Joe Conason's Journal

Should we believe Dick Morris' claim that Bill Clinton tackled and almost punched him? Depends on which Dick Morris you choose to believe.

Published June 12, 2003 7:53PM (EDT)

Setting Dick Morris straight
Conservatives can be quite gullible on the subject of the Clintons, as long as you're telling them the kind of nasty gossip they want to hear. Among the most tireless exploiters of this Clinton-hating credulity is Dick Morris, the political consultant and commentator who has ceaselessly prostituted himself to Fox News and other right-wing outlets for several years now.

Morris's latest dupes are the editors of National Review Online, who today published an article by him headlined "Setting the Record Straight."

In this "open letter to Hillary Clinton," Morris purports to tell the "real reason" why he was reluctant to help them avert a Democratic defeat in the 1994 midterm elections. It wasn't, as HRC writes in her new book, because the Clinton staff had been "mean" to poor Dick. Instead, he writes, he shied away because "Bill Clinton had tried to beat me up in May of 1990 as he, you, Gloria Cabe, and I were together in the Arkansas governor's mansion." He then launches into a lengthy recapitulation of a famous story about the violent argument he and Clinton had that year, when Morris was working on his comeback campaign.

But while Morris and others have told that story before, the claim that Clinton tried to "beat [him] up" is brand new - as is his latest version of that event:

"Bill ran after me, tackled me, threw me to the floor of the kitchen in the mansion and cocked his fist back to punch me. You grabbed his arm and, yelling at him to stop and get control of himself, pulled him off me. Then you walked me around the grounds of the mansion in the minutes after, with your arm around me, saying, 'He only does that to people he loves.'"

Compare that with the account Morris gave on Page 64 of "Behind the Oval Office," his 1997 book - in which he walks out of their meeting after telling the young Arkansas governor to "Go fuck yourself":

"Clinton charged up behind me as I stalked toward the door, grabbed me from behind, and wrapped his arms around me to stop me from leaving. I slipped to the floor. Hillary helped me to my feet. The moment I stood up, Clinton became apologetic. 'Don't go, don't go, I'm sorry. Don't go, I'm sorry,' he said as I walked out the door, slamming it behind me. Hillary ran after me to calm me down. She put her arm around me and walked me around the grounds of the mansion. 'Please forgive him,' she pleaded. 'He's under so much pressure. He didn't mean it. He's very sorry. He's overtired, he hasn't slept well in days. He's not himself. He values you. He needs you,' she repeated."

Nothing in that version about Clinton cocking his arm for a punch (or only beating up people he loves). In the 1997 book, Morris goes on to criticize competitors who tried to use the story against Clinton by distorting it. "I relate the Arkansas incident here not because it seems relevant to his ability to serve in office but because it did affect our relationship and because it's time to put the exaggerations to rest. By 1994, the story had been transformed to the point that Clinton was supposed to have punched me." In other words, he was ... setting the record straight.

As a born-again moralist who now professes disgust with Hillary, Morris might be embarrassed by certain other passages in his book. There's that sincere apology for carrying on "the most dishonorable kind of relationship" with a woman other than his wife, and for having "deeply violated the president's trust in me" in the introduction. And then there's Page 110, where Morris waxes sentimental about the former first lady's fine qualities:

"Hillary is usually a very, very warm person. She is loving and caring, quite the opposite of her sometimes strident public image. For example, in 1993, my mother and father visited her in the White House ... The First Lady graciously received them and spent half an hour with them though only five minutes had been allocated on her schedule for the visit. Her only reason was kindness. There was nothing my parents could ever do for her in return. This was probably the happiest moment in the last year of my mother's life.

"A few months later, when my mother was dying, Hillary called often to console me and share the experiences of her own father's death the year before. She was a major support in my grief and I can never forget that." Et cetera.

Only a very, very special kind of guy would perpetrate that kind of betrayal in exchange for a few bucks from Roger Ailes and Rich Lowry. Presumably it was inevitable that when the Clintons stopped paying Morris, he would stop telling everyone how great they are. But he should at least try to keep his stories straight.
[1:52 p.m. PST, June 12, 2003]

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