Over the past couple of decades, a consensus has emerged that during the Clinton administration the mainstream media went too far in the other direction, throwing propriety to the wind. As Marvin Kalb, the founding director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Media, Politics and Public Policy, put it in One Scandalous Story (2001), “When the story broke on January 21, 1998, that President Clinton had had an affair with . . . Lewinsky, the press plunged into the scandal, disclosing every tasteless detail. Its self-justifying explanation was that it had no choice.” The press certainly deserves criticism for its obsessive focus on the most titillating aspects of the Lewinsky scandal. However, it’s important to locate the lust responsible for the media frenzy primarily within the former president himself—and not project it entirely onto journalists, as the Clintonistas were wont to do. In The War Room (1993), a documentary about Clinton’s first presidential run, deputy campaign director George Stephanopoulos, now the chief anchor of ABC News, urges a radio talk show host not to cover some new sexual allegations about Clinton, barking into his phone, “People will think you’re scum.”
While the #MeToo movement has detractors who worry about its excesses, it’s hard to find any American who denies its important lesson that throughout history, a small but significant percentage of men in high places—of all races, faiths, and political persuasions—have had little compunction about forcing themselves upon women and then lying about this criminal behavior.
It’s time to listen carefully to what Leslie Millwee and all of Clinton’s other accusers have to say. With Bill and Hillary Clinton now embarking on an extended tour of North America—live events begin in Las Vegas next month and end in Los Angeles next May—the time is ripe for a deliberate and dignified national conversation about whether our 42nd president is actually a sexual predator who has long been hiding in plain sight.