Bill and Monica
Of course, the Clinton story continued even as I was furiously scribbling these words. Who knows what leaks, lies and surreptitiously recorded audio tapes will turn up in the future? But as of this moment in conspiracy theory, this chapter contains the facts as we know them.
For the benefit of my readers born after 1994, Jones is a former Arkansas state employee who claimed that Bill Clinton (while he was running for president in 1992) invited her up to his hotel room, where he dropped his pants and shower her his, uh, campaign staff. He then, allegedly, asked Jones if she wished to “kiss it.”
Grungy behavior on Clinton’s part is Jones’s story is true (and it morphed many times along the way). But actionable? Jones thought so, perhaps egged on by well-heeled Clinton haters. After waiting around for a couple of years, she fired off a lawsuit at Clinton, who had since become president of the United States.
The lawsuit dragged on for years, literally, and Clinton’s conservative opponents squeezed it for every drop of political mileage they could get out of it, even leaking Jones’s alleged observation that the presidential penis bore a distinct left-angled bend.
For some bizarre reason understood only by themselves, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Jones’s lawsuit should be heard during Clinton’s presidential term. That cleared the way for more distractions. Foremost among them was the allegation that Clinton had received oral sex from a buxom ex-intern named Monica Lewinsky. Clinton denied this charge in a sworn deposition.
Asked about the allegations in a network television interview, Bill’s wife, Hillary, responded with preternatural calm. Not only did she stand by her hubby, she asserted that these charges – and most of the other allegations leveled against Clinton – stemmed from what she now famously dubbed “the cast right-wing conspiracy” against President Clinton.
And there is where my story begins.
The story should have ended when Jones’s lawsuit got tossed out in its entirety by Judge Susan Webber-Wright. Needless to say, the decision has produced much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of the pathological Clinton haters and vast right-wing conspirators. In an atypical moment of clarity, even Rush Limbaugh noted, in the wake of the dismissal, that too many Clinton haters “have their lives wrapped up” in Clinton’s fate. But all the bluster can no longer obscure the crystal-clear fact that Jones simply had no case!
The unequivocal dismissal, then, left no doubt that the Jones case was nothing but a political hit all along. How else could such a flimsy claim have wreaked so much havoc for so long? The judge saw what anyone not blinded by the stage fog pumped out by the big media windbags had seen all along.
(Okay, here’s the obligatory disclaimer: I’m not making any judgment on whether or not alleged hotel-room weenie waggler Clinton actually did what Jones accused him of or not. The point is, as a legal case, there never was anything there.)
The end of the Jones suit didn’t put an end to the under-reported but nevertheless compelling revelations of right-wing machinations. While most of the corporate media (TV networks, major urban dailies, Time, Newsweek, CNN etc.) chased the latest charges that, for example, Lewinsky had preserved a dress stained with the president’s semen in an unwashed state, the on-line news-and-arts magazine Salon dispatched reporter Murray Waas to find out what was really behind this alleged Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (which by then had assumed capitalized status).
As Salon reported, Attorney General Janet Reno, at the behest of the FBI, pondered her own investigation into the anti-Clinton dirty-tricks campaign. Specifically, she was intrigues by chief Whitewater witness David Hale, the source of some of the most damaging charges against Clinton in that two-decade-old real-estate debacle. Hale, according to CNN Online, is alleged to have taken cash payoffs from (indirectly) Clinton bete noir Richard Mellon Scaife.
Scaife, for his part, is the intensely private and intensely rightist heir to Pittsburgh’s Mellon-family banking fortune who apparently has financed much of the anti-Clinton crusade. It helps that he owns the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in which reporter Christopher Ruddy tracked the “murders” of Clinton aide Vince Foster and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
The big media gang picked up on pieces of the Salon coverage. On April 8, 1998, CNN tracked down Caryn Mann, former girlfriend of Hale’s alleged paymaster. She publicly confirmed Salon‘s reports that Hale took payments that were ultimately channeled down from Scaife.
Scaife, a right-of-Atilla zillionaire, has served as the Ernst Stavro Blofeld behind the bulk of Clinton bashing, doling out cash to, it seems, virtually anyone willing to publicly accuse Clinton of crimes and misdemeanors ranging from horndog hanky-panky to multiple murder.
Waas, previously best known for his money-trailing Iraqgate exposes after the Gulf War, even detected the hairy, hidden hand of the Mellon Man behind one of the oldest, darkest Clinton conspiracy theories: Mena!
Mena was the location of an airport in Arkansas from which clandestine flights carried, according to investigators, guns to the Contras and cocaine back into the United States. Clinton allegedly turned a blind eye to the illegal, CIA-linked operation.
According to the anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, Clinton himself profited from the drug operation at Mena. Another variation on the theory has it that Wild Bill’s supposed wink-and-nod to the Mena smugglers proves that Clinton, like Bush before him, is nothing more than a pawn of the intelligence community.
Mena conspiracy theories have not emanated exclusively from the Jerry Falwell faction, though Mena did figure heavily in the Falwell-hawked attack video, The Clinton Chronicles. Conspiracy researchers of every stripe bought into the Mena scenario. Perhaps there’s something to it, perhaps not. We’re still waiting for any evidence that rises above the level of innuendo to establish a definitive Clinton-Mena link. So far, we haven’t seen any. (And not for lack of looking; check out the right-wing “Washington Weekly” Mena scandal web site; and from a different side of the con coin, our buds at Steamshovel Press have been Mena-minded for years.)
Waas reported that Scaife shelled out a quarter of a million bucks to spread the Mena story and apparently suckered much of the conspiracy “community” in the process.
Scaife, according to Waas’s research, hired private dick Rex Armistead to probe Clinton’s alleged Mena connection. Scaife even paid for Armistead to fly to far-flung locations – Europe and Belize, to name two – in search of Clinton coke-ring dirt.
When confronted by a reporter about his Scaife connection, Waas reports in Salon, Armistead responded, “You better be careful what you write or I’m going to put a lawsuit on you,” and, “Are you a Jew?” He denied taking payments from Scaife, but Waas nailed down the paper trail, clever though Blofeld may be!
Armistead fed his “findings” to journalists – particularly at the anti-Clinton scandal rag the American Spectator - as well as to confessional investigators and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Another note: Scaife isn’t the only source of cash for the anti-Clinton coup plotters. On March 31 the Chicago Sun-Times got Windy City investment banker Peter W. Smith to fess up to his role in the attempted coup. He has poured about eighty-thousand dollars into an effort to spread dish on the president’s shagadelic personal life. Smiths efforts included paying money to the two state troopers who acted as sources for David Brock’s now-notorious American Spectator article in which the name “Paula” first came up. We all know what that article spawned: the insane juggernaut finally halted on April Fool’s Day by Judge Susan Webber-Wright.
However, during all of these rather interesting revelations of a concerted attempt to unseat an elected president, the media remained fixated on l’Affaire Monica. When you sit back and think about it, in the months of relentless reportage that followed the initial Lewinsky scandal, there was very little of substance actually reported. Airtime and column inches were clogged by “leaks,” unsubstantiated factoids whispered off the record to reporters by their pals in the office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, the chief Clinton inquisitor.
At the same time, that same media suffers from no lack of navel-gazing commentators pointing out that the Clinton-Lewinsky affair has hardly been modern journalism’s finest hour. But in all the hand-wringing about the ethics and propriety of “leaks” and how to report them (consensus wisdom: gotta do it, baby!), none have dared utter the dreaded term disinformation.
The term “leak” is misleading. It sounds ethically neutral and leaves the door open for the “they all do it” excuse. The self-justifying media and the anti-Clinton pundits fall back on that one a lot: “Starr leaks! Clinton Leaks! It’s a War of the Leaks!” One, we’re supposed to believe, is as bad as the other.
But when a leak is deliberately false, it is not longer a leak. It’s a lie, one offered anonymously as fact and reported as such. If that’s not the definition of disinformation, we don’t know what is.
Forgive me for sounding paranoid, but when leak after leak turns up false, is it off-the-wall to think that there’s an organized campaign of disinformation? The presumable intended effect of this campaign is : to damage Bill Clinton’s reputation and hobble his presidential effectiveness, or worse. Fortunately for Clinton, his overall popularity held; the guy plays hardball with the best of them and is as shrewd a politician as the late twentieth century has seen. A lesser political operator would have been out of there or at least politically crippled. Given the incessant history of anonymously reported lies, we couldn’t help but get our conspiracy antennae up at every new “revelation.”
The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy was nothing short of a coup attempt, and everyone willing to look got the rare privilege of watching the coup unfold.
One or two false leaks and we wouldn’t bat an eye. The numbers, however, added up faster than the notches on Monica Lewinsky’s kneepads. We saw:
The eyewitness account of the president’s steward who supposedly removed from the Oval Office, following a visit by Lewinsky, Kleenex stained with lipstick and “other substances.” The ickiness meter went off the chart, but that leak turned out to be a phony, too. As with most of these leaks, no one fessed up to it.The Secret Service agent who supposedly witnessed Clinton and Monica in an “ambiguous” position. It was first reported as a “compromising” position before the paper that broke the story, the Dallas Morning News, backtracked. Then the whole story turned out to be false, anyway. There was no such witness. No one fessed up to the fib.
Clinton’s Jennifer Flowers testimony. Practically since the scandal broke, it has been widely reported and consequently taken as an article of faith that Clinton, while under oath in the Paula Jones deposition, admitted to a twelve-year-affair with Flowers. Because in a now-historic 60 Minutes interview during the 1992 presidential campaign Clinton admitted causing “pain” in his marriage but denied the alleged twelve-year-affair, his supposed oathbound confession proves his capacity for lying. However, Clinton admitted to having sex with Jennifer Flowers just once in 1977. That admission would be consistent with his 1992 interview.
There are dark explanations as to why Clinton might have chosen to admit to a one-night stand with Flowers in a sworn deposition twenty-one years after the fact. Maybe he feared that Flowers had kept a semen-stained dress, cunningly anticipating the advent of DNA testing. Or maybe he thought that a not-so-damaging confession of a long-ago indiscretion would make subsequent lies regarding, say, Monica Lewinsky, seem more credible. But the simplest explanation that fits the available facts is that Clinton’s testimony is far closer to the truth than Jennifer Flowers’, and that Flowers was merely the opening act in a long running “dirty tricks” campaign to destroy his presidency.
It’s worth noting, also that, back in 1992, Flowers herself adamantly denied the “twelve-year-affair” until the Star supermarket tabloid paid her $140,000 to “reveal” it. Heck, for that kind of money, I would admit to blowing Bill Clinton. Flowers then turned her story into a Penthouse spread replete with naked pix for which she was presumably paid an even larger sum of dough. Heck, for that kind of money, I would – well, never mind. In 1995, Flowers published a book about the “affair.” She published another one in 1996. With the emergence of the Lewinsky affair, Flowers received another round of attention and went on a singing tour.
Then there was “Curriegate.” Clinton’s personal secretary, the hapless Betty Currie, told the grand jury, operated by grand inquisitor Kenneth Starr, that Clinton had told her to fudge her testimony about whether he and Lewinsky had ever been alone together. Or so it was leaked. The story was flatly denied by Currie’s lawyer. Somebody’s lying, and given the circumstances, it’s probably the anonymous source of the leak rather than Currie’s very nonanonymous attorney, who would have much more to lose. (If the leak were substantially accurate, we would expect a more ambiguously worded denial from the lawyer.)
The retired Secret Service agents who, according to the Washington Post, has come forward to say that, back in 1995, he personally let Lewinsky into the Oval Office where she was alone with the president for a full forty minutes. (If she was doing what everyone assumes she was doing, we have to admit that we admire the president’s stamina.) Even other Secret Service agents immediately cast doubt on the account, given by retired Secret Serviceman Lewis C. Fox. Fox, they said, was a uniformed officer, not one of those sunglasses and earpiece guys. Uniformed officers, they say, guard the Oval Office only when the president is not there and the office is vacant. Which really makes me wonder what Monica was doing in there, but that’s another story.
Perhaps the most damaging and, if it really is a fraud, blatant piece of disinformation could turn out to be the infamous talking-points memo.
This weird tidbit of “evidence” was one sheer allegedly passed from Lewinsky to her mother confessor Linda Tripp (the same lady who later turned rat fink on little Lewinsky). The memo gave explicit instructions on how to cover up the Oval Office dalliances. Its very existence seemed improbable. The press puzzled over this supposed smoking fun, but they’d have been better served by trying to track down its real author. Tripp later denied having anything to do with the talking points memo.
I won’t even get into the source of the repeated leaks conventional wisdom has it that they came from Starr and/or his operatives. This is one case in which conventional wisdom appears to be on the mark.
The ever-staid New York Times - the paper which first got the dubious Betty Currie story – scrambling to cover its grey-lady butt, treated the public to the bizarre spectacle of an editorial in which it chided the Clintonites for their inability to “prove” that the Currie leak came from Starr’s forces. Of course, there’s almost nowhere else it could have logically come from. (Currie’s lawyers? Yeah, sure.) So Clinton’s people were quite justified in the public accusations they leveled at Starr.
But the Times knows damn well where that leak came from. It was the Times’s own story, fercripesake! So the paper prints leaked and probably deceptive information from (in all likelihood) Starr, then sticks out its tongue at the president for his inability to “prove” where the Times got its story. What manner of madness is this?
During Watergate, when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein incorrectly reported the leaked grand-jury testimony of White House aide Hugh Sloan, a crisis developed inside the Washington Post, and the two reporters offered to resign.
Fast-forward twenty-five years to Fellate gate, where that sort of journalistic screwup is happening day after day. And no one seems the least bit red-faced. We could critique Woodward and Bernstein all night long – and wouldn’t that be a gas – but at least we can say they had some sense of shame, a quality strangely lacking in today’s noninvestigative press corps.