Long-time reporters in Washington will often tell you that journalists used to cover up the sexual peccadilloes of politicians but don’t do it any more. These boring drones will invariably cite JFK’s years in the White House and note that there were a stream of women going in and out of the president’s quarters, yet reporters protected him and kept in all confidential.
That much is true and by some hard-to-gauge yet thrilling accounts JFK is the biggest whore to ever occupy the White House — bigger even than Bill Clinton. But what’s not true is that reporters have stopped covering up for politicians.
I know. I did it once myself and I deeply regret it and I want to come clean now.
It was 2008 and Hillary Clinton was running for president and out on the campaign trail somewhere in America. I worked for Harper’s magazine at the time and was interviewing a few Democratic sources in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel on 16th Street — just blocks from the White House.
It was around midnight and who should walk in but Bill Clinton, with a young blonde on each arm. The threesome walked into the bar and looked around, then Bill headed out the door with his famously dopey grin on his face and the trio got into an elevator going up.
Were they heading to his room merely to talk about politics, possibly to discuss Hillary’s then dwindling prospects against Barrack Obama in the primaries? It can’t be ruled out, but the odds seem remote.
In any case, it wasn’t what the Democrats I was with concluded. They just shook their heads, smiled and said, and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the old notebooks, “Bill Will Be Bill.”
Why didn’t I report this at the time? The story had some value. Hillary was out campaigning and the Clinton PR machine was spinning hard about the sanctity of their marriage. Here was proof, if any was needed, that the narrative was bogus.
Anyway, I can’t really remember why I didn’t report the story, it’s totally unlike me. But if I had to guess I’d say that I figured no one would have been surprised that Bill Clinton was shacking up with two women while his wife was out campaigning to be president. It was, I thought, a “Dog Bites Man” story.
In retrospect, that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you live in Washington for too long. You start living in a bubble and becoming accustomed to thinking that what passes for normal in DC is normal to people living elsewhere. It’s one of the big problems with Washington journalism.
In my defense, I soon quit my job and wrote about it. “I frequently find myself numb to political news and, even worse, to the lifeless, conventional wisdom peddled by the Washington media,” I opined at the time. “When you can read an entire column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and never once feel the urge to cut out your own heart with a dull knife, you know that you no longer have the sense of outrage that is essential to reporting from our nation’s capital.” (Note: Media critic Kurtz has since graduated sideways, to Fox News.)
Why am I reporting all this now? Cynics might say it’s a cheap bid to drive up traffic at this newly launched and thriving website. I’m desperately going through old files in search of anything I can throw online, they might add.
There would be some truth to that, but it’s only a partial explanation. The other reason I’m posting this item is to apologize for my past behavior and to reassure readers that I will never again withhold information about a prominent politician’s sex life, unless publishing serves no public service.
So if you’ve got any such information, or any tips at all, email me ASAP at email@example.com
Update: Doug Henwood, author of the essential “My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency,” has sent the following remarks:
“A friend was at the Mercer Hotel bar in the early 2000s, when in walked Bill with two women. They headed to a dark corner in the back. A while later, the three of them left, and as he was going out Bill turned to my friend’s party, gave them the thumbs up, and said, ‘Thanks guys’.” For not calling Page Six, I’ve always assumed.”