Proving Rape

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has run with Juanita Broaddrick’s 1978 rape allegation against Bill Clinton, a scoop of dubious merit that was overlooked by “Today’s (usually eagle-eyed) Papers” in Slate. Chatterbox had no idea whether these charges were true before he read Dorothy Rabinowitz’s piece, and has no idea whether they’re true now that he has read it. (Chatterbox can’t link to the piece because the Journal charges for access to its Web site–a practice Chatterbox has deplored for approximately the last seven days.)

Chatterbox is, however, intrigued by Rabinowitz’s inconsistent notion of what constitutes corroborating detail. Broaddrick recalls looking out at the Arkansas River with Clinton (then the state’s attorney general) as he “pointed out an old jailhouse and told her that when he became governor, he was going to renovate that place.” Rabinowitz reports that “The building was later torn down, but in the course of their searches, NBC’s investigators [who reported but did not air Broaddrick’s story] found proof that, as Mrs. Broaddrick said, there had been such a jail at the time.” Objective fact: The jail was there. Conclusion: Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick. After Clinton allegedly forced himself on Ms. Broaddrick, “he looked down at her and said not to worry, he was sterile–he had had mumps when he was a child.” Objective fact: Bill Clinton was not sterile in 1978 (if he was, how could he have subsequently fathered Chelsea Clinton?). Conclusion: Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick.

An alternative reading of this evidence might go like this: Bill Clinton lied when he said he would renovate the old jailhouse. (Instead, he tore it down.) Bill Clinton lied when he said he was sterile. Therefore, Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick.

The jailhouse and the sterility comment are not, of course, all the corroborating detail Rabinowitz has to offer. There’s Broaddrick’s friend Norma Kelsey, “a nurse who had accompanied her on the trip,” who found her “in a state of shock–lips swollen to double their size, mouth discolored from [Clinton’s alleged] biting, her pantyhose torn in the crotch.” And there’s Ms. Broaddrick’s future husband, to whom she allegedly told the story. But these folks make only the briefest appearance in Rabinowitz’s narrative. Meanwhile, Rabinowitz piles on feature-story non sequiturs like the following: “To meet Juanita Broaddrick at her house in Van Buren is to encounter a woman of sunny disposition that the nudgings of anxiety can’t quite suppress–a woman entirely aware of life’s bounties. She sits talking in the peaceful house on a hilltop overlooking the Broaddricks’$2 40 acres, where 30 cows, five horses and a mule roam. An effervescent dog called Wally and a three-legged companion, Pearl, rush around in their midst. It is a good life, all right.”

–Timothy Noah