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Nothing New On the Clinton Women?

Very early in the Clinton era, a media consensus developed that there were two kinds of women associated with Clinton scandals: the disreputable haters who accused him, and the sainted, put-upon victims who were useful to him. It never really mattered which women spoke the truth, only which ones had the right sympathies.

Falling in the first category were Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Linda Tripp, and Juanita Broaddrick. They were regularly caricatured as partisan harpies wanting the big bucks from tabloids along with their 15 minutes of fame. Then there were the persecuted innocents, the Susan McDougals and Julie Hiatt Steeles, who hitched their wagon to Clinton's media star. Just how often did we see them portrayed as victims of the oppressive Kenneth Starr, who viciously pressured them to lie so he could harpoon Clinton?

Time, however, has a way of unraveling yarns. In the last few weeks, the media's verdicts have very silently collided with court rulings. For example, on May 19, Mrs. Steele, who joined a lawsuit alleging Ken Starr pressured her to offer false testimony, was rebuffed by a federal judge. Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge John Nangle found "absolutely no evidence that [Mr. Starr] ever directly or impliedly asked her to lie." In the entire national media, only The Washington Post showed up on this story.

Mrs. Steele first struck the media's fancy when she betrayed her former friend, Kathleen Willey, by recanting her corroborating testimony. Instead she insisted Willey had urged her to lie to Newsweek about Willey being groped by the President. Steele's media supporters, starting with Geraldo Rivera, championed Steele's plight at the hands of "investigative terrorist" Ken Starr. Steele's attacks on Starr were also carried on the usually apolitical "Dateline NBC." On November 27, 1998, Jane Pauley theorized that "Julie Hiatt Steele is a woman whose 15 minutes of fame was an unwanted consequence of doing a favor for a friend and it could land her in jail...She believes Kenneth Starr wants to hear her say something and will do almost anything to get her to say it."

It would be foolish, however, to expect these White House mouthpieces at NBC and CNBC to apologize and retract their Starr-trashing "exposes" at this late date. Arriving at the truth is not the point. The point is that Clinton made it through the crisis, and the facts no longer matter.

Then there's the case of Linda Tripp, the woman hated for exposing the media's lazy assumption that Clinton's sexual recklessness was a thing of the past. The politically motivated wiretapping prosecution in Maryland was called off. All the networks were there in July of 1998, when the grand jury investigation began. But few showed up when the party closed down. Fox News Channel covered it, and NBC and CNN touched on it that night, but ABC and CBS did not. Besmirching Tripp had a political purpose in 1998, but the facts no longer matter.

Tripp also received no comfort from the media when the Pentagon's Inspector General found that the release of her personnel file by Defense Department flacks Ken Bacon and Cliff Bernath "constituted a clearly unwarranted invasion of her privacy." Disingenuous Defense Secretary William Cohen merely slapped the wrists of his press people, but the report gives great credibility to Tripp's invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the Pentagon. The major media barely touched it. CBS and NBC were missing, while the other networks gave the story a half-minute. Time magazine gave it a snippy sentence at the front of the magazine, and said "Now pleeeze disappear." The facts no longer matter.

A little more than a year after she claimed publicly that then-Attorney General Bill Clinton raped her in 1978, Juanita Broaddrick has resurfaced in some media outlets after receiving notice of an audit from the Internal Revenue Service. "I believe it's not a coincidence. I am clearly being targeted because I came forward," she told Fox News. Broaddrick joined Flowers, Jones, and former Miss America Elizabeth Ward Gracen as Clinton accusers who later attracted the charming attention of the IRS, not to mention Travelgate victim Billy Dale and more than a dozen conservative groups. But most of the media couldn't be bothered. Some, like NBC's Tom Brokaw, have a perfect record of ignoring Juanita, so why stop now? This administration may be using the IRS - ruthlessly - to intimidate the President's enemies, but the facts no longer matter.

Paul Harvey loves to tell the public "the rest of the story," but the media could care less about the rest of the story when it comes to the Clinton women. Reckless White House allegations had their day and served their purpose, and now the story's over.