The New York Times used a recent Hillary Clinton statement from an online chat to briefly, tentatively bring up an old issue, first uncovered by the Washington Free Beacon, that could resonate uncomfortably with her liberal feminist fans: Hillary's cavalier and casual attitude on how a case against one of her then-clients, an accused rapist, collapsed, and her questioning the credibility of the victim, a 12-year-old girl.
The headline over Tuesday's meager 300-word story by Amy Chozick (pictured) read "Clinton Defends Her Handling of a Rape Case in 1975." The placement of that weirdly specific date in the headline makes one wonder if the Times is hinting to readers that this is ancient history that no longer matters.
1975 was the year that Hillary Clinton, working for the University of Arkansas's legal aid clinic in Fayetteville, defended Thomas Taylor, accused of raping the 12-year-old girl. Taylor instead pled guilty to unlawful fondling and served a year in Arkansas jail. He could have spent life in prison if convicted of rape.
Chozick, the paper's Hillary-beat reporter, wrote:
Hillary Rodham Clinton -- responding for the first time to new criticism about how she handled the defense of a rape suspect in 1975 -- said she had asked to be removed from the case, in which her client was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.
“I asked to be relieved of that responsibility, but I was not, and I had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability, which I did,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with Mumsnet, a British online network aimed at parents. The comments were her first since the nearly 40-year-old case emerged as an issue last month.
In other words, it was "an issue last month," but one the Times resolutely ignored until Clinton herself brought it up. Chozick let Clinton have the last word on the subject:
Last month, The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site, posted audio recordings from the mid-1980s in which Mrs. Clinton talks about her effective defense of a man whom she believed to be guilty.
“I had him take a polygraph, which he passed -- which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” Mrs. Clinton said in the recording.
In an interview last month with The Daily Beast, the victim, now 52, said, “Hillary Clinton took me through hell,” adding that Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to advance women’s and girls’ rights was hypocritical.
Mrs. Clinton said that lawyers “often don’t have the choice as to who you will represent.”
“But, at least in our system, you have an obligation,” she said, “and once I was appointed, I fulfilled that obligation.”
But as the Free Beacon's Alana Goodman pointed out, Clinton herself has previously stated she wasn't obligated to defend Taylor, but that a local prosecutor asked her to take on the case as a favor. Which way was it? Chozick either didn't notice the discrepancy or chose to ignore it.
The Washington Post got to the Free Beacon scoop three weeks earlier than the Times, placed it closer to the front page (page 2), raised more questions, and was overall more critical of Clinton, though the online headline reduced the issue to partisan hackery: "Conservatives are making hay over HillaryClinton's defense of a rape suspect."(Fellow NewsBuster Tim Graham contrasted the Washington Post's page 2 treatment of "old" scandals from Hillary with the front-page blast about Mitt Romney's high school haircutting).
In her Post column, Melinda Henneberger peppered in some disapproving notes from a liberal perspective, pondering how feminist it was for Hillary to delve into the personal history of the victim:
In an interview in the mid-1980s for an Esquire magazine piece that never ran, Clinton’s glee is audible about the prosecution’s big mistake in the case, when it accidentally discarded key evidence. Some are writing off the remarks, as one fellow journalist put it on social media, as “typical gonzo defense lawyer talk.”
It is not, however, typical talk for a lifelong defender of women and children.
The “little bit nutty, little bit slutty’’ defense has a long, ugly history. It’s jarring to see it trotted out against a kid by a future feminist icon. The argument also bears an uncomfortable similarity to Clinton White House descriptions of Monica Lewinsky, who without that semen stain on her little blue dress would have been dismissed as a stalker who had fantasized that she had a relationship with President Bill Clinton.