The commentariat cleaves the Clinton Scandals into three issues this week: 1) the mud-storm surrounding Kathleen Willey; 2) Congress’ readiness to receive Kenneth Starr’s report; and 3) Robert Bennett’s about-face on publicizing Paula Jones’ amorous life.
There are almost as many opinions on Issue 1 as there are pundits. Jack Germond (Inside Washington) defines the pro-Willey end of the spectrum. Noting Willey’s initial reluctance to testify, Germond dismisses talk of impure motives as the White House “trying to throw sand in our eyes.” Middle-of-the-roaders Evan Thomas (Inside Washington) and Al Hunt (CNN’s Capital Gang) agree that Willey’s story remains convincing but see some truth in anti-Willeyism: There “are no clean test-tubes” in this scandal, says Thomas. At the other extreme, The McLaughlin Group’s two libs (Morton Kondracke and Eleanor Clift) make quite a show of pitching tent in the anti-Willey camp. Willey’s credibility has been destroyed; the questions about her motives have been devastating, they maintain.
Most pundits follow Ellen Goodman (CNN’s Late Edition) in excusing the White House’s anti-Willey smear campaign as “inevitable” while characterizing it as far from “appealing.” George Will (ABC’s This Week) and Charles Krauthammer (Inside Washington) share outrage over the White House’s eagerness to release Willey-related correspondence while failing to answer scores of Lewinsky-related queries (remember her?). Clift contends that there has been no character assassination by the White House, only the release of facts. Krauthammer detects class bias in the sympathy for Willey evinced by the same feminists who refused to rally around Jones.
Issue 2–the Hill’s hunger for the Starr report–finds all agreeing that the Republicans must avoid looking cheap or nasty. Henry Hyde, the widely respected head of the Judiciary Committee, is the Republicans’ “ace in the hole,” says Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). But the committee is filled with GOP “full mooners,” he adds, who will make the Republicans look clownish. Fred Barnes and Susan Page (Late Edition) declare that impeachment proceedings occurring after the November elections are less likely to unseat Clinton, while George Stephanopoulos (This Week) insists that a late start will permit the Republicans to “go full bore” without fear of offending short-memoried voters with their partisanship. The Clinton camp’s threat to invoke executive privilege is widely dismissed as a foolish delaying tactic.
Issue 3, Bob Bennett’s decision not to detail Paula Jones’ love life for the court, is portrayed as the triumph of politics over sound legal strategy (Robert Novak, Capital Gang; George Will).
Hollywood Fever: Two weeks ago, Inside Washingtonian Evan Thomas disputed Gordon Peterson’s claim that the film Primary Colors had a pro-Clinton bias, even though neither had actually seen the film. Now having viewed it, Thomas reports (without blushing!) that the film is sympathetic to Clinton. Peterson asks Jack Germond, who has not seen the film, to give some expert commentary based upon Germond’s exposure to TV trailers for the film. Some characters seem well-cast, responds the perplexed Germond. Rounding out the segment, Deborah Mathis says she wouldn’t mind seeing Paul Newman win a Best Actor Oscar on Monday. This would be quite a trick, as Newman was not nominated this year.
Will the Commentariat Resign First? Charles Krauthammer prefaces his Inside Washington commentary with a sigh: “I had my usual experience. I thought, my God, this is gonna do enormous damage to the president, and sure enough the American people think exactly the opposite.” Fred Barnes begins his Fox News Sunday soliloquy by airing his own self-esteem issues: “There have been so many things that I thought were going to have tremendous political consequences … they haven’t happened.”
Milli Vanilli Redux: You heard it here first, folks–Inside Washington is lip-synced! There was a very creepy moment about 20 minutes into this week’s installment: The camera cut away from Deborah Mathis, who was holding forth on school uniforms, to a presumably contemporaneous shot of the whole cast. Mathis’ voice-over continued but the visual was of Krauthammer chatting with Peterson as a nodding and still-lipped Mathis looked on.