Photo by David KawashimaDespite owning the executive branch, the judicial branch and half the legislative branch, conservatives apparently will not rest until they can convince everyone else that William Jefferson Clinton is an evil, evil man. George Dubya Bush may be in the White House, the horrific image of the first foreign attack on American soil since the War of 1812 may still be fresh in everyone's memory, and a Hitler for the new millennium may have been created for domestic venting purposes, but if the common man still loves Bubba, all is not right in the right-leaning world.
So the conservatives' favorite wags and rags—including our own Orange County Register—keep the anti-Clinton fervor boiling, taking potshots at Bill and Hill (interchangeable, really) at every opportunity. The latest chance came on Nov. 7, when the former president spoke at his alma mater, Georgetown University. The story that went out over the Associated Press wires immediately after the speech focused on Clinton's call for the U.S. to reach out to both radical and moderate Islamic factions and engage them in debate. But the next day's Washington Times, the Moonie daily that hates all things Clinton, took a different angle. Their headline: “Clinton Calls Terror a U.S. Debt to Past: Cites slavery in Georgetown speech.”
For eons, conservative critics have battered the press for being too liberal, taking things out of context and getting things just plain wrong. Well, Washington Times reporter Joseph Curl liberally took parts of Clinton's speech out of context to produce things that were just plain wrong. Clinton, wrote Curl, “said yesterday that terror has existed in America for hundreds of years and the nation is 'paying a price today' for its past of slavery and for looking 'the other way when a significant number of Native Americans were dispossessed and killed.'”
In other words, Clinton said innocent American lives taken on Sept. 11 was payment on past mistreatment of blacks and Native Americans. It was as if he was saying we deserved it.
The conservative-media machine went berserk. Daily newspaper columnists (here's a secret, folks: most lean farther to the right than Robert Downey Jr. at a pharmaceutical convention) went for Billy's jugular. Fox News commentators nearly jumped out of their non-thick skins. G. Gordon Liddy coughed up that rat. Matt Drudge pounded his computer keys so hard his fingers bled. And Rush Limbaugh's head exploded (fortunately for him, he couldn't hear it).
The online editions of National Review and the Wall Street Journal immediately lashed out at Clinton, but only the latter bothered to follow up and actually look at the transcript of the former president's speech. The transcript, the Wall Street Journal sheepishly corrected, was “enough to convince us that the Washington Times was unfair. Clinton expressed support for America in the war effort, and not in the equivocal I-don't-mean-to-minimize-Sept.-11-but manner that's common among the blame-America bunch. And he clearly did not say, as the Times may have left the impression he did, that Sept. 11 was the 'price' for America's sins.”
Perhaps to prove to people that the usually Clinton-bashing Journalhadn't just been overtaken in a Democratic Party jihad, the paper—to its credit—printed the full passage in question:
“Terror, the killing of noncombatants for economic, political, or religious reasons has a very long history, as long as organized combat itself, and yet it has never succeeded as a military strategy standing on its own, but it has been around a long time. Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East, and we are still paying for it.”
Clinton continued, “Here in the United States, we were founded as a nation that practiced slavery, and slaves were, quite frequently, killed even though they were innocent. This country once looked the other way when significant numbers of Native Americans were dispossessed and killed to get their land or their mineral rights or because they were thought of as less than fully human and we are still paying the price today. Even in the 20th century in America, people were terrorized or killed because of their race. And even today, though we have continued to walk, sometimes to stumble, in the right direction, we still have the occasional hate crime rooted in race, religion or sexual orientation. So terror has a long history.”
Did all those conservative commentators immediately get on the air or in front of their keyboards to set the record straight and apologize? Ch'yeah, right! The only thing nearing a correction in the Washington Times was a letter from a reader pointing out Curl's distortions. But after that ran, the paper continued printing letters from readers blasting Clinton for what the original story says he said.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 12, a full four days after the Journal's retraction (which could not end without rapping Clinton for making such a convoluted point that people misinterpreted it), our own Register ran an unbylined editorial titled “Clinton's Drivel” that was still based on the Washington Times' fuck-up.
The Reg wrote that “to even imply that terrorist attacks on innocent people in America are divine retribution for those injustices is to take advantage of the terrorist situation to advance one's political agenda.” It likened Clinton to “a blame America firster” and compared his assertion to Jerry Falwell's about God allowing the terrorist attack as payback for America's tolerance of gays. But the last line was rich with irony:
“Fortunately, America has moved beyond the Clinton era and won't have to pay attention to his drivel any more.”
How can we stop paying attention to Clinton's drivel when the Register can't resist quoting—or, rather, misquoting—his every word?
By the way, as of Nov. 19, the Registerhad not corrected its error.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.