Gumbel Whacked Willey; McCarthyite Fears; Willey's Motives
"Kathleen Willey's credibility is being eroded tonight, not by the White House but by her own sworn claims. Although only two people know what really happened, Kathleen Willey's detailed account of her version of her relationship with President Clinton has sent some stunning aftershocks through the White House and the nation as well. Tonight, an attorney who is suing Willey levels troubling charges that she may have falsified her account of her meeting with the President."
Gumbel conducted three short interviews meant to tear down Willey. First, with Richmond attorney Joseph Kaestner who is representing a man suing Kathleen Willey to recover over $200,000 Willey's husband embezzled. Kaestner read an account from Willey of what she did on November 29, 1993, the day her husband committed suicide and the day she says she had the encounter with Clinton. In her 1995 statement she did not mention meeting Clinton. Gumbel exited the interview with this exchange: "The statements she gave you in 1995 leads you to believe, versus what she told 60 Minutes, leads you to believe what about her credibility?"
Joseph Kaestner: "Boy, let me tell you, there's some substantial questions about it."
Second, Gumbel turned to Baltimore Sun reporter Carl Cannon to ask about his interview with Nathan Landow, the Democratic donor whom Willey claims tried to keep her quiet. Cannon told Gumbel that Landow denies she told him details of her encounter with Clinton and denies he tried to quiet her, though Cannon conceded Landow's friends don't doubt he did.
Third, Gumbel defamed Linda Tripp: "And Kathleen Willey also spoke about Linda Tripp, a Clinton-basher who seems to be at every ugly turn in this controversy. Tripp was outside the Oval Office when Willey emerged from her encounter with the President." After a 60 Minutes clip of Willey recounting how she talked to Tripp just after the Clinton incident, Gumbel continued: "Just how is it that Linda Tripp is so often conveniently involved in the President's troubles? For some clues let's bring in the New Yorker's Jane Mayer who has profiled the controversial Miss Tripp in this week's issue."
Gumbel's one question to the woman whose story put the 1969 Tripp arrest into play: "You write that co-workers often viewed her as an inveterate busybody. Has she always been a snoop and a gossip with a particular interest in other people's romantic lives?"
Yes, answered Mayer who co-wrote Strange Justice, an anti-Clarence Thomas book which defended Anita Hill. She's now out discrediting the accusers, but she is consistent -- she's always on the liberal side.
"Indeed, it is confusing. As can be right now in Washington D.C. With everybody and his brother investigating one another, right up to the highest rung, most every day the mud is slug. A mixture of half truths and lies with lawyers and their private eyes, so busy now and getting busier. The dizziness gets ever dizzier. In every corner can be found detectives slithering around. Following somebody's orders with hidden mikes and tape recorders. When one goes on the attack, someone investigates him back. And the accuser comes to be in record time the accusee.
"The best defense it seems some how is going on the offense now. While seedy stories in the media seem to be getting ever seedier. Each reporter in his turn sounds more and more like Howard Stern. A great investigative boom reporting who did what to whom. We see so many different styles of accusations and denials. When so much mud around you flies, you are bound to get some in your eyes. When such a war has been declared, everyone's in, nobody's spared. The jokes, the snickers, and the flippery. The slope we're on is long and slippery. And there is something in the air which this country best beware. For there is danger in the dirt and lots of people could get hurt. And what we sow, we someday reap. Last night as I laid down to sleep I dreamed an apparition swarthy, the unshaved ghost of Joe McCarthy."
The show's co-hosts piped in with their agreement:
Susan Molinari: "Thanks Charles."
Russ Mitchell: "It makes you think, a lot."
Molinari: "It sure does."
Here's how the evening shows handled the scandal Tuesday night, March 17:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Forrest Sawyer opened the broadcast:
"Good evening. In the wake of new allegations of sexual harassment President Clinton's approval ratings today appear to be holding fairly steady. In a number of polls, including one by ABC News, Americans continue to express concern about the President's moral and ethical standards, but they are satisfied with his conduct on the job. In the ABC News poll, fully 78 percent say Mr. Clinton is handling the economy well, which doesn't mean there are no problems ahead."
Sam Donaldson showed Clinton with Newt Gingrich at a St. Patrick's Day event on Capitol Hill, noting Clinton's job approval is "unshaken" and the public is evenly split on who to believe. Donaldson warned, however, that danger for Clinton lurks as only 35 percent consider him honest and trustworthy and if he lied under oath 63 percent said he should resign, 53 percent would then favor impeachment.
From Capitol Hill, Linda Douglass looked at how Republicans who spent weeks watching in silence today spoke out in an effort to make Americans care.
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts declared at the beginning of the show:
"We're starting tonight with what could be described as the Clinton phenomenon: despite the cloud of sex accusations hanging over the White House Americans overwhelmingly approve of the job Bill Clinton is doing as President."
He recited CBS News poll numbers showing that by 52 percent to 33 percent the public believes Clinton "engaged in reckless sexual conduct while President," but 67 percent still approve of the way he is handling the job.
Reporter Richard Schlesinger highlighted the gender gap: "If the Kathleen Willey story boils down to he said, she said, who you believe depends on whether you're a he or a she. The results of a CBS News poll released just today show what some consider surprising results. More women believe what he said, more men believe what she said."
Specifically, 55 percent of men believe Willey, 34 accept Clinton's version; 52 percent of women believe Clinton, 41 buy Willey's story.
Concluded Schlesinger: "The voters seem to have built a firewall between their opinion of his private life and his public life. By a margin of two-to-one most Americans say the President's sexual behavior is a private matter, not one effecting his job."
Next, Bill Plante reviewed the day's events: reporters asking McCurry why letters released which "don't seem to be the work of someone angry or estranged," Orrin Hatch complaining about character assassination, and the latest charge that Willey was trying to sell a book.
-- CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET ran just a single story, a report from Eileen O'Connor who began: "As the President focused on peace in Northern Ireland and Medicare expansion, his Press Secretary Mike McCurry was denying the letters the White House released were designed to undermine Kathleen Willey's credibility."
O'Connor showed reporters asking why letters from Lewinsky were not released, aired a clip of former Communications Director Don Baer saying the White House must deal carefully with Willey, noted that Bob Bennett is threatening to take the gloves off, and reported that Hatch and Republicans are urging Clinton to tell all.
-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET opened with a live report from Jim Angle. Like Sam Donaldson did the night before, Angle pointed out that while White House Communications Director Ann Lewis is taking the lead in showing how Willey remained friendly to Clinton, "during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy Lewis lambasted those who criticized Hill, saying [text on screen of 1991 Chicago Tribune comments] 'that if you step forward, especially against someone who holds power, you will be victimized again by his friends and allies. At the same time, your very reluctance to step forward will be held against you.'"
Leading into a soundbite from Senator Susan Collins, Angle observed: "Critics on Capitol Hill argue that is exactly what is happening to Willey."
Angle also highlighted a Clinton contradiction: "When the original story about Willey ran in Newsweek last August, Mr. Clinton said through his lawyer that he had no recollection of meeting Willey in the White House. But this week the President said just the opposite, saying that he has a very clear memory of the meeting and that he did nothing wrong."
-- NBC Nightly News. In his top of the show tease Tom Brokaw intoned: "The White House versus Kathleen Willey. New revelations about a book deal, new questions about her motives."
Claire Shipman began her story from the White House: "Cautious White House officials say they are not attacking Kathleen Willey, despite the fact they are taking her story apart piece by piece. White House officials now say that Kathleen Willey, shown here in 1992 [hugging] with candidate Bill Clinton, had a clear motive for making up her story: she wanted to make money from a book."
Shipman ran a clip of Michael Viner of New Millennium Publishers claiming Willey and her lawyer approached him, asking for $300,000.
Later, Shipman added, "but some question why the White House was so quick to hand out the letters from Willey but has refused to turn over any documents related to Lewinsky."
NBC's In Depth segment consisted of two pieces. First, Pete Williams on Clinton's "pattern of denial and revision." He compared Clinton's initial statement to later ones on Flowers and Willey. Second, Andrea Mitchell talked with a group of five women, concluding:
"These women all find the Willey case distressing, but still."
Woman, 29 year-old third year medical student: "I wouldn't want him to be my father, but politically I'm still in favor of his policies."
Mitchell: "A conversation that went on after the cameras stopped as women continue to talk around the country about the man, the women and the presidency."
-- On Today, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Matt Lauer managed to set up a corollary between how Clinton's team is mistreating Willey and how Republicans abused Hill:
"There is an editorial in the New York Times today that talks about Ann Lewis' appearance here on the Today show yesterday and her mentioning of these letters and these attempted phone calls to the President on the part of Kathleen Willey. And the editorial says her appearance here yesterday started what Senator Danforth tried to do to you, and other Republicans by the way back in 1991, to paint you as someone who had an erotically obsessed fascination with the person you accused of harassment."
-- On ABC's Good Morning America, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen caught the latest example of Eleanor Clift as Defender-in-Chief, but she warned the White House they could go too far even for her:
"Well, I think the letters don't necessarily tell us whether this encounter occurred or not. They may go to her state of mind, I mean, I think if she did suffer great trauma it does strain credulity to think that she was trying to maintain this very friendly relationship. But I think the White House is going to be criticized for trying to slander Kathleen Willey and in a way I think that charge is unfair. The facts they've released so far do go to the heart of this encounter; the fact that she may have been looking for a book deal, the fact that she wrote these letters. If they start getting into probing her past sexual history, I think that gets beyond the pale."
That would be a historic first: the Clinton team going too far for Clift. Sounds like Clift may have been delivering a bit of advice to her White House friends on what her media colleagues will accept. -- Brent Baker 
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