Hillary Clinton recently gave an interview to CNN in which she briefly discussed the Monica Lewinsky affair. Here’s what Clinton said as transcribed by Real Clear Politics:
It was really hard. It was painful. And I was so supported by my friends. My friends just rallied around. They would come. They would try and make me laugh. They would recommend books to read. We’d go for long walks. We’d hang out. You know, eat bad food. I mean just the kind of things you do with your friends.
And it — it was something that you just had to get up every day and try to deal with, while still carrying on a public set of responsibilities. So it was very, very challenging.
That made news and gave Democratic lobbyist and CNN commentator Hilary Rosen a chance to praise Clinton. “She had a husband who did this to her and I think American women across the board have essentially, in many ways, been inspired by how she was able to come through it, forgive him and stay together as a family,” Rosen told CNN host Chris Cuomo.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that Bill did the same thing not once but over and over again. Monica Lewinsky isn’t even the only incident that went public it’s just the best known. There are many more reasons to be inspired by Hillary Clinton if you’re so inclined.
What bothers me about this interview is that it’s clearly playing for sympathy. Literally, the question asked here is, “How difficult was it to go through something so private, so personal, under the glare of the spotlight as the first lady?” This suggests a lot of sympathy for Hillary and not a lot for the women Bill kissed, groped, exposed himself to and, quite possibly, raped.
And that’s the real problem with this CNN interview. It puts in sharp relief a line which the media is determined not to cross. It’s okay to ask Hillary Clinton about Monica Lewinsky, at least so long as the question suggests Hillary is the victim. One reason it’s okay is that the public at large has already factored this in to the Clinton equation long ago so there’s no real risk here. It’s awkward to be sure but not dangerous. On the contrary, as Hilary Rosen’s reaction shows, it can be spun as inspirational.
However, on the other side of that invisible line is Juanita Broaddrick. It’s clearly not okay to ask Hillary about the credible accusation of rape against her husband. Why not? Because that’s not been factored in, indeed it’s not clear how it could be factored in. Some people simply would not accept the idea of sending Bill Clinton back to the White House if this story was widely judged to be true and accurate the way stories about Bill Cosby are increasingly judged to be true and accurate. It’s a game changer, so the media has decided not to cross the line.
There have been a few exceptions. You have to give credit to Breitbart News and Buzzfeed, both of whom did report on this story this year. Buzzfeed’s piece suggested Broaddrick is overdue for a public reassessment and, by implication, so is Bill Clinton. But it hasn’t come yet and there’s no reason to think it will before November.
Instead, you have NBC’s Andrea Mitchell dishonestly reporting that Broaddrick’s claim has been “discredited” when in fact it never has been. The only other alternative to this head-in-the-sand approach is the one taken by Wonkette. A writer there read the Buzzfeed piece and admitted it seemed pretty plausible that Bill Clinton was a rapist but added, “I think good men can rape, and be sorry, and not do it again.” That’s the bumper sticker I’d like to see Clinton supporters sporting!
Hopefully you see my point. It would be extremely difficult for feminist Hillary to tap-dance around this question if she was ever asked about it. She’s not the victim so she can’t brush it aside by talking about how hard it was for her.
Meanwhile, we’ve spent about two weeks arguing over whether it’s fair to question Hillary’s health based on a concussion several years ago and some recent coughing fits. Most of the press has tut-tutted this as fringe material that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, there’s a credible accusation of rape against the candidate’s husband.
If the media spent half the time discussing the accusation of rape which it spent discounting the health rumors this race might look very different. But they won’t go there. They won’t cross that line. And I think I know why: Somewhere down deep, they believe it’s probably true. They never want to put Hillary in a hole unless they’re pretty sure they can pull her back out in time for the election.