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Jillary’s Wars

Identity politics devours its children

Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The new codes were drawn up by the Jills and Hil-larys in the belief that the men to be caught would all be conservatives just like Clarence Thomas, and the snaring of a president supported by feminists at first took them all by surprise. But not for long: In no time at all, the girls on the bus ditched their vulnerable, working-class sisters for the powerful male who sat in the White House. In Vanity Fair, the late and great essayist Marjorie Williams outlined the charges brought against Clinton: that he exposed himself to a state employee making $6.35 an hour (Paula Jones); that he groped a volunteer when she asked for a job that paid money (Kathleen Willey); that as president he had an affair with a 21-year-old intern who came to deliver pizza and stayed to dispense more intimate favors (Monica Lewinsky); that he used state personnel to procure sexual partners; and that he used “staff members, lawyers, and private investigators to tar the reputation of any woman who tries to call him to account” for his acts. “Can you find the problems with his behavior?” Williams then asked us. She continued: 

Take your time: These problems are apparently of an order so subtle as to escape the notice of many of the smartest women in America—the writers, lawyers, activists, officeholders and academics who call themselves feminists. When news broke that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating whether President Clinton had lied under oath .  .  . the cacophony that ensued was notable for the absence of one set of voices: the sisterly chorus that backed up Anita Hill seven years earlier when her charges of sexual harassment nearly stopped Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The charges were dismissed by such “Year of the Woman” stars as Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and then-senator Carol Moseley Braun. “We do not know what happened,” said a NOW honcho. “We’re trying to think of the bigger picture,” Eleanor Smeal told Williams. “It will be a great pity if the Democratic party were damaged by this,” feminist writer Anne Roiphe confessed.

In February, when Juanita Broaddrick’s rape charges against Clinton surfaced (too late to influence his acquittal by Congress), the Times waited six days to give them a mention, and then buried them, with an innocuous headline that gave no indication of what the story contained. As the New York Observer wrote at the time, “A rape charge against a President would seem to be very big front-page news anywhere. .  .  . But in the strange universe of 229 West 43rd Street, Ms. Broaddrick’s corroborated charge against a congenital liar was only good for page A-16 .  .  . on the bottom half of the page with a flat headline and no photo .  .  . promoted under the heading, ‘An Allegation Resurfaces’ in the small table-of-contents on page 1.”

The story was less about the charges themselves and what they might mean than the struggles of the paper as to whether to run them, with the arguments, among Dean Baquet, Bill Keller, Washington bureau chief Michael Oreskes, and deputy Washington editor Jill Abramson, being whether to run the story only “in context,” or not run the story at all. No one wanted the story presented as simply straight news. “We decided we needed to try to explain it to our readers,” Baquet said to the Observer, and as they explained it, the charges were trash. “Before the Times team of reporters and editors got to what Ms. Broaddrick had to say,” the Observer noted, “they had already likened her allegation to ‘toxic waste.’ ” 

Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas were as far in the past as Juanita Broaddrick’s, and just as unprovable, but what was gospel truth in the case of Hill vs. Thomas was “toxic waste” in the case of Clinton vs. Broaddrick et al. “Toxic waste” also described Sarah Palin, picked in 2008 for the Republican ticket and as female as anyone, yet thrown to the wolves by the Times without hesitation. But by that time Hillary, caught in a bitter race with Barack Obama, found out that identity politics could also turn toxic for her.

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