Clinton, Oprah and the BBC


Geraldine Sealey
June 23, 2004 3:23AM (UTC)

Bill Clinton may be tired of talking about Monica Lewinsky, but he went a little easier on interviewer Oprah Winfrey when she pressed him on lying about his affair than he did on David Dimbleby of the BBC. After heavily promoting a Clinton "outburst" at Dimbleby for the past few days, the Beeb is now running video clips of Clinton's interview on its Web site.

"Let me just say this," Clinton said. "One of the reasons he [Kenneth Starr] got away with it is because people like you only ask me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride. Any abuse they wanted to do. They indicted all these little people from Arkansas, what did you care about them, they're not famous, who cares that their life was trampled. Who cares that their children are humiliated. Nobody in your line of work cared a rip about that at the time. Why, because he was helping their story."

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Ouch! But there's more: "And that's why people like you always help the far-right, because you like to hurt people, and you like to talk about how bad people are and all their personal failings. Look, you made a decision to allocate your time in a certain way, you should take responsibility for that, you should say 'yes, I care much more about this than whether the Bosnian people were saved, and whether he brought a million home from Kosovo.'"

Oprah was not the recipient of such a rant (albeit a satisfying one -- even if Dimbleby was probably not the most in-the-Starr-tank media offender). But we all know Oprah doesn't like to hurt people, and we all know she cares about the people of Bosnia and Kosovo, so Clinton was much kinder to her.

But in her big interview, which aired today, Oprah didn't shy away from asking Clinton why he lied. Did he ever consider telling the truth about Monica Lewinsky, Oprah asked? Did he ever consider a different answer than the fateful and infamous "I did not. Have. Sexual. Relations. With that woman. Monica Lewinsky"?

That false answer was, Clinton says, a mistake. He did think about telling the truth then, but decided against it. "I thought about what I should do. It's easy to say well, I should have done what Grover Cleveland did." Cleveland had a child out of wedlock, was confronted with an allegation, and admitted it. But Grover had it easy, Clinton said.

"He didn't have anyone trying to put him and the woman in jail. You can all make your judgements ... but let me remind you we were dealing with not only the hysterical media situation but a man who literally would indict people simply because they wouldn't lie about me."

Oprah cut in: "You're talking about Ken Starr?"

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Clinton: "Yeah."

Oprah with the follow-up: "But ultimately why didn't you tell the truth?"

Answer: "I was afraid if I did at the time that A, he would go out and indict a lot of people falsely, and B, the hysteria would cause me to be run from office. (Oprah cuts in here with a "Really ...") And that the bad guys would win, yeah."

If the timing of the applause was any gauge, Oprah's audience embraced Clinton, yet also really approved of him saying he was wrong. There was applause when he said Hillary knew "the mistake I made was something that ought to be handled in our family." But also when Clinton described sleeping on the couch for two months. "It was a pretty comfortable couch," he said. "And I think I thought, maybe I oughta be on it.(Applause)."

Clinton said he expected his blitz of book-promoting interviews to focus heavily on the Lewinsky scandal. "I knew we had to go through the first round of interviews and all anybody would want to talk about is what we talked about here," he told Oprah, who protested, "We talked about some other things!"

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Clinton assured her: "You were great, you were a lot better than uh .. most of the people ... but I don't mind that, I think that's an important issue."

"That's why a million are pre-sold, I can tell you that," Oprah said.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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