PBS’s unfair look at the Clintons

Watching four hours of the so-called documentary on the eight years of the Clinton presidency gave me the sensation of a report about a glass of water that is 75 percent full and 25 percent empty. The PBS presentation, I am guessing, spent 75 percent of the four hours reporting on 25 percent of the story, i.e., the issue of “scandal” in the Clinton presidency, omitting the substance and policy achievements of the Clinton presidency, i.e., issues that affected the lives of most Americans and that they care about most.

But the problem with the presentation wasn’t just my view of disproportional emphasis on the “scandals” versus the substance. It was about accuracy. The writers and producers simply got it wrong. They failed to report the fact that every single “scandal” that so preoccupied the media, the punditry and partisan Republicans over the eight years — save for the final one, the Lewinsky matter — was 100 percent bogus, rabbit holes seeking to prove wrongdoing by the Clintons and leading nowhere.

Here’s a fact omitted from the four-hour “documentary” (I put quotation marks around the word because normally that word is used when there is accuracy, but that is not the case here):

Over the eight years of the Clinton presidency, and eight independent counsels, who collectively spent over $116 million investigating President and Mrs. Clinton (over $50 million of which was Kenneth Starr on the rabbit hole called Whitewater), five cabinet secretaries and two senior administration officials, there was not a single conviction of any administration official for conduct that occurred during the president’s time in office.

Here’s another fact about the “scandal” that led to everything bad — Whitewater: Despite all the headlines and thousands of column inches, especially in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and breathless TV coverage on broadcast networks and cable news, leading to the decision of President Clinton to appoint an independent counsel, ultimately leading to the appointment of Starr, who spent approximately $50 million — at the end, Starr announced that no criminal charges would be filed against either President or Mrs. Clinton. None.

Even when Starr’s successor, Robert Ray, finally imposed a penalty on President Clinton, it was about his false-deposition testimony in the Paula Jones case, not about Whitewater. And the penalty was a civil one, not a criminal one, for testifying falsely under oath in a civil deposition (a deposition, I must add, in a civil case that was ultimately thrown out of court as being so frivolous it could be decided on “summary judgment” without a trial).

As to the Lewinsky matter, which took up at least half of the second two-hour segment, Clinton was not truthful about a personal relationship that embarrassed him and for which ultimately he suffered great pain and humiliation, apologized to his wife, friends and the American people, and asked to be forgiven as a sinner with personal weaknesses.

That being said, let us not forget that had the scandal machine that existed in the 1990s existed in the 1790s: Alexander Hamilton’s affair with a married woman and his payment of hush money to her and her husband would have ended his career; Thomas Jefferson’s affair with a slave and his fathering at least one, if not many, children out of wedlock would have deprived him of the presidency in 1800; and what would have happened to Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and other presidents who allegedly had extramarital relationships had they been subjected to this media-partisan scandal machine?