Bill Clinton, the Media, and Sexual Harassment Armageddon

The allegations against Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, and now Al Franken, each more damning by the hour, have awakened the conscience of the media.  As if on cue, thoughtful voices in the press have been reflecting on their own past sins. Our willingness to believe Moore’s accusers, the pundits say, stands in stark contrast to our treatment of the women who once accused Bill Clinton.

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times says: “I believe Juanita Broaddrick.”

Chris Hayes of MSNBC: “As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right's "what about Bill Clinton" stuff is, it's also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper: “The accusers of Bill Clinton… were never given the credence and treated with the same respect that these women are being treated…”

Matt Yglesias, writing in Vox: “What (Bill Clinton) did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price.”

The list could go on. Finally, after all these years, the mainstream media is confronting the damage it did to the victims of sexual misconduct, to its own credibility, and to the country.

As usual, the press is playing us for fools.

An examination of these media confessions brings up two questions. First, is it likely that writers, pundits and anchors from every major media outlet chose essentially the same moment to confess to sins from 20 years ago? No. The reason these pundits are all saying the same thing is that they’re reading from the same script.

Second, is it credible for some in the media to claim that sexual harassment was viewed differently in the 1990s and was therefore misunderstood and neglected back then? Again, no. Bill Clinton was elected president only one year after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas inferno (during which, we should note, Clarence Thomas was not accused of touching anybody). 

The media’s confession is phony. But it is also brilliant. By finally condemning Bill Clinton for his mistreatment of women, the press is gently, but firmly, escorting him from the public stage. The American left wants to face forward, and there’s no place in its future for the Clintons. Seen in this light, the media’s re-evaluation of Bill is of a piece with Donna Brazile’s takedown of Hillary. It is time for the Clintons to retire. And since they no longer control the levers that might extend their tenure and punish their enemies, the Clintons are finding that their friends are of the fair weather variety.

But the Clintons’ forced retirement is only half of the media’s confession strategy. By absolving itself of Clinton-era sins, the press is setting the stage for something much more important: an all-out attack against President Trump on the basis of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

At some point in the near future, we can look forward to a long line of Trump accusers, all of whom will approach the podium in the span of a few short days. It’s difficult to predict exactly when these accusers will take the stage, but it’s easy to predict that they will. They may appear as Congress is examining the Mueller findings. They may make their announcements during Trump’s impeachment by a Democrat-controlled House in 2019. Or these accusers may have to cool their heels until the fall of 2020. Whenever it comes, we will be overwhelmed by the accusations and by the credibility (real or perceived) of the women accusing Donald Trump.

Trump must be destroyed. At least that’s the plan. And sexual harassment will have to be the means by which this is accomplished. It’s becoming clear the Mueller findings, whatever they turn out to be, will not be enough to unseat the president. The Uranium One/Fusion GPS scandals may not go anywhere in Jeff Sessions’ DOJ, but they are enough to cast doubt on Mueller’s credibility and on the Trump-Russia collusion story.

Without collusion, and without corruption, the media will need a new tool and sexual harassment neatly fits the bill. The NBC tape released last year featuring Trump’s “locker room talk” was a near-miss; Trump escaped that noose by deflecting attention to the Clintons and their own harassment issues. The media has made sure that can’t happen again.  Trump will need a new strategy if he is to make it to a second term, or survive his first.

To be clear, the issue of sexual assault is a real one, and it should be taken seriously. (If the media’s confession were genuine, particularly in regard to the credible allegations of assault by the former president, it would be welcome.)

But demeaning the issue by transforming it into a game of political “gotcha,” as was done in the Clarence Thomas hearings, is dangerous to our republic and ultimately corrupts the process by which we choose our government. If at some point we find ourselves selecting the candidate who wasn’t accused of making a woman feel uncomfortable at a cocktail party in 2003, we will have ceased to be responsible voters. Here’s hoping against hope that the president is prepared and that the truth (whatever it may be) wins out in the battle sure to come.