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Caveat lector

16 December 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Elizabeth Drew gets it right!

Synopsis: Amid calls for the quarry to say that he lied, Elizabeth Drew got it right.

Makings of a Deal
Elizabeth Drew, The Washington Post, 12/15/98

A Final Fight for Censure
Editorial, The New York Times, 12/15/98

We’ve tried to follow the crackpot logic now animating the impeachment debate, but when celebrity lynch mobs start runnin’ through town--just generally yellin’ and actin’ real crazy--that little extra called “rational thought” is the first thing to go out the window.

And so it’s been with the lynch mob’s call that the accused, the hunted, must say that he lied--the persistent claim that all would be well if Vile Clinton would just cop to perjury.

Any attempt to discern coherent thought here is doomed to certain failure. Riddle this: if Vile will admit he committed a crime, then votes will swing in his direction! But doesn’t this mean that his crimes must be slight? Who would think this way about serious crimes? Would anyone say of a treasonous president: “If the guy would only admit what he did, he could end this any time that he wanted?”

Yet, in the service of this howling nonsense, Vile Clinton is pursued like a hound through hell, told by furious editorial boards that he must submit to the will of the state. Like a Chinese prisoner brought to court, hands pulled behind him and head forced down, he is asked to bow, recant his views, and acknowledge the overlord’s wisdom. Clinton has said he doesn’t believe he committed a crime, and it is a basic notion of western justice that the accused need not convict himself. But in the name of the “rule of law,” of all things, Republicans shout for Vile to comply. Boards at great newspapers echo the cry, innocent of the inanity:

NEW YORK TIMES: Those who believe that the House should not impeach need help from the White House to meet the demand that Mr. Clinton admit that he lied under oath...

Let us paraphrase: the accused should be forced to say what he does not believe. He should lie by saying he previously lied, bowing down to that great god, State Wisdom.

Well, in the midst of these embarrassing efforts, the analysts brightened on Tuesday morning, and they rushed into DAILY HOWLER World Quarters to tell us: Elizabeth Drew got it right! Drew began a WashPost piece with a paragraph rare in the current climate, displaying--amazing!--the ability--even now!--to see through uniform cant:

DREW (paragraph one): Let’s see if I have this straight. Several Republicans are suggesting that if the president would simply admit that he has committed a crime, they might not vote to impeach him. As David Schippers, the majority counsel of the Judiciary Committee would say, “Now there’s a good one.” Members of the press pass the message along as if it’s on the level.

Drew fails to mine the full absurdity here--why would House voters be less concerned if the president agreed he’d committed a crime?--but she does point out, in subsequent paragraphs, that many pro-Clinton voters would no doubt shift their votes if the Vile One admitted to perjury.

But more important than that by far--in a debate devoted to the “rule of law”--Drew shows signs that she still recalls how justice works outside a lynch mob:

DREW: In asking the president to admit that he lied under oath, or even committed perjury, these people are asking that he surrender his rights to self-defense in two possible trials to come...

In a debate devoted to the rule of law, you’d think almost everyone would be worried about that. But what we learn from this sorry debate--from the huffing and thrashing of the great New York Times--is how slender, at heart, is the western world’s tie to our most basic conceptions of justice.

Drew points out how silly it is to think that Clinton’s attitude should be the issue. “The matter ought to be decided simply on whether or not the president committed impeachable offenses,” she writes, not on “some politicians’ self-protective demands that he utter certain words, show the right attitude.”

A bad attitude is not an impeachable offense; and if Clinton has committed an impeachable offense, his saying so shouldn’t keep him in office. But these days, a celebrity lynch mob is runnin’ through town, just generally yellin’ and actin’ real crazy. Don’t look for sense--or the “rule of law”--as you scan through this week’s papers. Just be glad that Liz Drew got it right.

Visit our incomparable archives: We first described this celebrity lynch mob in the wake of Vile’s August 17 speech. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/98, as its character began to take shape.

More to come: Drew even points out that the loud, sweaty mob keeps revising the words that Vile Clinton must speak. See “Smile-a-while,” 12/17/98. And yes, we do quote from Hardball!

Read on: If we’re all so concerned with “the rule of law,” why do we tolerate the show-trial tactic of forcing the accused to commit further “crimes?” Having allegedly committed perjury in the Jones deposition, Clinton was brought before the Starr grand jury, and was later charged with further crimes for repeating his prior statements there. Then he was presented with 81 questions, and when he repeated the things that he’d said in those answers, he was charged with another set of counts! The practice of piling up counts in this Mao-like way ought to shame anyone concerned with the “rule of law.” But we’ve perused a great, gray editorial page, and we’re forced to ask (after William Bennett): Yo, Howell! Howell Raines! Where’s the outrage?

A final point: We can’t begin to praise Drew enough for the closing sentence of paragraph one (quoted above). In directly citing the obsequious behavior displayed by this celebrity press corps, Drew has violated a cardinal rule--journalists don’t criticize journalists. In the fraternal CelebCorps, omerta runs strong. We praise Drew for her statement.