No, not the one for Donald Trump’s tiny organ, the disgraceful journalism that abounded around the sexual exploits of President William Jefferson Clinton, also known as “The Great Penis Hunt.” An article in Politico about the Lewinsky Affair, whose 20th anniversary is this year, has managed to get on the last nerve of our favorite Irish- American political-sports journalist Charles P. Pierce.
In the article, Politico writer, John Harris, assemble a panel of the prominent “penis-hunting” journalists of the era demonstrating just how bad they were at doing their jobs. Charlie sets the record straight and shreds them:
I am not kidding. This thing is appalling. It elides. It rationalizes. It fairly drips with self-congratulation. And it completely ignores the elements of journalistic malpractice that were planted then and which have bloomed lushly on various occasions ever since. The nonsense begins right with John Harris’s introduction.
Most journalists experience indelible moments that color our thinking long after the story moves on. These moments, usually in the first half of a career, come when a reporter or editor is immersed in a story that at the time is all-consuming—as though history suddenly has revved its jets—and remains a frame of reference even years later. It is just our luck that for many Washington journalists of my generation, one of those career-defining stories revolved around furtive acts of West Wing fellatio.
And that’s why a lot of journalists of your generation are still making the same mistakes today, as we will demonstrate in a moment.
Sure, go ahead and snicker.
Oh, don’t worry about that, Ace.
What many people don’t remember—and what people who are too young to have followed the story in real time may find inconceivable—is how strange and disturbing and fragile things seemed at the beginning.
Oh, we are already deep in the self-mythologizing crapola now. Listen, Gramps. The only people to whom anything felt “fragile” were the reporters doggedly pursuing the penis around the Beltway. [..]
This is godawful bad undergraduate prose, but put that aside for a moment. To borrow a phrase from a previous passage, Harris is clearly one of those “people who are too young” to have lived through little episodes like Vietnam or Watergate. Those of us who did haven’t had “confidence that the game of politics was on the level” for a very long time. Most African-American citizens grew up without that confidence, and for good reason. (Hell, I grew up in Massachusetts and knew this from birth, but never mind.) And the young people who were blessed not to have lived through the Great Penis Hunt of 1998 grew up after 9/11, when a country was lied into a war and adopted torture as an acceptable military policy. Harris’s wounded innocence act is a shuck.
Along comes Michael Isikoff—“Spikey,” as he was known to career ratfcker Lucianne Goldberg—to defend his previous employment as a sewage treatment plant by declaring himself clairvoyant. [..]
Here’s Susan Glasser, who blames Bill Clinton for infecting the innocent landscape of American politics with the plague of strategic lying.
“I believe that Donald Trump has learned from and will take to heart the lessons of how Clinton survived politically the year 1998,” she said. “It was political genius how he handled it by lying. Lying was proven to work in some way that has enabled further the cynical and divisive political culture of Washington.”
Bill Clinton taught Donald Trump how to lie his way out of trouble? There are masons and gardeners at the Trump Taj who may never stop laughing and, after that, Susan Glasser can arrange a séance and have a chat about strategic deception with the late Edith Galt Wilson.
If there was one common belief among the panel we assembled, it was in the redemptive power of conscientious and politically independent reporting.
OK, that’s really enough of that. I may fwow up, pace Ms. Parker.
The Charlie gets to the meat of what was really going on back then, the conservative mission to destroy the Clinton presidency and the journalistic malpractice that helped them.
By now, I hope you’ve all seen the essential trompe d’oeil at work here. When Isikoff starts talking again about how his reporting was all about sexual power politics in the White House, all the wires and hidden mirrors become painfully obvious. By making this the topic of discussion, the panel—and Politico—manages to separate the Lewinsky episode from the other elements of the conservative mission to destroy the Clinton presidency. And this is a crime against history.
Without Whitewater, there is no Lewinsky scandal and without awful journalism, there is no Whitewater. Without Whitewater, there is no endless drumbeat of faux scandals—TravelGate! FileGate! Vince Foster! Billing records! Cattle futures!—fed to eager young reporters by professional Republican ratfckers, pool-hall liars in Arkansas, conservative congressional aides and, ultimately, from sources within the investigation run by Kenneth Starr who, subsequent events at Baylor University have proven, is one of the most ludicrous charlatans ever to stumble into public life. And Whitewater was a pile of horse hockey, and it always was.
From this ongoing journalistic malpractice came the Lewinsky scandal. (In fact, the reason history has Ken Starr to kick around at all is because the Republican puppet-masters were angry at the original Whitewater Special Prosecutor, Robert Fiske, because he was preparing to clear Bill Clinton of all the other prosecutorial underbrush and thereby sink the ongoing project.) And since there is so much in this panel’s discussion that clumsily attempts (and largely fails) to connect the events of 1998 with our current president*, let’s run that comparison through the historical looking-glass.
Without the journalistic malpractice of the era of the Great Penis Hunt, there wouldn’t have been the journalistic malpractice that bedeviled the 2000 presidential campaign of Al Gore. (Billing records = Invention of the Internet). And, without the journalistic malpractice of the era of the Great Penis Hunt, there wouldn’t have been the journalistic malpractice that erupted with stunning power in the 2016 presidential election. I hate to break it to this panel of the greats of my profession, but what elected Donald Trump was less about what he learned from Bill Clinton about lying, and more about what the ratfcking community learned about how easily elite political journalism can get played, especially on the subject of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Some things never die.
While many so-called progressives still blame Hillary Clinton for the loss, it was really the writers and editors at the New York Times, Washington Post (much to the chagrin of the late Catherine Graham), the Los Angeles Times and other so-called left wing, progressive media like CNN and MSNBC are complicit in the election of possibly the worst president in American history. And almost all of you all fell for it. I feel like Cassandra.