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Making sport of scab-picking

Now that President Trump has brought us peace in our time, can we all get back to stoning Bill Clinton? Because no Christian doctrine is so universally ignored among the influential tribe of Pundit-Americans as Jesus’ admonition against sexual self-righteousness: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Leading lives of spotless moral virtue, Washington journalists have long been of one mind about the Arkansas naughty boy. So everybody got a cheap thrill recently when Clinton responded peevishly to a series of barbed questions about Monica Lewinsky from the “Today” show’s Craig Melvin.

You know, Matt Lauer’s old show. The guy with the button on his desk to keep women locked inside his office.

Nobody at NBC knew a thing.

But there’s no statute of limitations where Clinton/Lewinsky are concerned. The former president’s onetime Oval Office squeeze definitely doesn’t think so. In yet another bid to keep her celebrity martyrdom alive, Lewinsky recently wrote an essay for Vanity Fair magazine, again lamenting how the Big Creep done her wrong.

As indeed, he did.

But can nobody close to Monica persuade her that constantly picking at a 20-year-old wound can only prevent it from healing?

After decades of defiantly insisting that her relationship with Clinton was entirely consensual, indeed passionately desired, Lewinsky writes that her eyes have been opened by the #MeToo movement: “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege.”

Look, there’s no point in re-litigating all this at this late date. But if you Google “presidential kneepads,” one of the first things that comes up is a 1998 Los Angeles Times interview with the former drama teacher with whom Lewinsky had a five-year affair before she headed to the White House intent upon seducing the president.

Yes, she was in her early 20s, a “near child” to my friend Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett. (In which case I married a near-child six months older than myself, but never mind.) Monica’s White House adventures were very far from being her first rodeo, as we say out in the boondocks. Consent? She threw herself at him.

Me, I couldn’t have gotten away fast enough. Drama queens put me off. That’s one reason I bought Clinton’s cover story for the longest time. That said, none of what eventually happened would have happened if Monica hadn’t betrayed him first. She violated Rule One of adulterous love affairs: She talked.

How could a man with even a fraction of Bill Clinton’s rumored experience not see that coming? Lewinsky talked to damn near anybody who would listen, and particularly to her false friend Linda Tripp, who proceeded to destroy Monica’s life for political purposes.

Tripp, and that great American Kenneth Starr, who may have failed to notice when the Baylor University football team went on a sexual assault binge, but who tried to pressure Lewinsky into saying Clinton urged her to obstruct justice. Courageously, she refused, possibly saving the Big Creep’s presidency after first helping him nearly destroy it.

But I digress. Back to last week. Appearing on the “Today” show to promote his book “The President is Missing,” co-written with best-selling novelist James Patterson, Clinton found himself asked no fewer than six times in a tightly edited segment if he didn’t think he needed to apologize privately to Monica. Oddly, the segment aired with a 1998 clip of Clinton giving a shamefaced, lip-biting apology to pretty much everybody in the world, specifically including “Monica Lewinsky and her family.”

So it was hard to know what Melvin was driving at, apart from showcasing his ability to badger an ex-president. Anyway, just like that, the old gang got back together. A ritual stoning proceeded. Indignant scribes took turns lambasting Clinton for daring to imagine he could appear on national TV without groveling about his sexual sins.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and Glenn Kessler, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, and, of course, the inimitable Maureen Dowd emerged as Monica Lewinsky’s champions. It was generally agreed that Clinton had paid no price for his misdeeds, and had a lot of nerve “raging” at NBC’s Craig Melvin. Watch the clip. Do you see rage? I see mainly petulance.

Dowd hit Clinton with the ultimate insult: “Trump-level narcissism and selfishness.” Having spent decades comparing Lewinsky to the predatory Glenn Close character in “Fatal Attraction,” mocking her weight and lampooning her intelligence, the venerable Times columnist emerged this week as her champion.

Of course Clinton was foolish not to anticipate Melvin’s questions.

But should he pick up the phone, have a heart-to-heart with Lewinsky, and tell NBC about it?

I surely wouldn’t. Would you?

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons

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