Saturday, December 3, 2016

Going Where the Denial Is Thickest--in the News Media


As a rape survivor myself*, I believe Juanita Broaddrick. I listened to Ms. Broaddrick when she was interviewed on Dateline NBC back in 1999. I listened carefully to everything she said, and--as a lifelong registered Democrat myself--I believe her with all my heart. Her accusation was that Bill Clinton assaulted her, in Arkansas, years earlier. This was a rape allegation--different in degree from the several sexual harassment allegations also leveled against Clinton, and very different from Clinton's compulsive philandering. Broaddrick accused Clinton of forcible rape, on national television--network, not cable--credibly, with detail, not concealing or denying her own errors or her anger at Clinton. Yet after the Clintons left the White House, Broaddrick's name was scarcely mentioned in what are usually called the “elite” media. As the highly respected late columnist William Blackberry commented, it was mystifying that a credible accusation of such magnitude could be passed over. This while the Washington Post deemed that President Clinton's affair with an intern warranted a special pull-out section titled "Presidency in Crisis," temporarily, and Republicans in the House were voting to impeach Clinton. 

It is an unanswered question, now, how many people even know who Juanita Broaddrick is. Many younger people who voted in 2016 would not have recognized her name in 2015. The fact that she has now become part of the public discourse largely through some rightwing outlets and Donald Trump's presidential campaign is a source of regret for me personally. 

The Democrats who should have acknowledged her story dropped the ball. So did the GOP, of course--neither major party moved constructively to address the issue of rape, in the 1990s or under the George W. Bush administration. President Obama and Vice President Biden have done more than any previous White House, addressing sexual assault on college campuses and problems such as the backlog of unprocessed rape kits in the criminal justice system. But much remains to be done.

Our top media outlets did little to nothing. Millions of words have been written about the 2016 election, hundreds of opinion polls were taken, countless models have predicted the outcome--wrongly, in case you didn't notice--but so far as I know, no major media outlet polled the public on awareness of Juanita Broaddrick's accusation against Clinton, or even on recognition of her name.

A couple of points here. First, rape is a difficult topic, grim and painful, and difficulties by definition are harder to deal with than easy things. Fewer people will deal well with something difficult than with something easy, including people in the news media. Second, few people in the large media outlets tried to deal with the Broaddrick story well. This gap is not consistent with a belief in Clinton's innocence, which would have emphasized accuracy. It sweeps an issue under the rug instead of addressing it.  

Third, the media focus continues to be politics rather than issues. Thus if Broaddrick's name was mentioned at all, it was usually through the prism of possible effect on the campaign of Hillary Clinton for president. Those media personalities are now consumed with the question of 'what went wrong' with the 2016 election, and what went wrong with their predictions.

'What went wrong' is that the wife of a rapist ran for the White House. 

Unthinkable? One would think so. But it wasn't. There was no one to advise the Clintons, effectively, that Clinton should not run.  A deadly simple timeline resulted. The Clinton team decided to try the run and accumulated all the money not going to the GOP. Meanwhile, Republicans salivating at the prospect of running against 'Hillary' lined up, and money or no money, the GOP field was self-destructively large. Trump was the cue ball. Wham. He broke the racked-up set of balls. And while Trump was breaking things open on the Republican side, the Clintons and their media allies were shutting out every better candidate on the Democratic side--Vice President Biden first, before the primary season even began; then Senator Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

So on one hand Trump benefited from the arithmetic of the field, and on the other Clinton, with no essential constituency or platform except narrow self-interest, shut out the field. 

Net result: A small cadre of Democratic insiders decided to paste in a nominee before any votes were cast, and picked the worst possible candidate. The Clintons with their greed problem, their treatment-of-women problem, their ties to Wall Street, etc, were the worst possible choice to run against Donald Trump. Not that they knew enough to take Trump seriously, any more than they knew enough to take Sanders seriously. So much for the high-paid expertise with which they theoretically surrounded themselves. Back to politics, I believe that even the quiet Lincoln Chafee would have done better than Clinton. Joe Biden would have crushed Trump. So would Bernie Sanders.

By this past weekend, I was wondering about the much-touted “landslide.” I was not very surprised at the outcome but am disappointed that Russ Feingold lost the Wisconsin senate race. Knowing the Clintons, Feingold's appeal is probably one of the reasons they neglected Wisconsin. Much of their joint public career for forty years has been playing keep-away, and they appeal to media insiders who play keep-away. No wonder they were so surprised: they shut out the very people they should have been listening to.

For now, I hope we don't have to listen to self-serving commentators, for several weeks, mutually confirming their nonexistent moral superiority to the unwashed masses. Largely these are the people who went along with Bush's invasion of Iraq. As with sexual assault, it saddens me to see Iraq swept under the rug. On top of the loss of blood and treasure, in all that (temporary) emphasis on sexual assault during the campaign, no one mentioned that rape follows war. 

*This was a childhood incident. I was in elementary school at the time, an undersized fifth-grader walking alone through a big park in Houston, to a Brownies meeting. The perpetrator was not someone I knew, and the police never caught him.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

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