Historians Hoist the Whitewash for Clinton

Despite the Senate's predictable collapse into acquittal of a guilty Bill Clinton, everyone can agree that the impeachment and trial was historic, and will become the first sentence in every Clinton encyclopedia entry. But if conservatives feel dissatisfied with the media's slanted first draft on impeachment, wait until you see how historians are distorting it further.

One of the most disturbing imbalances in the media's coverage of the impeachment aftermath is the stifling liberal uniformity of the historians who've chiseled their way into the networks' Iron Rolodex of experts. Hours after the vote on CNN, we were treated to Robert Dallek, who's laboring to refute Robert Caro's harsh portrait of Lyndon Johnson and recently was seen trashing Ronald Reagan in PBS's Gipper documentary; and Douglas Brinkley, whose most recent book pines for a better historical portrait for Jimmy Carter, one of the biggest presidential failures of the century.

Here was Professor Brinkley on CNN, doing the same refurbishing routine for Bill Clinton: "Hopefully, we'll have a fuller view and also understand that he's had a great many important strengths. He is the first post-Cold War president, he had to put America into - he signed a lot - over 200 trade pacts around the world, NATO expansion, at least attempts at peace in places like Bosnia and Northern Ireland and the Middle East."

On Saturday night, Tim Russert booked Clinton biographer David Maraniss and the ubiquitous Doris Kearns Goodwin. Maraniss's biography is much more balanced than his syrupy 1992 Clinton campaign dispatches. (Any biographer more critical of Clinton - from Meredith Oakley to R. Emmett Tyrrell to Roger Morris - need not even bother trying to get on TV.) Goodwin is a regular on both Jim Lehrer's "NewsHour" on PBS and NBC and its cable outlets. Every once in a while, they'll note she worked for Lyndon Johnson. But they'll never mention she's a Friend of Bill and Hillary. (They loved her book on Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt so much that she was awarded one of those hundreds of Lincoln Bedroom sleepover slots.)

Russert and Maraniss and Goodwin cheered like drunken sailors: "It's over!" They talked excitedly about Hillary running for the Senate, with Goodwin wishing Clinton had been another LBJ: "If he had allied with these Democrats earlier, in 1992 in 1994, even 1996, if he'd given them a mandate when he ran again, things might have been different. In this extraordinary time of prosperity, suppose he'd been able to incite the country to care about the people who weren't really benefitting, the one in four kids in poverty, to care about doing something big about education, not just these minor things, we could have had another idealistic era, maybe...but that's the thing I'll always be sad about. At a time of prosperity, we could have mobilized the country to bring out that idealistic moment."

In case anyone was in doubt of Goodwin's ideological slant, she hoped Hillary would run a liberal Senate campaign in New York: "I'm always imagining these people are more liberal than they are because I want them to be."

Then on Today on Monday morning, Katie Couric welcomed Douglas Brinkley and Doris Goodwin. Brinkley worried: "I think the serious scholars looking at the Clinton presidency will be able to pick and choose the best part, but unfortunately like Nixon, we don't realize Nixon is the father of the Endangered Species Act or the Environmental Protection Agency. We think of Nixon as Watergate. And I think Clinton will be remembered predominantly for impeachment, even though many other good things occurred on his watch."

On Tuesday morning, historian Michael Beschloss, another LBJ devotee and PBS "NewsHour" pundit, who wrote a book in 1992 with Clinton buddy/Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, appeared with Don Imus on MSNBC. When Imus asked what the impeachment process would mean, Beschloss replied: "I think it all depends on whether it connects to anything else that Bill Clinton did bad, if he did." If? Beschloss actually claimed: "This will be seen as an isolated episode that, yes, Bill Clinton committed some serious offenses, but I don't know how much it tells us about the way he did business across the board."

If our most prominent historians can so cavalierly avoid the entire pattern of lying, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and plain old corruption that stretches from Whitewater to Travelgate to Filegate forward, how much more will they and their media friends distort the truth about Clinton as memories fade?