Why the Clintons Should Love Drudge

Political commentary and more.
Sept. 17 2000 2:19 PM

Why the Clintons Should Love Drudge

Is Matt Drudge good for the Democrats? Not intentionally, of course. But look at who benefits, objectively, as the Marxists say.

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Last week, Drudge discovered that the New York Times hadn't published a story it had been working on, a story about donors to Hillary Clinton's campaign being rewarded with overnight stays at the White House and Camp David. So Drudge posts an item on his well-read site chiding the Times for sitting on an anti-Clinton report. What happens? The White House goes on full alert, as other news organizations begin to chase the story. The account dribbles out through a variety of outlets, including Fox, a conservative TV network far easier for Clinton supporters to dismiss than the Times would be. When the Times finally prints John Broder's piece about the overnights, it runs in the "B" section, below the fold, with the headline "Mrs. Clinton Denies Visits Rewarded Gifts." The "news" by this point isn't the overnights, it's whether there was a quid pro quo for them; the first three paragraphs detail the official denial that there was. And the paper has its back up--a prominent paragraph denies Drudge's report that the Times had been "suppressing" the story.

What if Drudge didn't exist (or if he had just done nothing when he learned of the Times piece)? The Times would probably have eventually published the story--and it would probably have run on the front page, backed by the institutional pride any good paper has in one of its own scoops. The three major TV networks, which take their cue from the Times, would have picked it up. Who knows how damaging it would have been. ...

Last week was, in effect, a small-bore replay of Drudge's role in the initial Lewinsky scandal, when he reported (at 2:30 in the morning on Jan. 18, 1998) that Newsweek had held up publication of Michael Isikoff's story about a White House intern. Drudge got that story out, all right--soon the rest of the press was onto Monica Lewinsky and Kenneth Starr's investigation of the White House's dealings with her. But the practical effect was to bring Starr's probe--and any remaining chance Starr's team had of "turning" Lewinsky and getting her, or others, to gather further incriminating evidence against Clinton--to a screeching halt.

I'm not saying Drudge should have done nothing in either of these cases. He's obviously no friend of Bill Clinton--but that doesn't mean that, to hurt the Clintons, he should sit on news about papers he suspects of sitting on news. He has his standards! I'm just saying the Clintons shouldn't be unhappy he's there.

Mrs. Clinton's Bubble: "Obviously, I didn't mislead anyone," said Hillary Clinton last week, speaking of her Today show criticism of those who had accurately accused her husband. "I didn't know the truth." Well, OK--suppose Mrs. Clinton is being honest about this. Isn't the Lewinsky scandal a situation where the old legal phrase "knew or should have known" applies? Remember that, according to Mrs. Clinton's friends, she didn't find out "the truth" until a full seven months later, shortly before her husband went on national television to confess. This implausible account is nevertheless supported by Peter Baker's new book, The Breach, which says that the president asked his lawyer, David Kendall, to break the bad news to Mrs. Clinton.

But what does that say about Mrs. Clinton? It doesn't say she's "naïve," as the Wall Street Journal  editorial page put it. It says she lives in a bubble, where she doesn't learn things that are quite obvious to the average American who reads the papers. Naiveté might explain her initial refusal to believe the truth. But only radical isolation or willed ignorance would explain not figuring out the truth in the succeeding seven months--when the press early on revealed, for example, that Lewinsky had visited the White House 37 times after her employment there was over.

The point is so obvious it's painful to make, but do New Yorkers want a senator who doesn't read the newspapers--or who is so intimidating that nobody (not even, or especially, her husband) dares to inform her when they contain bad news? What if the numbers in one of her legislative initiatives don't add up? Who will tell her? And what if David Kendall's not available?

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