In the 8:30 half hour of Tuesday’s "Today," NBC’s Matt Lauer interviewed Washington lawyer Robert Bennett on his new book "In The Ring." Lauer began by noting Bennett’s been in all manner of Washington scandals. But Lauer and Bennett chose to hone in on just one: Paula Jones. Lauer didn’t suggest there was anything wrong with what Jones said Bill Clinton did at a Little Rock hotel room, in dropping his pants and asking her, a stranger and a state employee, to kiss his penis. Instead, as usual, the Jones case was defined as a "vehicle" for "Clinton haters," the "hunting of a president." Clinton was not the predator. Jones was:
LAUER: You say allowing that case to go forward against Bill Clinton was, was the equivalent of hunting a president. Why do you say that?
BENNETT: Well, well it was. What happened is Paula Jones' case became a vehicle by which the Clinton haters were trying to shut up his message and defeat his election in 1996.
It was one thing to treat the case the way that pro-Clinton reporters handled it in 1994 or 1996, when the full details weren't litigated. But after all this time, is NBC living in a time warp? Lauer made no mention of what actually happened with the Jones case he allegedly handled brilliantly. Bennett delayed the case for so many years that Jones lawyers were able to find Monica Lewinsky, which led to Clinton lying under oath and getting impeached. Clinton also settled in the Jones case for more than $850,000, a clear admission of guilt in cash, if not in public repentance. Lauer and Bennett built on the idea that putting off a sex-harassment lawsuit wasn’t obnoxiously sexist, but in fact, statesmanlike:
LAUER: Your strategy in that case, Bob, in 1994 as that thing came to a head with Bill Clinton and Paula Jones was delay, delay, delay, correct?
BENNETT: That is correct. Lloyd Cutler, who recently passed away, one of the great statesmen, he was White House counsel. And he and I agreed that our goal was to get it beyond the '96 election. That was our, our primary goal.
LAUER: By the way, common question people ask, Bill Clinton, sitting President of the United States, had a group of lawyers all around him. Why did he need you?
BENNETT: That is not, that is not for me to say. Interestingly, it was Hillary Clinton who interviewed me for about an hour over at the White House. And after, and it went very well. And the next thing I know, I was ushered into the President's office and he hired me.
The interview began with the idea that Bennett had a right to scold the rest of Washington about character assassination:
BENNETT: Well, because this is where we are, in a 24/7 environment. Things get out there very, very quickly. You know, there's a wonderful saying about a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. And these high-profile clients are as concerned about their reputations as they are about the fear of going to jail.
LAUER: And with the animosity that exists in Washington right now between the political parties, character assassination has become, as you call it in the book, blood sport, basically?
BENNETT: Yes, Matt. My initial title was "Mean Town." But the editor thought, appropriately so, it was a bit negative. So--
LAUER: I'm curious when you talk about character assassination and tearing down public officials being blood sport, do you think smart attorneys like you are part of the solution or part of the problem?
BENNETT: Well, I think some of us are a part of the problem and others are part of the, the solution. The public image can drive a prosecution.
Lauer, the same embarrassingly supine pro-Clinton journalist who suggested to Hillary Clinton in the infamous Vast Right Wing Conspiracy interview in 1998 that the Lewinsky claims could be "the worst and most damaging smear of the 20th century," ignored Bennett’s mean-spirited statements at that time, as the Washington Post reported:
"As my mother once said to me, be careful what you ask for -- you may get it," Robert S. Bennett said on NBC's "Meet the Press," one of the myriad venues -- from Don Imus's radio show to the highest court in the land -- where he has defended his coveted client for the past 3 1/2 years. "I had a dog like that, who just wanted to catch cars. And he successfully caught one one day. And I have a new dog."
The lawyer's blunt-force analogy -- suggesting that Clinton's accuser would not survive an examination of her sexual history -- was widely viewed in political circles as a serious gaffe, another misstep in a series that Bennett's critics claim he has committed in the case. After howls of protest from women's groups and a legion of newspaper editorialists, the president's lawyer quickly retreated.
Mean town, indeed, Mr. Bennett.