The cover of this week’s Newsweek touts a story inside on "Hillary’s Likability Gap." That’s not exactly how it’s pitched inside, where the magazine tries another attack on right-wing Clinton haters titled "The New War on Hillary." Reporters Jonathan Darman and Mark Hosenball ponder the "haters’ fury," and remember the bad old days of First Lady Hillary: "Installed in Washington, Hillary morphed into a comic-book villain for her detractors – a man-eating feminist, they claimed, who allegedly threw lamps at her husband, communed psychically with Eleanor Roosevelt and lit a White House Christmas tree adorned with sex toys. The narrative of depravity – a tissue of inventions by conservatives – was often hard to follow."
But wait, wait: who "invented" Hillary’s seances with Jean Houston conjuring up Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House? That story emerged from the keyboard of Bob Woodward – no conservative – in 1996. Newsweek wrote an article lamenting the story, hailing Hillary as a persecuted "Joan of Arc figure." And what about the lamp-throwing? Newsweek really launched those rumors nationwide (albeit with sympathy toward poor Hillary) in the April 5, 1993 edition:
For the Secret Service, this is war. The agency doesn't want to surrender any of its expanded authority. Ever since the 1981 attempt on Ronald Reagan's life, agents have been stationed inside the First Family's living quarters. Horrified at the intrusion into their privacy, the Clintons shifted them to a second-floor outpost. Don Edwards, spokesman for the Secret Service, insists the agency was never threatened and "is not resisting anything." But he acknowledges that Clinton is an energetic, accessible president, and everyone is adjusting -- some apparently better than others. Like the waiter who shows displeasure by spitting in the soup, some agents apparently began telling tales of what might be called spirited discussions between the Clintons. Pretty soon, Washington dinner parties were buzzing with stories of Hillary throwing -- take your pick -- a lamp, a briefing book or a Bible at Bill. One outlandish tale has an angry Hillary lighting a cigarette to trigger her husband's allergies -- this from a woman who banned smoking in the White House.
There is no evidence to support any of the stories. White House spokesman George Stephanopoulos denies everything from the home-front battles to dissension with the Secret Service. "It's ill informed, malicious, untrue gossip," he says, adding, "It's part of the air here." That much is true. When it comes to gossip, Washington is a small town. The late Alice Roosevelt Longforth kept a needlepoint pillow that said, "If you haven't got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me." Right-wing Republicans have been most active in spreading the notion that Hillary is the power in front of the throne, calling the shots and cursing like a man. But even White House aides feed the rumor mill in a can-you-top-this competition.
Poor Hilllary, even White House aides hate her (were they part of the inventing conservatives?), but not Eleanor Clift, who wrote the sympathetic 1993 squib. It’s interesting that Clift’s name sits at the end of the 2007 article, as well. Why would Newsweek spread rumors nationwide in 1993? Was it itching to rename itself Rumorweek? Or was the story designed to elicit sympathy for poor Hillary against those Secret Service creeps who are to be suspected of intrigue at all times?
Our MediaWatch newsletter gave Newsweek a "Janet Cooke Award" for its cock-eyed Hillary seance coverage. Then-Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas tried to blur the issue with other, more traditional First Ladies in the July 1, 1996 edition, as we noted then:
"A long-time searcher for spiritual meaning, Mrs. Clinton had conjured conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt long before she met Dr. Houston. Mrs Clinton is not even the first First Lady to dabble in psychics or mediums: the wives of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding all tried, in one way or another, to communicate beyond the grave. Unlike Nancy Reagan, Hillary never tried to use psychic powers to influence her husband."
Thomas added: "To many women, Hillary Clinton is not a cold-eyed conspirator, but a martyr." He quoted Mrs. Clinton's fans at a Boston fundraiser for the Clinton campaign saying Hillary's "being bashed by the press" because "a lot of people don't like a strong woman." Thomas concluded that to these voters, "Hillary looks just the way she does to her philosopher friend, Dr. Houston -- as a Joan of Arc figure, persecuted for her righteous crusade."
If it seems hardly noteworthy for liberal Hillary to be popular in Massachusetts, the June 21 Boston Herald's account of the fundraiser presented a less than popular figure. Reporter Joe Sciacca quoted a Democratic operative: "They couldn't give tickets away. A lot of people got [free tickets]. Even the applause lines were off. A lot of people are getting concerned." Thomas told MediaWatch: "Our reporter Martha Brant was there and saw it first-hand. They certainly were enthusiastic Hillary-lovers at this lunch...I don't think the point's negated if they had difficulty selling tickets."