The most read story on the Washington Post website Thursday was a little number called "Enabler or family defender? How Hillary Clinton responded to husband's accusers." As a piece of explanatory journalism it was weirdly imprecise and incomplete.
The Post's reporter depicts Clinton as a wife whose political enemies, with their endless accusations about her husband's ever-failing zipper, left her no choice but to defend him "with steely determination." An old friend describes the Clintons' attitude: "These people are not going to run over us."
But who are "these people"? The Post would have you believe they're all those ill-tempered Republicans. But the statement is more accurate if "these people" are taken to be the women who have been reckless enough to have sex with Bill Clinton.
Their name is legion. Gail Sheehy, author of the admiring biography Hillary's Choice, provides plenty of details left out of the Post piece. When, for instance, Bill Clinton first planned to run for president, in 1988, a political enemy threatened to make public a list of Bill's extramarital lovers. The list was very long. Sheehy says Hillary Clinton deputized two of her law partners, Webb Hubbell and Vincent Foster, to invite the women one by one into the imposing Little Rock offices of their law firm, the largest in the state. There the two lawyers confronted the women and generously offered to give them free legal counsel if the list was made public. Hillary attended at least one of the meetings.
It's not hard to imagine the intimidation the women must have felt in the presence of such a display of legal firepower. And the tactic worked, as Clinton tactics usually do. None of the women talked. That steely determination comes in handy.
But the problem of Bill's "rodeo queens," as Hillary called them, wouldn't go away. In his equally admiring biography A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the journalist Carl Bernstein writes that Bill Clinton's closest aide, a woman named Betsey Wright, challenged her boss about his many extramarital affairs as the 1988 campaign loomed. She told him they were likely to become public if he lunged for the White House.
"Specifically," Wright later told Bernstein, "what I said was, 'Let's walk through all the women …' And of course I was horrified because I thought I knew everybody. And he came up with these people I didn't know about." Wright says she convinced Clinton that a national campaign, with its swarm of nosey reporters, might be "devastating to Chelsea."
Clinton didn't run for president in 1988. "I need some family time," he announced. "I need some personal time. Politicians are people too." Oh, they are.
From this moment on, nobody in the inner circle doubted the threat that Bill Clinton's goatishness posed to his and Hillary's ambition, and the threat continued to loom as Clinton decided to run for president in 1992. In the Clintons' world, the women were no longer simply recipients of Bill's compulsive amorous attentions; they were now "these people" who wanted to "run over us." The women had to be controlled. And if they couldn't be controlled, they would have to be discredited.
Let Thursday's Post article pick up the story:
"By July 1992, the campaign hired private detective Jack Palladino to investigate the accusers involved in two dozen allegations."
Interesting, no? But then the Post article drops the story. Palladino vanishes, never to be mentioned again.
Yet he is too interesting a character for a mere walk-on.
It was Hillary, says Sheehy, who got the idea to hire Palladino. She had known him during law school, from her brief internship in a left-wing law firm in San Francisco, where he had worked for the Black Panthers and other prominent clients.
The Clinton campaign paid Palladino a $100,000 retainer to do his work. The money was funneled through a Denver law firm and billed as "legal services."
Palladino bragged about his willingness to play rough on behalf of the people who hired him. "I am somebody you call in when the house is on fire, not when there's smoke in the kitchen," he told Sheehy. "You ask me to deal with that fire, to save you, to do whatever has to be done."
How did Palladino keep the rodeo queens quiet? Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., authors of still another admiring biography, Her Way, found a private memo written by Palladino to Clinton campaign staffers in 1992. In it Palladino explained his goal in dealing with Gennifer Flowers, the first of Bill's lovers to go public. He would "impeach her character and veracity until she is destroyed beyond all recognition."
And there was bound to be collateral damage. When a former roommate spoke to reporters and confirmed Flowers' tale of her affair with Bill, Palladino decided to pay her a visit. She later told the investigative journalist Daniel Wattenberg that Palladino had asked her: "Do you think Gennifer is the sort of person who would commit suicide?"
Sally Perdue, a former Miss Arkansas and (hence) another of Bill's women, likewise drew Palladino's attention when she spoke publicly of their affair. Palladino sifted through Perdue's past and found an estranged relative who was willing to dispute her story and malign her character. Palladino made the relative available to any member of the press who asked the campaign about Perdue. Again, the tactic worked. As the Post's investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff, wrote at the time: "No major news organization has reported [Perdue's] account."
Palladino kept Wright informed of his progress, and Wright says she passed along the good news to Hillary.
All of this is missing from the Post's account. Bill Clinton's long record of using women as human spittoons is no longer very interesting. What's relevant is the intimidation of women that Hillary instigated and oversaw and deployed as a tactic to keep her husband's career on course. Surely it is at odds with the picture of the wounded and wronged wife the Post prefers. Also missing from the article is any mention of Kathleen Willey. Her 1998 encounter with Bill in the Oval Office—fondling, unwanted kisses, the usual—is par for the course.
But so was Hillary's response.
Willey spoke to reporters about Bill's grope. "With Hillary's go-ahead," Gerth and Van Natta write, "the White House then released nine fawning letters that Willey had sent to Bill after the alleged incident." Reporters concluded, as they were meant to, that the letters disproved Willey's story, and it's been more or less buried ever since.
In authorizing the release of Willey's private letters, Hillary was exploiting common assumptions about women that, in other contexts, she vigorously condemns as misogynist. The reasoning is familiar from the Anita Hill case and many others: If the survivor of a sexual assault speaks or writes kind or forgiving words about her assailant, then either (1) the assault didn't occur or (2) the victim agreed to it. The phrase "had it coming" may be too old-fashioned even for Hillary.
Up to this point, the Post story reads like one more attempt to put the best possible face on the Clintons' jaw-dropping indecency. We've all gotten used to Clinton-friendly reporters spinning stories like that. But then the Post produces this very odd paragraph:
"Juanita Broaddrick, whose claim of a 1978 sexual assault has been denied by the Clintons, thinks Hillary Clinton was too passive." Then Broaddrick vanishes too.
You can imagine the reaction of a reader who has never heard of Broaddrick: Excuse me—could we back up a minute? A sexual assault? What sexual assault? Who did the assaulting? Who the hell is Juanita Broaddrick?
Give the editors credit for allowing Broaddrick's name into print – its appearance in the establishment press is pretty rare. (You can Google her!) But tucking such an explosive bit of information into a subordinate clause without further explanation amounts to journalistic malpractice. And it goes far beyond the Post's usual shading and excuse-making on behalf of the Democratic nominee.
But never mind. Haven't you heard what Donald Trump said about the beauty queen?!?!?
This article originally misstated the name of an author of a biography of Hillary Clinton.