Watergate: Revenge and Envy 1: 1973–2000. Chronicles of Hillary Hatred -29
In the wake of the Watergate Scandal, the GOP saw the landslide Nixon victory in the 1972 election turn into an extended nightmare, culminating in a fractured party, massive off-year congressional losses, and the election of the Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976. The desire for revenge sank in deep. In 1994, the GOP seized control of the House of Representatives for the first time in three decades. With Republican control of the congressional investigative apparatus of Congress, payback was at hand.
Investigative journalism, meanwhile, had succumbed to Watergate envy. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee had gained irenown for their role in exposing the Nixon administration’s web of criminality and cover-ups. Woodward and Bernstein’s 1974 book All the President’s Men was a blockbuster. The 1976 movie version of All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford as Woodward, Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, and Jason Robarts as Bradlee transformed the three men into popular icons. Journalism programs were flooded with applications.
Watergate had opened up a new horizon of dreams for news producers, editors, correspondents, and journalists: to become the next Bradlee, Woodward, and Bernsteins by exposing impeachment-worthy deeds of a sitting president.
Editors and writers at the New York Times in particular had been stung with their Watergate coverage. Only weeks after Bill Clinton’s 1992 inauguration, the Times used a front page story by Jeff Gerth to insinuate that nationally significant nefarious deeds had been committed by Clintons — with Hillary as the primary culprit — back in 1970’s Arkansas. At the heart of the “scandal” that was to paralyze much of government, tie up federal investigators, and inflict immeasurable damage on American politics and society, was a land-development in which the Clintons invested and lost $22,000.
The name of the land-development, Whitewater, however, was a scandal promoter’s dream. White/water Water/gate. Both are three-syllable, compound words. Two of the syllables and one of the elements of the verbal compound are shared. “Whitewater” after “Watergate” carried the kind of loaded verbal echoes that would make the career of an advertising or political consultant. Those interested in an analysis of the power of such popular poetics may wish to look at linguist and literary theorist Roman Jacobson’s the analysis of the felicitous 1952 presidential campaign slogan “I like Ike.”
In 1994, Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons exposed the pretensions and destructiveness of the Whitewater scandal industry. Keep in mind that Lyons was writing before the impeachment process would begin and before Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, desperate after years of failure to link the Clintons to criminality in 1970’s Arkansas, would redirect the Whitewater investigation from land-development and a saving & loan collapse into Bill Clinton’s sex-life.
Absent the near-talismanic role of the New York Times in American journalism, the whole complex of allegations and suspicions subsumed under the word “Whitewater” might never have made it to the front page, much less come to dominate the national political dialogue for months [ultimately years] at a time. It is all the more disturbing, then, that most of the insinuations in [Jeff] Gerth’s reporting are either highly implausible or demonstrably false.
Into its compaign to promote Whitewater as the next Watergate, the Times mixed savage, personal attacks on the character Hillary Clinton, which included a featured piece in a 1993 issue of the New York Times Magazine that still astounds by sustained viciousness of its personal attack on a public figure. Kelly’s piece was written in response to Hillary opening up to Kelly during a personal interview about her ambitions to affect transformative change, and in view of that response to her trusting and making herself vulnerable to a journalist, not to mention what was to follow, it is hard to fault her for approaching the press with extreme caution.
Around the same time, Kelly’s friend and comrade-in-arms Maureen Dowd began using her influential column in the New York Times as a personal platform to destroy Hillary, and has been doing so now for about twenty-three years. Kelly and Dowd specialized in a newly prestigious genre of elite newspaper writing: the exploitation of a few details taken out of context from an interview or press report to create a grotesque caricature of a public figure. Unlike the satirical columns of earlier writers or the political cartoons of an artist like Herbert Lawrence Block (Herblock), Kelly and Dowd’s new genre, snark, either ignored significant policy or governance issues or else trivialized them by taking bits and pieces of potentially significant issues, stripping them of context, and employing them in a moralistic, personal attack devoid of any sense of authorial responsibility. The essential ingredient of snark is an authorial voice that hides personal animus and moral self-righteousness under an an elitist version adolescent put-downs and talk-show sex jokes.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Times’s Whitewater coverage, investigative journalists, conspiracy theorists, and a circle of writers employed by John Mellon Scaife, the billionaire heir of the Mellon fortune, were digging for dirt all over Arkansas, turning over every rock, and immersing themselves, as Lyons pointing out, in fantasies about the “incestuous” nature of politics and business among among the stereotypical rubes of Arkansas. Competing with the Times and other mainstream media in this endeavor, was the American Spectator and its Clintons-obsessed editor Emmett Tyrrell. More than 22-years later Tyrrell is still at it, as can be seen in this October 4, 2016 piece in the Washington Examiner. Caution, the piece in question consists of name-calling, slander and hate speech, undiluted with any attempt to substantiate any of Tyrrell’s accusations or insinuations. There are few figures in modern American political life that has been subject to level of sustained character defamation for such a long period.
With the GOP victory in the 1994 congressional elections, Republican Dan Burton turned over the House Oversight Committee to relentless investigations of alleged Clinton criminality. The Committee’s lead investigator was David Bossie, the conspiracy theorist whose anti-Clinton antics were extreme that Newt Gingrich, who would lead the impeachment effort against Bill Clinton, asked Burton to dismiss him. (Bossie is still at it. In 2007, his Citizens United released Hillary: the Movie, yet one more product of Hillary-Hatred industry). [Bossie is now the assistant campaign manager for Donald Trump]. New York Senator Al d’Amato, meanwhile, devoted his positions a member of the Senate Finance Committee and, from 1995–1996, the Senate Special Whitewater Committee, to continual prosecution of the Clintons.
With Whitewater turning into a boondoggle of ever deeper and more costly dry-hole excavations, new alleged scandals were brought forward. Some, such as Troopergate and Hillary's alleged murder of her close friend and adviser Vince Foster, were little more than a concoction of sensationalist slanders. For a glimpse into the manufacturing and dissemination of the Troopergate slander, see the careful account of Michael Isakoff, a journalist of the period who broke some key stories regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky affair but who managed to maintain his journalistic integrity. Others, alleged scandals, such as Travelgate and Filegate, involved questions that only in the Whitewater-induced mob mentality in Washington could have been advanced to the level of federal crisis. Although these new *Gates failed to advance the impeachment agenda or, despite relentless investigation, to uncover illegality or justify their newsworthiness, they nevertheless proved useful in character assassination. For a fine discussion of Travelgate and how the New York Times columnist William Safire, a former political consultant, cogent critique of bad English usage, and master of the art of using pithy verbal expressions as a political weapon, seized upon the endless parsing in the press of Hillary's statements regarding the White House travel office to demean her as a "congenital liar," see the recent piece by Eleanor Cliff.
Special Counsel Ken Starr, who could find nothing of note in the Whitewater and various Pseudo Gates that followed episode, went of to rescue the suffocating impeachment effort by pivoting his investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life. The prize-hungry media and payback-driven GOP snapped back to life with the emergence of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. With the discovery of the now iconic semen-stained dress, the pack frenzy turned delirous. As discussed in an earlier installment of this series, it brought Maureen Dowd of the New York Times to the peak of her powers and rewarded her with the Pulitzer Prize. Fox News, which had been established in 1996 by tabloid mogul Rupert Murdock and former Nixon public relations advisor Roger Ailes), drove the semen-stain-dress revival of the impeachment effort even as the lurid nature of controversy help drive Fox News in its meteoric mastery of a television medium that had long been succumbing to the blending of news and entertainment.
The Clinton-Lewinsky matter was expanded to bring in new allegations of rape and sexual assault by Anita Broaddrick, who brought forth the accusation that Bill Clinton had raped her two decades previously in Arkansas, and Kathleen Willey, who charged he had assaulted her in the White House. Willey went on to charge that the Clintons then terrorized her with threats, including a threat to have her cat killed, and stole the manuscript of the book she was writing on the alleged abuse by the Clintons. In their final report, Ken Starr and his investigators, whose zealousness as a prosecutor of the Clintons has never been doubted, found Willey unreliable, reported that she had lied under oath. Federal investigators looked into Broaddrick’s rape allegation and concluded there was not enough evidence to pursue it further. Nevertheless, the accusations reportedly influence members of the impeachment committee and steeled their determination to bring down the president, and have been repeated as fact even since. (The recent injection of these charges into the presidential contest, and the defense of the relevance of the allegations to the presidential campaign by Andrew O'Hehir in Salon magazine and Katrina Tripo in USA Today, will be discussed in a coming installment of this chronicle.
Nothing encapsulates the reckless madness of the Whitewater frenzy more than Wag the Dog. In 1997, a Hollywood movie by that name appeared, based on a plot according to which the President of the United States invents a crisis in Albania in order to distract from his political difficulties. When Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles and an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and what was believed to be an al-Qaeda related chemical plant in the Sudan, he was accused of Wagging the Dog. When he authorized air strikes against Iraq, he was accusing of Wagging the Dog. When he appeared with Yasser Arafat at a January 22, 1998 event meant to help restart the Camp David peace process, the press corps wanted to know about the "nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky," a message of contempt for Arafat and the Middle East peace effort more broadly that was heard loud and clear around the world.
When he ordered continued American participation in the international force in Bosnia and authorized airstrikes in Serbia in order to prevent genocide and mass expulsions in the Serbian province of Kosovo, he was accused of Wagging the Dog. For the record: had the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo been allowed to continue, the Balkans would have devolved into a patchwork of failed states, warlord-controlled militias, desperate refugees, and religious radicalization.
As George W. Bush was running his ultimately successful campaign for president, the American news media, fixated on the latest alleged Bill and Hillary scandal and imbued with a Wag the Dog cynicism about foreign policy, showed relatively little interest in probing what Bush, who had surrounded himself with coterie of militaristic advisers, might have in mind in regard to foreign policy and war. Instead, news reports and commentary were obsessed with promoting a new alleged scandal, Pardongate.
This month, Michael Chertoff, who had been the lead investigator of the Senate Whitewater Committee and later served as Director of Homeland Security made a noteworthy admission regarding what I have described as the Wag-the-Dog madness of the Whitewater investigations of the 1990's. “I realized we spent a huge amount of time in the ’90s on issues that were much less important than what was brewing in terms of terrorism,” he said, as he explained throwing his one-time target Hillary Clinton in her race against Donald Rump. Hillary, he continued, “has good judgment and a strategic vision how to deal with the threats that face us.”
It was not only terrorism, Middle East peace efforts, genocide and potential failed states in the Balkans, and the proper response to situations in Iraq that were shoved off the table or declared a distraction. The Whitewater and its successor investigations took an immeasurable toll on the personal resources of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Government leaders, officials, and investigators are double finite. Their numbers are finite, and their attention is finite. Whatever was done in regard to non-Whitewater matters, was necessarily done with less care and attention that if Whitewater hadn’t sucked up the time and expertise of so many for so long. Many other matters were simply neglected altogether; a situation that might please those who believe the least government is the best government, but even if one were to accept that proposition, the Whitewater frenzy was an expensive and dangerous way of crippling government, one with long-term ruinous effects on American society and political culture.
Earlier installments of this Hillary Hatred Countdown to Election Chronicle include: