Fourteen years ago there was a sex scandal that rocked our nation to its core. It involved the president and a 22-year-old woman, a White House intern whose name would go down rather infamously in the history books as "that woman" whom Bill Clinton, that president, "did not have sexual relations with." Of course, as it turned out, the politician doth protest too much, and pretty much everyone who knows anything about American history knows how that turned out: not so great, really, for Miss Lewinsky. Kind of fine, in the end, for Bill, who eventually admitted that he'd had an "improper physical relationship" with her.
Sure, there was the political fallout. It was tough going for a while, what with the impeachment trial, the fines, the censuring attempts, the media attention, but he was acquitted and then he wasn't even president, and all we have are our fading memories of a time that grows longer and longer ago. So, when Bill Clinton addressed the DNC last night, was anyone really thinking, wait, this is the same guy who misled us about his "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky? Except, maybe, for the impeachably nasty Ann Coulter?
Well, yes. Matt Apuzzo and Tom Raum of the Associated Press fact-checked Bill Clinton's DNC speech, finding Clinton's claims of compromise to be "a stretch," with "no mention of the role that the president and the Democrats have played in grinding compromise to a halt on some of the most important issues facing the country." But the fact-checking point that everyone's talking about is their invocation of Lewinsky. The essence is that Clinton lied then—how dare he bring up truth now? From their piece,
CLINTON: "Their campaign pollster said, 'We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.' Now that is true. I couldn't have said it better myself — I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad."
THE FACTS: Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were "legally accurate" but also allowed that he "misled people, including even my wife."
It's a spurious point, though, for a couple of reasons, the first being that just because a person lies once doesn't mean they always will. This is the assumptive fact-check, more a dig at character than any actual lie. And as Chelsea Rudman writes for Media Matters, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse did in fact say, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." Not a lie. So is the dredging up the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal meant to discredit Clinton? To hurt Hillary? To discredit the Democratic party entirely, in the wake of other notable fact-checks? Or, maybe it's just to add a little sex scandalous-ity into an election season in which the only "sex scandals" thus far seem to involve old men talking ridiculously about "women's issues." Maybe it's a joke, or even trolling? It's hard to say.
The other side of this, though, is that it hardly matters. Harking back to Lewinsky is hardly going to hurt Bill. He's not only survived the scandal, he's rather thrived; clearly, so has Hillary. We have short memories, in general, and Clinton has bounced back in arguably better shape than ever. While Lewinsky has been a particularly lengthy legacy in the collective consciousness—for all of its tawdrinesses and also because we've had nothing new to replace it with (don't say Anthony Weiner)—it's also by now a fairly weak one. We may never forget those days back in 1998, but they also seem so far in the distance, so beside the point, that the A.P.'s fact check is impotent at best, at least, probably, to anyone other than Miss Lewinsky herself. At least, though, we think there should be a coinage out of this. The media's reincarnation of an aging sex scandal or other political embarrassment for the purposes of a new story should heretofore be known as Lewinskying.
Update: The A.P. has defended their fact-check Lewinskying, with Mike Oreskes, senior managing editor for U.S. news, saying in a statement to The Huffington Post, "The reference was not about that woman, Miss Lewinsky. It was about facts. Clinton challenged the Republicans for their attitude toward facts. We were simply pointing out that as president Clinton had his own challenges in this area."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.