Media ran amok with NY Times Clinton marriage article

Following the publication of a New York Times article on the purported state of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and former President Bill Clinton's marriage, numerous news outlets ran reports and aired discussions on the story. The 2,000-word article by Times reporter Patrick Healy was based on the accounts of “some 50 people,” “many” of whom “were granted anonymity to discuss a relationship for which the Clintons have long sought a zone of privacy.”

Following the publication of a May 23 New York Times article on the purported state of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and former President Bill Clinton's marriage, numerous news outlets ran reports and aired discussions on the story. As documented by Media Matters for America, the 2,000-word article by Times reporter Patrick Healy was based on the accounts of “some 50 people,” “many” of whom “were granted anonymity to discuss a relationship for which the Clintons have long sought a zone of privacy.” In the front-page article, Healy catalogued the number of days the Clintons have spent together over the past 17 months and revived unsubstantiated rumors of an alleged affair between Bill Clinton and a Canadian politician, claiming that tabloid pictures last year of Clinton leaving the restaurant with Belinda Stronach in a group that included “roughly a dozen people” fueled concerns among prominent Democrats.

In his article, Healy also noted that “it was only a few years ago that the Clinton relationship was the stuff of best-selling books and saucy debates on television talk shows.”

On the May 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews discussed the Clintons' marriage with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert and radio host Michael Smerconish and at one point conceded that both he and the Times were engaging in “speculation” on the topic. Nonetheless, he said that "[t]his is the most teasing story I've come across in The New York Times in a long time," described the article as “very carefully reported,” and read numerous excerpts from the piece, including a reference to rumors of an affair between former president Clinton and Stronach. In response to Healy's claim that the Clintons, on average, spend 14 days a month together, Matthews said, “Well, I hate being away from my wife more than a day or two.”

On the May 24 edition of NBC's Today, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell aired a brief clip of an interview with Healy in a follow-up report to his article. O'Donnell said that "[a]dvisers to the Clintons declined to talk about the marriage," but O'Donnell nonetheless noted that “intimate details of their marriage have long been public.” She went on to report that the couple has “dealt with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky,” airing quotes from both Clintons and quoting briefly from Sen. Clinton's memoir.

CNN host Wolf Blitzer noted the Times article on the May 23 edition of The Situation Room. However, Fox News' coverage of the Times story appeared the most extensive. On the May 23 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy noted “how little time they [the Clintons] actually spend together” and played an audio clip of Sen. Clinton saying, “Let people make their own judgments.” Co-host Brian Kilmeade, meanwhile, noted the rumors regarding Stronach and cited concerns that the former president could “derail” Sen. Clinton's political ambitions.

The May 23 edition of Fox News Live featured two discussions on the Times article. During the first, co-host Brigitte Quinn asked Washington Times White House correspondent Joseph Curl and Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson, “Do you think that Mr. Clinton, if he winds up in the tabloids these days, does that hurt Hillary Clinton at all?” Carlson went on to suggest that Hillary Clinton might not have been elected to the Senate “were it not for Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.” Later in the program, co-host Gregg Jarrett asked "[A]re they so busy with their public lives they rarely keep the home fires burning?" In a subsequent discussion with National Review White House correspondent Byron York and Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift, Jarrett quoted a passage from the article -- “Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife” -- before asking if the former president is “a political asset or a liability.”

Further, the May 23 edition of DaySide included a discussion with Republican strategist Brad Blakeman and Nation Washington editor David Corn on the topic of the Clintons' marriage. When Blakeman repeated the cliché that "[p]olitics makes strange bedfellows," co-host Mike Jerrick responded, referring to the Clintons, “So they are bedfellows?”

From the May 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the front page of The New York Times today, at the very top of the fold. I mean, it's right up there at the banner, the Clinton marriage, “For the Clintons, delicate dance of married and public lives.” This is the most teasing story I've come across in The New York Times in a long time, the paper of record. Let me give you some quotes:

“Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife.”

“When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, topic A is the state of their marriage.”

“Bill and Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives.”

It's a complicated story, Bob, but why do you think your paper -- I know you don't put the front page together. Why did Bill Keller put this story at the top of the newspaper today?

HERBERT: Well, you have to ask Bill, but I can tell you that in my travels, people are really interested in the state of this marriage and, frankly, I think, you know, with Hillary's presumed presidential ambitions, the state of the marriage is going to actually be a factor in her chances of getting the Democratic nomination, and perhaps, you know, becoming president.

MATTHEWS: The question I have for you, Michael, is that I was up there in Philly today on your show -- it was great to be on your show. Let me ask you about this story. Without getting too much into the goo of this story, which I'm sure we'll get into at some point between now and 2008, here's the question: Why today, why did The New York Times break from the gate? We all thought this story would begin to evolve sometime after the election when Hillary gets reelected in New York, in all probability. We'd be talking about her presidential campaign and, of course, every aspect of her life becomes fair game at that point. Why do you think the Times broke from the gate? This is May 23.

SMERCONISH: I think that it's probably the one issue about Hillary that people are most interested in. If I were to open up the telephone lines in Philly and I were to question folks about the Hillary candidacy, this is going to be way up there, probably beyond Iraq. I thought it was significant that in a typical month, they spend 14 days together. You know what, Chris? Not me. I want to make clear, but I think there are a lot of guys out there married who are probably envious of that number.

MATTHEWS: Well, I'm not. Let me ask you this. Let me go back to Bob Herbert --

HERBERT: Neither am I, Chris.


MATTHEWS: We're back with radio talk show host Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Bob, let me read you something from your newspaper again today. This story at the front, top of the newspaper, the very top of the newspaper, it's amazing, there it is at the top.

Quote: “Because of Mr. Clinton's behavior in the White House, tabloid gossip sticks to him like iron fillings to a magnet.” This is The New York Times. “Several prominent New York Democrats, in interviews, volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving BLT Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included a Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician. The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages.”


MATTHEWS: It was very carefully reported. Let me read you a quote from the Clintons -- the two, the senator and the former president. It's quite an interesting quote here: “She is an active senator who, like most members of Congress, has to be in Washington for part of most weeks. He is a former president running a multimillion-dollar global foundation. But their home is in New York, and they do everything they can to be together there or at their house in D.C. as often as possible -- often going to great lengths to do so. When their work schedules require that they be apart, they talk all the time.” That's a very defensive, formalized statement, isn't it, Bob?

HERBERT: I mean, I really don't know. It sounds to me -- I read it, and I didn't look for a hidden agenda, honestly. I read that as --

MATTHEWS: OK. You don't think it's setting them up for a different lifestyle? I thought it was saying --

HERBERT: I read that as --


HERBERT: -- a reasonable, accurate depiction of what's going on.

MATTHEWS: Could it be -- to avoid all this kind of speculation that we're already involved in, and I take responsibility -- well, I share it with The New York Times here -- Michael, that what they're really saying, the official spokespeople for these two impressive people, is that they're saying, “Don't count on Bill Clinton living in the White House if Hillary gets elected. He's got to run a big, multimillion dollars -- they say, the spokesmen say -- foundation. He's got a lot of responsibilities up in New York City at his office up there, so don't count on him being like a househusband or a first gentleman.”


MATTHEWS: Is that what they're setting up here?

SMERCONISH: No, what they were saying is that most guys escape to the golf course to get away from their wives, and in his case, she's in the United States Senate, and that's his excuse.

HERBERT: Well, I don't think they're saying that he won't be, you know, the first husband. I mean, I think that Bill Clinton is such a political junkie that he won't be able to stay away if Hillary is president.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hate being away from my wife more than a day or two, but thank you, Michael. You obviously don't mind that at all. Anyway, Bob Herbert, you go home and face her now.

From the May 24 edition of NBC's Today:

KATIE COURIC (co-host): When Bill Clinton burst onto the national political scene, he promoted his wife Hillary as an equal political partner, saying two heads were better than one. They enjoyed some of the highest highs, endured some of the lowest lows as well during their years in the White House. But now that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is eyeing her own bid for the presidency, a lot of folks are asking, “Where's Bill?” More now from NBC's Norah O'Donnell.

O'DONNELL: The star of the Democratic party, Senator Clinton, in Washington this week busy talking energy policy, but coy about her own political ambitions.

HILLARY CLINTON [video clip]: We'll just have to let the future be the future, whatever that might turn out to be.

O'DONNELL: Even as the first lady-turned-senator weighs her own White House bid, the state of her 30-year marriage faces scrutiny on the front page of The New York Times.

HEALY [video clip]: There's probably no marriage that is as dissected as Bill and Hillary Clinton's. Will the baggage that he brings -- both good and ill -- trip her up in some way?

O'DONNELL: Since leaving the White House, the Clintons have led busy and sometimes separate lives. While she is in Washington, a power broker in the Senate, he is globetrotting to the tsunami-ravaged South Asia or talking AIDS in Africa.

BILL CLINTON [video clip]: My wife said to tell you hello tonight, but you know, she's a big time politician now.

O'DONNELL: It's rare that they appear in public together. And he says his goal is to help her politically.

BILL CLINTON [video clip]: I try not never to do anything that causes her any problems.

O'DONNELL: Advisers to the Clintons declined to talk about the marriage, saying only that the two work very hard to spend time together. But intimate details of their marriage have long been public. In 1992, they went on 60 Minutes.

BILL CLINTON [video clip]: I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage.

O'DONNELL: They have dealt with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky. In her memoir, Senator Clinton admitted she wanted to wring her husband's neck for lying to her about Lewinsky. And said that “the most difficult decisions I have made in my life were to stay married to Bill and to run for the Senate from New York.” Now the woman who first campaigned with her husband, touting a two-for-one presidency, may hope voters will judge her someday in her own right. For Today, Norah O'Donnell, NBC News, Washington.

From the May 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, with host Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: There was a front-page story in The New York Times today -- I assume you saw it -- about the marriage, the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton. All of us remember what happened when he was president -- the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Lanny Davis, who was his special counsel, quoted in the article as saying this: “The conventional wisdom is that the relationship might hurt her -- all those old memories and scandals will be evoked. But I'm betting, and maybe this is wishful thinking, that that's not correct.”

From the May 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

KILMEADE: Back to you, guys, where I believe we're talking a little politics with a certain famous couple.

DOOCY: That's right. The Clintons. And, in fact, on the front page of The New York Times today they've got a big article -- let me --

E.D. HILL (co-host): There it is.

DOOCY: We'll all grab for it. Take a look right here. The headline is, “For Clintons, Delicate Balance of Married and Public Lives.” It's interesting, it talks about how little time they actually spend together. On average -- remember, he lives -- he is a busy guy, he does have -- it seems like he spends most of the time in the Chappaqua house in New York. She's down in Washington. On average, they spend two weeks a month with each other. Although some months, like February of last year, they just spent one day the entire month together. And that day, Brian, was Valentine's Day.

HILLARY CLINTON [video clip]: Let people make their own judgments.

DOOCY: Thank you, Hillary. Brian?

KILMEADE: I didn't know -- it kinda scared me there to actually hear her voice. I though she was a guest. But yeah, that was a special day. But some are worried that the talk of their marriage is going to come up and slow them down. And for example, when Bill was cited leaving, I think it was an eating establishment, late with a bunch of friends, including a Canadian woman that he evidently is friends with, people started to panic, because he could make -- Senator Hillary Clinton could do all the great policy decisions she wants and be the strong senator she might be right now, but if the marriage starts coming into it, they feel like it could derail her campaign.

From the May 23 10 a.m. ET edition of Fox News Live with co-anchor Brigitte Quinn:

QUINN: Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in '08. But how will her marriage affect her chances of winning? The New York Times reporting some are worried swing voters could link Hillary in their minds to the sex scandals that plagued her husband in the White House. We're talking about that with senior White House correspondent for The Washington Times Joe Curl. Also with us, Margaret Carlson, columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of The Week. Great to have you both here. Joe, to you first. Do you think that Mr. Clinton, if he winds up in the tabloids these days, does that hurt Hillary Clinton at all? Or do some people maybe say, “Well, they left that Monica scandal behind when they left the White House”?

CURL: Well, at the end of that whole debacle, polls definitely showed America was tired of that story, didn't support impeachment. But remember, Brigitte, these two are probably the most savvy politicians in the country. So they're going to work carefully, time this, coordinate everything that they do. One thing that was fascinating watching the two of them at the Coretta Scott King funeral recently. Bill spoke first and as Hillary took the podium, she was basically reading the speech. He had just given a speech just off the top of his head. She reached over, grabbed his arm, and pulled him back to the podium and kept him there. So they will work very carefully. I think there will be sometimes where she will look for distance. Other times she will bring him in, whatever is more politically expedient.

QUINN: Well, Margaret, he certainly is a public figure. I mean, just yesterday we were talking about some statements he made on global warming, and it seems like anytime you talk about a topic -- he talks about a topic like global warming, people say, “Aha, that must be a campaign strategy for Hillary.” Can she separate herself from anything he says publicly?

CARLSON: You know, the two are inseparable in many ways. Has there ever been a more famous marriage or one studied closer than this marriage? And Hillary has turned into a great senator. But would she be senator were it not for Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky? I don't think anybody thinks so. And the irony now is that while that got her to the Senate, it might be Bill's private life that keeps her from winning the White House.

From the 11 a.m. ET May 23 edition of Fox News Live with co-anchor Gregg Jarrett:

JARRETT: Plus, the Clintons. Maybe the busiest husband and wife in America, but are they so busy with their public lives they rarely keep the home fires burning? An asset or a liability if Hillary runs for president? Keep it right here.

From the noon ET May 23 edition of Fox News Live:

JARRETT: Bill and Hillary Clinton may be the busiest husband and wife team in America. So how in the world do they balance their married and public lives? Joining us now to talk about it: Byron York, White House correspondent for The National Review, Eleanor Clift, contributing editor at Newsweek magazine and Fox News political analyst. Good to see you both. Eleanor, let me begin with you. I mean, it is -- and I'll hold this up -- front page in The New York Times, above the fold, big article. And it does quote people like, you know, Lanny Davis, [former Clinton chief of staff] Leon Panetta and so on and so forth. But the crux of it is, in some regard, the personal lives. How much of the Monica Lewinsky affair that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment is a political and electoral albatross that might hang around Sen. Clinton if she decides to run for president?

CLIFT: Well, I think this article interviewed 50 people, analyzing, discussing, dissecting the Clintons' marriage. And that's not good for Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects, because if she wants to run the country, she doesn't want a campaign that's going to be about her personal life and her marriage. And so I think that is the fear among Democrats who want very much to regain the White House, that they don't want a campaign that essentially is a soap opera. And so the Clintons, you can tell from this article and the comments of the people who are interviewed, are very much trying to separate their professional lives, and I think Hillary Clinton has made great headway in presenting herself as a very competent senator. She's on her way to win big re-election in New York and separating herself somewhat from the downside of her husband. Now, he also has an incredible upside, and --


CLIFT: You know, we can get into that as well.

JARRETT: Well, Byron, let me quote from the article. In fact, it's pretty blaring on the front page, third paragraph right here, quote: Bill “Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties in Manhattan.” All right. So Byron, is Bill Clinton a political asset or a liability?

YORK: Well, clearly he is both in this case. But I think, you know, what -- if Mrs. Clinton becomes the nominee for president, if she became president, certainly there would be a lot of attention to all of this: Did they lead separate lives? What is their emotional baggage? And all of that stuff. But if Bill Clinton were to become the first spouse, as it were, it would be a totally unprecedented situation.

From the May 23 edition of Fox News' DaySide:

JULIET HUDDY (co-host): Welcome back to DaySide. The latest Fox News polls have Senator Hillary Clinton doing well against some notable Republicans in '08.

JERRICK: But what effect will the Clinton marriage have on a possible White House run? Some Democrats were reportedly a little worried about it. Should they be?

HUDDY: Brad Blakeman is a Republican strategist. And David Corn is Washington editor of The Nation and a Fox News analyst. Both join us now, as you can see, from Washington, D.C.


CORN: But two out of the three people you just had posted on the screen there running against -- possibly running against Hillary Clinton -- [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ] and Rudy Giuliani -- they both went through divorces. Maybe there's something good here in the Clinton marriage that people can learn from. Despite the crises, they're still together.

JERRICK: Well, actually, they are still together. Brad, what do you think about that?

BLAKEMAN: Well look, more power to them. There is an old political saying that seems to be tailor-made for the Clintons and that is, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” You have a couple here who have gone through some pretty tough times, yet they have stayed together, and it's a unique kind of relationship that seems to work for them. So I'm not so sure it's going that it's going to be that big an issue. But what is going to be an issue is where Hillary stands on the issues when it comes time for her to announce her candidacy.

HUDDY: David --

JERRICK: So they are bedfellows?

HUDDY: Yeah, Michael, I knew you were going to say something about that. Dave, Bill Clinton is -- I mean, we've seen -- we all read the little gossip columns. And he's very active, he's out there on the social circuit and the parties and going to events and fundraisers and things like that. You know, doing a lot of good as well. He's not just out there partying. I want to say that. But does he -- will he need to tone that down as things start to heat up?

CORN: Listen, I don't think he's hanging out at the clubs at two in the morning in Manhattan.

HUDDY: Like Jerrick.

CORN: Yeah, who knows?

JERRICK: I saw him at the Hudson --

CORN: But you know, the Times story today said 14 days out the month they're together, which in terms of some -- I know couples who live -- who are bicoastal. Or I know -- I have some friends who have marriages, one lives in the United States, one lives in Europe. If they're spending that much time together, that's not such a bad thing for people who no longer have kids to raise together who are, listen, part of perhaps the biggest power couple in America.

JERRICK: But tell me a political candidate who has done -- who has that type of lifestyle?

CORN: Well, what type of lifestyle? You mean married to somebody who goes around the world trying to do something about AIDS? I mean, that's the thing. I think, Bill Clinton is out there -- you know, he could never stop moving as a candidate, as a president. It's not going to happen now. And as long as he doesn't get into trouble -- and we know what that means -- it's not going to be a liability that he's out there traveling a lot.