Today's Papers

Willey or Willie?

USA Today

and the Washington Post lead with Kathleen Willey’s “60 Minutes” interview. The other papers pretend there was something else on. The Los Angeles Times says the day’s top story is the government of Iran’s crackdown on oil shipments to Iraq that violate U.N. sanctions. The New York Times, even more transparent in its attempt to appear above pack journalism, goes with–are you sitting down?–the possibility that Republicans could take over all the governors’ slots of the old Confederacy. This is particularly odd in that the NYT’s own front-page Willey story states that “even the president’s supporters say that if proved true, the accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Lewinsky matter could end Clinton’s presidency.”

In her interview, Willey gave a paw-by-paw description of her encounter with President Clinton in a small study off the Oval Office and charged that Clinton lied about it. All the papers have Willey’s comment that she considered slapping him but decided not to because “I don’t think you can slap the president of the United States..” And everybody has Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett’s comment that his client is “absolutely bewildered” by Willey’s allegations, and that there is as yet unreleased information that will undercut them.

USAT reports that “Willey also said during the 60 Minutes interview that she told Linda Tripp about her encounter in the Oval Office. Willey said Tripp, whose tape recording of conversations with Lewinsky sparked Starr’s investigation, later told her, ‘I’m going to get you, and … everyone else in this place before this is all over.’” (Tripp’s lawyers deny that she ever made such a statement.) This passage leaves the reader wondering why Tripp’s response to Willey’s report of her Oval Office incident would be anger towards Willey. But what’s really going on is that the paper has garbled the “60 Minutes” interview. In it, Willey says that Tripp was angry at her, not about the alleged grope, but because Willey got a White House job–which Tripp attributed to Clinton’s interest in Willey while Tripp lost hers,.

In its lead, the WP gets this right. The Post also points out that in some ways, Willey could be a more troublesome witness for Clinton than the other women alleging sexual harassment, because Willey was originally unwilling to tell her story, her accusation is of a non-consensual act, and she is hardly a Clinton-hating member of the vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary Clinton cited, having worked to get Clinton elected.

USAT quotes the president of NOW, Patricia Ireland, as saying, “It’s not just sexual harassment. If it’s true, it’s sexual assault.” The WP has this too, but in addition notes the significance of the remark: it’s a break with the generally complacent attitude most feminists have maintained toward the Clinton sex scandals. (Up till now their motto has been: “The devil you know is better than…Trent Lott.”) Also, USAT decides to leave out the rest of the Ireland quote, which the WP includes: “He put his hand on her breast; he put her hand on his erection. That is a pretty serious charge if true and it is a very big problem.” The NYT, in its front page story also makes the point about the significance of Ireland’s remark, but cuts her quote just where USAT does. The LAT goes the other way a little bit, saying that Willey claims Clinton “fondled” her breasts and placed her hand on his “crotch,” even though Willey didn’t use either of the words in quotes.

In a wise departure from standard newspaper practice, the Post doesn’t clean up Willey’s quotes, so that its report communicates a good deal of the emotion of the televised interview: “And then he, then he, then he kissed me on, on my mouth and, and pulled me closer to him. And I remember thinking, I just remember thinking, ‘What in the world is he doing?’ … And I, I pushed back away from him and–he, he, he, he, he’s a big man. And he, he had his arms, they were tight around me and he, he touched me….He touched my breasts with his hand and I, I, I, I was, I, I was just startled.”

There is a dangling thread from the interview that none of the papers tugs at: Willey says that one of the first people she saw after she got away from the president was then-Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen. Why doesn’t some enterprising reporter go ask Bentsen what his impression of Willey’s demeanor was?

The LAT’s Willey story says that in Clinton’s Jones case deposition, he “acknowledged embracing Willey and perhaps kissing her on the forehead. He said he has engaged in similar displays of affection with ‘scores and scores of men and women who have worked for me or been my friends over the years.’” Maybe it’s time some of those men Bill Clinton has kissed on the forehead came forward to support their president.