New York Times writer Amanda Hess issued surprise criticism of the media’s coverage of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals in her review of The Clinton Affair, A&E’s six-part mini-series on Bill Clinton’s scandal over White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Hess argued that the women who accused the former president of sexual harassment were unjustly mocked and shunned by the mainstream press: “Paula Jones Re-emerges In New Light – A time to listen to the women of the Bill Clinton scandals.”
It’s sound advice from Hess, but a quarter-century too late for the partisan New York Times, which during the 1992 campaign that brought Clinton to victory, dismissed Juanita Broaddrick’s credible allegations of rape against Clinton as “toxic waste.”
NewsBusters’s Kristine Marsh thought the first night of the mini-series “portrayed conservatives and Republicans as the villains of the story,” while Hess insisted it was “straightforward in style and evenhanded in tone.” But Hess provided some welcome revisionism regarding the media’s disdain for Clinton’s accusers, although she failed to point the finger at the newspaper she is writing for.
The events it covers have been so sensationalized and so politicized for so long that seeing them presented neutrally and in roughly chronological order is revelatory, particularly regarding the stories of three women: Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick. These are the women who, in the 1990s, publicly accused the president of the United States of sexual harassment and assault.
Of Lewinsky, Hess wrote, “She has emerged from years of media torture as an unexpected darling of the press.” Then there was some long-overdue respect for Clinton’s accusers:
The same cannot be said for Jones, Willey and Broaddrick. In the ’90s, they were dismissed as “bimbos” deployed in service of what Hillary Clinton called the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and with few exceptions, their stories have remained relegated to the margins of respectable conversation. They have been featured not in glossy fashion magazines but in self-published memoirs and political smear campaigns. They have been used as right-wing pawns and left-wing punching bags.
A photo caption conceded: “In ‘The Clinton Affair,’ Jones, seen here in 2016, comes across guileless and credible, a depiction very different from the media circus more than two decades ago.”
Hess's main heroine in the sordid spectacle turns out to be Paula Jones:
Paula Jones, in particular, rises. In 1994, she said that Bill Clinton had summoned her to a hotel room and exposed himself when he was the governor of Arkansas and she was a state employee. (Clinton has always denied the charges from Jones, Willey and Broaddrick). Later she filed suit against him for sexual harassment. Her story was politicized from the start: It was seized by a Republican operative, who urged her to go public at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the right’s annual activist spectacle.
Hess hit at (then Clinton spokesman, now ABC News chief anchor) George Stephanopoulos, who “compared Jones to Tonya Harding: just another woman seeking cash for telling a tabloid tale....” She also gives some welcome context about Jones’ pleading her case to conservative activists:
....in a contemporaneous interview with Sam Donaldson, she explained, “Those are the only people that are coming to my defense.” In her new interview, she retells her story of harassment while fighting back tears. She appears guileless and helpful. In a word: credible.
Hess even blamed “foot-dragging journalists” for dismissing Jones’ accusations against Clinton:
Jones’s representatives made efforts to place her story in mainstream newspapers, only to be frustrated by foot-dragging journalists. As Michael Isikoff, a Washington Post reporter at the time, puts it in an interview with Neyfakh, his editors “viewed it as tawdry.” (Isikoff was later ready to report the Lewinsky story for Newsweek, but higher-ups held it, according to “Slow Burn” and “The Clinton Affair”; Matt Drudge broke the news instead.) Later, NBC sat on the tape of an emotional interview with Broaddrick in which she accused Bill Clinton of raping her, finally airing the segment only after Clinton had weathered his impeachment and trial.
Hess concluded provocatively:
Paula Jones spoke out against the most powerful man in the world, and when his lawyers argued that a sitting president couldn’t be subject to a civil suit, she took them all the way to the Supreme Court and won. In another world, she would be hailed as a feminist icon. But not in this world -- not yet.
It’s a shame that the Times felt completely different about the sex allegations against Clinton while he was president. As Brent Bozell and Tim Graham wrote in 2016:
When Juanita Broaddrick accused President Bill Clinton of sexual assault in February 1999, the Times was not impressed. It never found her story worth publicizing. Times reporters were first told about Broaddrick's allegation near the end of the 1992 presidential campaign, but they regarded it as partisan "toxic waste."
After former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey accused Clinton of sexually harassing her in the Oval Office, columnist Frank Rich criticized her in a column titled "The Liars' Club."
This is the paper where feminist columnist Anna Quindlen dismissed Paula Jones' sexual harassment case compared to Anita Hill's. She said there was "no reason to let right-wing activists, no friends to either the President, women, or the issue of sexual harassment, shame us into foolish lock step."