Opinion

PBS’s unfair look at the Clintons

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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?