“Media Matters” ; by Jamison Foser

Tuesday evening, Tucker Carlson announced that the “American public” has an “arrangement” with Bill Clinton: “We won't ask about your personal life. Don't talk about it. Right? I mean, that's kind of fair. I don't want to know who he is or is not involved with. I don't want to hear details about his marriage. But he keeps forcing them on us.”

Sally Bedell Smith's very own facts

Tuesday evening, Tucker Carlson announced that the “American public” has an “arrangement” with Bill Clinton: “We won't ask about your personal life. Don't talk about it. Right? I mean, that's kind of fair. I don't want to know who he is or is not involved with. I don't want to hear details about his marriage. But he keeps forcing them on us.”

Carlson's guests, Sacha Zimmerman of The New Republic and A.B. Stoddard of The Hill, readily agreed. Later, when Carlson described the Clintons as “the one couple that gets the pass” -- that is, the one couple that is exempted from public speculation about their marriage -- Zimmerman and Stoddard agreed again.

And how does Bill Clinton keep “forcing” details of his marriage? Carlson explained:

CARLSON: I don't want to hear details about his marriage. But he keeps forcing them on us. Example A, Bill Clinton on the night of their 32nd anniversary said this: “We were laughing and talking, and believe it or not, the campaign even gave her the night off. We had about decided by the end of the night that the key to a long relationship was never being bored with one another, and I would still rather spend the night talking to her than anyone I can think of.”

Now, leaving aside the fact that that's just a provable lie --


CARLSON: -- it breaks the deal we have.

That's it; that's how Clinton “breaks the deal we have” -- he said a couple of sentences about talking and laughing with his wife. To say this breaks some sort of “deal” -- or is, as Stoddard later described it, “yucky” -- borders on the insane. If this is the level of discussion of a marriage that constitutes breaking some sort of confidentiality agreement, candidates and their spouses break that “deal” regularly.

The truth -- of course -- is that there is no such “deal.” The notion that Tucker Carlson and his colleagues in the media don't raise questions about the Clintons' marriage is absurd; the claim that they are the only couple granted such privacy is laugh-out-loud funny.

Even if you pretend the 1990s never happened -- pretend, for example, that the media ignored allegations that Clinton had an affair with Gennifer Flowers the way they ignored allegations that Bob Dole had an affair -- there is no shortage of examples of the media obsessing over the Clintons' marriage.

How many presidential candidates have been the focus of a New York Times article purporting to count the number of nights they spend with their spouse? The Times reporter responsible for that article later admitted that the time the Clintons spend together is “pretty similar” to other families that include a member of Congress -- yet we haven't seen the paper run such an article about John and Cindy McCain.

Despite the utterly unremarkable nature of the Times' findings, other media ran with it. Washington Post columnist “Dean” David Broder even suggested that the Times might have further explored a supermarket tabloid allegation that Bill Clinton is having an affair with Canadian politician Belinda Stronach. (Asked by a Post reader when he would write about the marriages of Republican presidential candidates, Broder responded, “Why would I write such an article? I know of no occasion for that.” )

Most enthusiastic of all was MSNBC's Chris Matthews. In the days immediately following the publication of the Times article, Matthews asked at least 90 questions about the article on his two television shows -- 90. Such obsessive focus from Matthews shouldn't be surprising; he talks about the subject so much his viewers can be forgiven for occasionally wondering if the Clintons' marriage is more important to him than his own.

And let's not forget Carlson himself. He claims he doesn't want to know about the Clintons' marriage (even as he gets in a cheap accusation that Bill Clinton was lying) and that the Clintons get a “pass” on the topic. That is not only an absurd statement about the media as a whole, it is contradicted by Carlson's own previous comments about the Clintons' marriage.

Carlson wasn't the only journalist to concoct an excuse for exploring, yet again, the state of the Clintons' marriage. In a Washington Post review of Sally Bedell Smith's new book about the Clintons, For Love of Politics, Nina Burleigh declares “details” of the Clintons marital trouble “riveting as ever.” But, according to Burleigh, she isn't simply re-watching a favorite old movie -- this is the director's cut, with never-before-seen scenes:

Smith rehashes the Monica Lewinsky year, and she's got some illuminating interviews with Clinton insiders who feel at last able to talk. There's John Podesta describing Bill angrily telling him that Lewinsky did not perform a sexual act on him and revelations from that keeper of the keys to Bluebeard's Cave, bimbo patroller Betsey Wright, on Bill's therapy, “addiction” and the no-longer-mystery woman who almost broke up the marriage. The details are riveting as ever. Who can get enough of POTUS sweating on the phone at 2 a.m. with a love-addled 24-year-old woman, placating her with job promises, knowing his world is about to explode as surely as a Sudanese powdered-milk factory?

Wow! Clinton insiders “at last” feel “able to talk” ! Just imagine the pressure they must have been under not to talk all these years. Quick, grab a copy of For Love of Politics so you, too, can be riveted by these “illuminating interviews” that John Podesta and Betsey Wright at long last feel comfortable giving!

Well ... maybe you shouldn't bother.

That “illuminating interview” with John Podesta occurred a decade ago. And Sally Bedell Smith didn't conduct it; Ken Starr's office did. And if, for some reason, you still care after all these years what Bill Clinton said to John Podesta about Monica Lewinsky, you can save yourself the 20 bucks Smith's book would cost you by reading online the deposition Smith cites for her quotation of Podesta.

But if you do go to all that trouble, you'll find something curious: The deposition does not contain the quotation Sally Bedell Smith says it contains -- not even close. Smith quotes Podesta quoting Clinton as saying “I did not screw that girl” and “she did not blow me.” Smith's endnotes claim these quotes come from “Grand-jury testimony of John Podesta, June 16, 1998, vol. 3, p. 3311.” You can read that page for yourself here -- but you won't find anything like the words Smith says are there.

And what of Betsey Wright, the other “Clinton insider” who, according to the Post's Burleigh, was finally willing to talk to Sally Bedell Smith? If Smith and Wright have ever spoken, it isn't readily apparent from For Love of Politics. A few minutes with the book's index and source notes finds that quotes attributed to Wright are drawn from a 1992 Time article, a 1993 Washington Post article, 1994 articles in Time and The New Yorker, David Maraniss' 1995 book First in His Class, and James Stewart's 1996 book Blood Sport, among other previously published sources. None are attributed to an author interview of Wright.

In short, the “illuminating interviews” Burleigh touted turn out to have been conducted not by Smith, but by several other journalists (and independent counsel staff). And they aren't new details offered up by long-silent “Clinton insiders who feel at last able to talk.” They have, in most cases, been available in published sources for at least a decade.

And, in at least one case, Smith quoted someone -- John Podesta -- as saying something that does not appear in the cited source material. That (alleged) Podesta quote is the first example the Post's Burleigh gave to support her contention that Sally Bedell Smith has “got some illuminating interviews with Clinton insiders who feel at last able to talk.” Had Burleigh checked the book's endnotes, she would have known that this description was false, that Podesta's comments are quite old (if he said them at all). Had Burleigh taken five minutes to check Smith's endnotes rather than simply praising her for the supposed coup of getting Podesta to talk, she would have been able to tell Post readers that the words Smith quotes Podesta saying do not appear in the source material from which Smith claims to have quoted.

In addition to this rather obscure, if potentially revealing, mistake, Smith includes in her book at least two passages that ought raise immediate questions about whether it should be taken seriously.

On Page 288, as Bob Somerby first noted, Smith gratuitously includes Paula Jones' graphic description of the size and shape of the President's penis when erect. Jones description was contradicted by medical testimony; its inclusion in For Love of Politics serves only to satisfy the voyeuristic urges that cause journalists to continue obsessing over the decade-old Lewinsky saga in the first place.

On Page 101, Smith writes, “Bill was caught by White House reporters holding up traffic at Los Angeles International Airport for forty-five minutes while he got a two-hundred-dollar haircut on Air Force One from ... Hollywood stylist, Christophe Schatteman.” In fact, Clinton's haircut did not delay air traffic. As I wrote when Ed Klein included this long-debunked anecdote in The Truth About Hillary, his 2005 attempt to swift-boat Clinton, “The incident, and the debunking of claims that he caused air traffic delays, are sufficiently well-known that it is nearly inconceivable that this is an honest mistake.”

(Answering questions about her book during a Washington Post online discussion today, Smith denounced Burleigh for baselessly speculating that the Clintons might be together for reasons other than politics. Then she declared: “As Senator Pat Moynihan used to say, 'you are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts.' My book is a textured portrait of the Clintons strengthened by the cumulative power of facts.” )

This is the way it has been for quite some time: These “illuminating” new efforts by Clinton critics to examine the couple's marriage consist of little more than amateur psychology and recitation of long-known salacious details that most people have long since processed and moved on from.

Maybe that's why right-wing bloggers are so eagerly peddling new (but completely baseless) rumors that Hillary Clinton is having a "Lesbian Affair with Muslim Aide," as Pam Geller of Atlas Shrugs put it.

This latest baseless speculation manages to combine the sleazy sexual rumor-mongering Mickey Kaus and his kindred spirits in the supermarket tabloid industry unleashed on John Edwards with the disgusting attempts to play on anti-Muslim bias that drove the anti-Barack Obama whispering campaigns detailed by Media Matters and The Nation's Chris Hayes, among others.

As Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest has detailed, the smear has spread to several right-wing blogs. And it is the subject of a typically venomous discussion at FreeRepublic.com, as well as speculation in the Village Voice and on MSNBC anchor Monica Crowley's radio show.

What was that Tucker Carlson was saying about the Clintons being the “the one couple that gets the pass” from speculation about the state of their marriage?

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.