'This humiliation is my mistake, and his fault'

Five years ago the 'American Spectator' published the scandal, and was damned

ALL OF A sudden, this city has been enveloped in the charnel atmosphere of Watergate. It seeped into town the morning after Clinton's catastrophic apology manque, borne on the editorial pages of the great liberal dailies, in their columnists' laments, on talk radio and talk television.

This sudden diabolising of the Boy President leaves me with an odd sensation of ambivalence. His moribund presidency is to some extent a consequence of my own incompetence. As I am one of those Americans whom the President's wife includes in her "vast right-wing conspiracy", one might expect his present ruin to result from my competence rather than incompetence, but a blunder by me set in train the events that introduced to the world pretty, perky, Monica Lewinsky. I take no great pleasure in the President's downfall.

Let me explain. Clinton's entanglement with Lewinsky would never have been made public had it not been for an editorial oversight at the American Spectator, a leading organ of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I edit it. In late 1993 almost simultaneously the Spectator and the Los Angeles Times (then not part of the conspiracy, though now under White House suspicion - along with most big American news organisations) published interviews with Arkansas state troopers who admitted to procuring women for their adulterous governor. The pieces were scrupulously sourced and corroborated. These pieces and a second Spectator piece published a couple of months later contain all the spicy elements of the President's present scandal, including offering government jobs for sex and silence, misuse of state property for private entertainment and sexual trysts, and Clinton's original - and ludicrous - theories about oral sex.

Unfortunately for President Clinton the 1993 American Spectator was marred by my blunder. Accidentally we printed the first name of one of the women Clinton had tapped an Arkansas state trooper to approach. The name was Paula. Naturally we did not include her last name. But Paula Corbin, now Paula Corbin Jones, read the piece. It reminded her of the humiliation she had suffered at (dare I say?) the hands of Governor Clinton. Almost immediately she filed her sexual harassment suit against him. Endeavouring to establish a pattern in Clinton's treatment of women, her lawyers eventually came across Monica Lewinsky. When they submitted a deposition against the President they surprised him with detailed questions about her. Naturally he lied, though he was under oath. It now appears he lied again under oath in a far more important forum - a grand jury directly under the eyes of an aroused national media.

The press's uneasiness with Clinton had been growing since Lewinsky appeared on the scene in January. For seven months the President lied to the nation, denying his relationship with her and encouraging his henchmen to smear and harass his critics. When he made his disastrous 17 August address Washington's journalists and politicians suddenly had been pushed beyond the outer limits of their tolerance. In unison they shouted "liar". It is worth recalling that one of the elements in Richard Nixon's first article of impeachment is lying to the American people. And Nixon was not even under oath.

At the time that the first revelations about Clinton's reckless lifestyle were published no one would have imagined what a ticking time-bomb reposed in my mistakenly having allowed the name "Paula" to appear in the American Spectator. The troopers' revelations did temporarily put the President in the doghouse, for their testimony made clear that he was womanising during his campaign, after his election, and in brazen disregard for an oath he had made to the American people on the television programme 60 Minutes never to cheat on his wife again. Yet he survived the scandal handsomely and in his customary style. He uttered a half-truth or two, whined about how his opponents were ganging up on him just as he was doing some really terrific things for the American people (Hillary joined him in that line) and set out to shoot the messengers.

In this he had many allies, for the troopers were dismissed as low-life scoundrels. The Los Angeles Times reporters were grilled about their motives and practices. But the best smears were saved for the Spectator. We were described as a "hate Clinton" magazine. (Hate him? We hardly knew him.) We were denounced for being factually unreliable, though no errors of fact were ever cited and our critics' facts about us were frequently wrong.

Nonetheless in the Washington Post the liberal commentator Michael Kinsley accused us of "dishonesty" and "fundamental bad faith" (he called me a "dishonest person"). In Newsweek Joe Klein accused us of being the "purveyor of uncorroborated and hyperbolic accusations by a handful of gold-digging Arkansas state troopers". At the time Klein was gathering information on Clinton for his own sexually explicit account of the campaign, Primary Colors. It is inconceivable that he did not recognise the accuracy of the troopers' interviews. Other critics denied we were legitimate journalists. On talk shows we were reviled for publishing: as one duped Clintonite put it, "that slimy magazine article that revived all those old charges about Bill Clinton's personal behaviour".

My favourite assault came from your countryman Andrew Sullivan, then editor of New Republic. He lamented that the once intellectually distinguished American Spectator had been "reduced to pubic hair and women in hotel rooms". His was my favourite denunciation because in 1995, when David Maraniss's biography of Clinton reported that Clinton's womanising in Arkansas had delayed his run for the presidency, Sullivan was gentleman enough to apologise to me in the pages of his magazine. No one else ever has, and Maraniss did not even bother in his book to note the evidence that the Los Angeles Times and the Spectator had published.

Well, it is all out there now.

R Emmett Tyrrell Jr is author of 'The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton' and 'Boy Clinton: The Political Biography'. He is editor-in-chief of the 'American Spectator'.

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