piece, Cal Thomas serves up a compulsory opening, slamming Vile’s response to that vexing first question. Joining David Broder and Donald Lambro in what surely must be the trick of the week, Cal quotes only the first of Clinton’s two sentences, then attacks his “evasive answer.” Olé! So the CelebCorps twists and spins, to prove that their target misleads.

But with the compulsories out of the way, Thomas crafts an expressive free program, built on the concept of memory. Sounds of Streisand fill the air as he skates (on this ice) his long program.

Thomas looks first at question 17, in which Clinton is asked if he “admits or denies” that he told Miss Mo her name was on the Jones witness list. In his answer, Clinton states that he does not specifically recall doing so, but “it is quite possible that that happened. I don’t have any memory of it, but I certainly wouldn’t dispute that I might have said that she was on the witness list.”

Does Clinton remember telling Mo? We don’t know, and neither does Thomas. We don’t know if President Clinton was lying in Answer 17. But Thomas’ readers won’t have to worry about it, because he misleads them about what Clinton said. Here is Cal’s account of Clinton’s reply, all tricked up for maximum spin:

THOMAS: The president responded that although he recalled telephoning Miss Lewinsky (on the date in question) to tell her that the mother of his secretary, Betty Currie, had died, “I do not recall other particulars of such a call.”

That is Thomas’ total account of what Clinton said in reply to this question. Gone is the president’s statement that he may well have told Mo she was on the list. But Thomas has better things to do than give his readers an accurate account; instead, he begins to craft a telling critique of the president’s miserable memory:

THOMAS (continuing): The president responded...”I do not recall other particulars of such a call.” But a House Judiciary Committee “backgrounder” notes the record indicates the president told Miss Lewinsky about the appearance of her name of that date. In her grand jury testimony of Aug. 6, Miss Lewinsky was asked, “Did you come to have a telephone conversation with the president on Dec. 17...

And Cal goes on to quote Mo’s response, in which she testified that Clinton told her she was on the list when they spoke on December 17.

Thomas makes a great deal, throughout his piece, of the failings of Clinton’s memory. But it is hardly surprising that the obsessive Mo would have a greater command of detail than The Big He. As Thomas of course knows (but doesn’t mention), Lewinsky had kept detailed spread sheets on her computer of her interactions with Sexy Bill. That she would recall details that Vile Bill would not is hardly shocking, given that context. But--memory being what it is--it slips Cal’s mind to mention this fact, as he wanders through his slippery piece, amazed at the president’s incredible lapses, moving purposefully toward condemnation.

Is Clinton lying in his lack of recall? Well, of course, he certainly could be. But Thomas here plays an old, tired game, feigning amazement at the lack of total recall. You know the drill--ask detailed questions about specific old phone calls, then tote up the times that the target “can’t recall?” (In committee settings, make sure that all members ask the very same questions, to drive up the Memory Count?)

But, if we can’t be sure if Clinton is lying, we can be sure of a few things about Cal. His account of what Clinton replied to these questions constitutes outright deception of his readers. Clinton says he can’t recall saying X on date Y, but explicitly states that he may well have done so. Cal drops the second part of the reply, then tells readers that Vile is dissembling.

Did Clinton lie before the grand jury? We certainly think he may have done so. But if it’s lying that Thomas so deeply abhors, he’s come up with an odd way to show it.

Slippery, slippery: After Thomas discusses Vile’s Answer 17, he immediately makes this assessment:

THOMAS: There are numerous such discrepancies between the president’s latest responses and his previous responses, and the answers of others.

But there is no example in this piece in which Thomas claims that Vile is contradicting himself. His examples all show him failing to recall details Mo-mo has pulled up from her “memory” (all 64 meg. of it).

Thomas gives an impression he doesn’t attempt to support. But that’s Cal for you, folks--slippery, slippery!