2016 election, Bill Clinton, chattering class, democracy, Donald Trump, Establishment Media, Gennifer Flowers, George Stephanopoulos, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, journalism, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Mainstream Media, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, sexual assault, videotape, women
What does George Stephanopoulos know and why isn’t he talking? Those to me are two of the most important and clearly the most inexcusably neglected, questions that have been raised in the last 36 hours of the Donald Trump video firestorm. I say inexcusable because the answers could produce major evidence that the establishment media are becoming ever less capable of playing their historic and indispensable role of American democracy’s watchdog.
As must be obvious to anyone following this latest twist of the 2016 American election cycle, one of the leading issues being raised is whether the Republican presidential nominee is being held to a standard fundamentally different from that applied to his Democratic rival’s husband, Bill Clinton, both throughout his presidential years and, reportedly, for decades before.
“Reportedly” is of course the key here. The most disturbing parts of the Trump video clearly are those passages in which he suggests he committed sexual assault. If true, that would of course eliminate the “locker room banter” defense put up by his surrogates and other backers. Indeed, it’s entirely conceivable and understandable that a critical mass of American voters will view even that possibility as a disqualification for any public office.
I wrote yesterday, there’s no shortage of hypocrisy over the Trump-Clinton comparison on either side. But so far, the Clinton supporters would seem to have the advantage because, as I understand their position, the only Bill Clinton offense that’s been proven has been the former president’s affair during his administration with then White House intern Monica Lewinsky – and that this affair was consensual.
That’s true enough. But for many years, serious charges of far worse behavior by Bill Clinton have been circulating. In connection with one of those instances, a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones was settled, with Clinton paying her $850,000. (He admitted no wrongdoing.) At least one other woman, Juanita Broaddrick, has accused the former president of raping her. At least one other woman, Kathleen Willey, has charged him with sexual assault. Neither woman took her claims to legal authorities at the time – which is a common feature of such episodes.
My purpose here isn’t to litigate or even debate the merits of these real and alleged scandals. Instead, it’s to point out that one of America’s most prominent journalists is and has been throughout the campaign in a position to shed considerable light both on Bill Clinton’s behavior and on Hillary Clinton’s treatment of the women claiming to be his victims. That’s George Stephanopoulos. He was a top adviser to the former president’s first election campaign, and then served as his White House press secretary for Clinton’s entire first term.
As a result, it’s inconceivable that Stephanopoulos didn’t participate in high-level meetings with both Bill and Hillary Clinton on handling these controversies both during the campaign and during the first term. (Jones filed her complaint in 1994, and an imbroglio involving an alleged Clinton affair with Gennifer Flowers roiled the 1992 White House race.) That is, he surely has first-hand knowledge that bears directly on the most sensational issue before the nation today – about the veracity of the various sexual misconduct-related charges against both Clintons.
But on Stephanopoulos’ own Sunday morning talk show, on the very day of a potentially monumental presidential debate in which these questions are sure to come up, the host said nothing even hinting at his former employment by the Clintons. None of the other journalists or political figures on the show’s panel of commentators did either. Nor can I find any instance of an establishment journalist asking Stephanopoulos about his nearly unmatched access to the Clintons in those years.
Could the reason be that Stephanopoulos is thinking about passing through an increasingly busy revolving door yet again and returning to government from his media perch? Or is he still simply a Clinton partisan? And what of the rest of the Mainstream Media and political chattering class members that owe so much of their public profile, and therefore incomes, to shows like Stephanopoulos’? Are some of them having the same thoughts, or holding the same views? Are they worried about getting blackballed from “This Week” – and possibly from the rest of the broadcast and cable networks if they put one the industry’s leading lights on the hot seat? Or are they above all concerned that they’ll be informally ostracized from one of America’s most glamorous social sets for displaying bad form?
Until these questions start getting asked, Americans will have more and more reason to suspect that their country’s news industry can’t be trusted to hold their public figures accountable not simply because of political bias, but because the industry keeps steadily merging with those it’s supposed to be covering. How a democracy can retain its fundamental health under those circumstances isn’t easy to see at all.