If any part of an alleged scandal turns out to be true, the media behaves as though the entire story is true.Take, for example, Gennifer Flowers. In 1992, Flowers claimed that she and Clinton had a 12-year affair. In 1998, during his deposition in the Paula Jones case, Clinton acknowledged having had "sexual relations" with Flowers, one time. Under the definition of "sexual relations" at use for that deposition (at the insistence of Jones' attorneys, not Clinton) Clinton's acknowledgment didn't mean much: It could have meant that he and Flowers slept together, or it could have meant that he briefly placed his hand on her thigh in a bar. Clinton didn't explain what had happened, and -- significantly, one would assume -- the Jones attorneys didn't ask him to.For the past 10 years, the news media have portrayed Clinton as having acknowledged that Flowers' story was true. He did nothing of the kind -- and Flowers is just about the least credible accuser you could imagine, having lied about the place her supposed affair with Clinton began, about her education, about her career as an entertainer, about having been kidnapped, and about having a twin sister.Yet because Clinton acknowledged there to be a sliver of truth to Flowers' wild claims, the news media pretended her entire story was true.Similarly, despite the fact that example after example of Al Gore purportedly lying or exaggerating turned out to have been made up (or, perversely, exaggerated) by the news media as part of what Bob Somerby has rightly called their "War Against Gore," the media continued to pretend that the entire line of criticism of Gore had merit simply because they could point to one example that supported their case. Gore didn't tour Texas with James Lee Witt -- so the whole years-long smear campaign against him must be true!Media parse every statement by progressives in response to controversy, looking for something to ridicule -- whether the ridicule is fair or not.Bill Clinton's statement about "what the meaning of the word 'is' is," Al Gore's reference to "no controlling legal authority" in response to questions about his fundraising, Hillary Clinton's explanation that she has always been a Yankees fan, John Kerry's comments about voting for Iraq funding before voting against it -- all have been the subject of literally years of media ridicule. Never mind that Bill Clinton was making the correct point that the tense of the question he was asked, and of his answer, was directly relevant to the issue of whether he was lying about something that happened in the past. Never mind that Gore's point, which was basically that he hadn't broken any laws, was right (he was never charged with, never mind convicted of, any crime). Never mind that Hillary Clinton really has always been a Yankees fan, as the comments of her childhood friends -- not to mention old photographs of her in a Yankees hat -- demonstrate. Never mind that Kerry was talking about two different versions of the bill, not about flip-flopping on one version -- and never mind that President Bush had said he would veto one version, then signed the other. To this day, the media mock them for these statements. And they don't just mock: These comments are depicted as evidence of character flaws.Allegations that turn out to be unproven, or even false, are used by the media as evidence in support of future allegations.Again, Flowers is a perfect example. Not long after she first sold her story to a supermarket tabloid, Flowers had been shown to be a liar. And she thoroughly failed to support her allegations against Clinton -- the audiotapes she produced were reportedly spliced, and, as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons have noted, "Flowers never produced a single paragraph, valentine, or birthday card as evidence of her twelve-year affair with Clinton; no witness ever came forward who had seen them together. Indeed, she would eventually write an entire book, Passion and Betrayal, without stating a specific time and place where she and her famous lover were together."Perversely, Flowers' unproven (and in large part debunked) allegations against Clinton were subsequently invoked by the news media as proof that other allegations of infidelity by Clinton were true.Such absurd standards played a role in the spread of the Gore-as-liar narrative. Examples of Gore as a liar or exaggerator were trotted out by the media, shown to be false, then later recycled as evidence of a pattern when some future bogus example was invented. Al Gore didn't actually take credit for having discovered Love Canal -- it simply didn't happen; it was made up by reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post. It was conclusively demonstrated to be a made-up story, and the newspapers (eventually) ran corrections. Then what happened? Love Canal, alongside the equally bogus allegation that Gore had claimed to have invented the Internet, was regularly invoked by reporters to bolster subsequent depictions of Gore as a liar and exaggerator.
The news here is -- what, exactly? That Obama, who now appears grounded, motivated, and poised, formerly appeared grounded, motivated, and poised? That his inner uncertainties, such as they were, were more apparent to himself than to others? That he was marginally less of a pothead than he has made himself out to be? ... For a candidate to stand accused of exaggerating his youthful drug use is something new indeed.
Because of Mr. Clinton's behavior in the White House, tabloid gossip sticks to him like iron filings to a magnet. Several prominent New York Democrats, in interviews, volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician. The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages.