Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post Fact-Checker gave Bill Clinton three Pinocchios for his statements on the Today show regarding the Monica Lewinsky affair and the #MeToo movement:

“Yes [I have apologized to Monica Lewinsky] and nobody believes I got out of that for free. I left the White House $16 million in debt, but you typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this, and I bet you don’t even know them. This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me. They were not insensitive to that. I had a sexual harassment policy when I was governor in the eighties. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor. Women were overrepresented in the attorney general’s office in the seventies, for their percentage in the bar. I have had nothing but women leaders in my office since I left. You are giving one side and omitting facts.”
— Former president Bill Clinton, in an interview on NBC’s “Today Show,” June 4

Clinton tried to make himself appear a supporter women and the #MeToo movement, but the Post wasn’t buying it noting that former New York Attorney General–who had touted his pro-women’s rights stance was forced to resign after allegations of his mistreatment of women.

The Fact Checker said that they would not fact-check the entire statement but focus on two in particular.

The first is Clinton’s claim that he left the White House $16 million in debt.

This was a curious claim because in 2014, after Hillary Clinton was criticized for saying the couple was “dead broke” when they left the White House, the former president had a much lower number: “It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt.”

A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a request to explain the discrepancy. But Senate financial disclosure forms filed by Hillary Clinton in May 2001, a few months after he left the presidency, indicate “several million” is closer to the truth.

Senate financial disclosures only show broad ranges (i.e., $1 million to $5 million). But the highest possible assets added up to $1.8 million while the lowest possible debts were $2.3 million. That works out to about $500,000 in negative net worth.

The biggest problem with calculating the overall debt is that the form shows the Clintons owed $1 million to $5 million to two law firms, Skadden Arps and Williams & Connolly. (Lesser amounts were owed to three other law firms.) So legal debts to the two firms could have been as low as $2 million or as high as $10 million. At the high end, the couple’s net worth would have been as negative at $9.8 million at the time, though that appears unlikely.

The dictionary definition of “several” is “more than two but not many.” That sounds like $4 or 5 million, which is the midpoint of the two options.

Even when the Fact Checker added the mortgages on the Clintons’ two homes, they couldn’t get to the $16 million number and felt that including them wouldn’t be kosher anyway.

The Fact Checker also noted that Hillary had already signed an $8 million book deal by the time they left the White House and Bill was set to earn more than $125,000 per speech, which hardly makes them destitute.

The other statement the Fact Checker analyzed was Clinton’s claim that he had a sexual harassment policy when he was governor in the eighties.

This document actually came up in the Paula Jones lawsuit against Clinton for, yes, sexual harassment. Discovery in Jones’s case, of course, exposed Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky and led to his impeachment.

As far as we can tell, the document is not public on the Internet and we could not locate a copy, as it appears to be sealed under court order. It is just listedas “Deposition Exhibit No. 5 — Office of the Governor Sexual Harassment Policy.”

But this exchange in Clinton’s deposition on Jan. 17, 1998, is telling. The president is being questioned by Jones’s lawyer, James A. Fisher.

Q. Is this a copy of a sexual harassment policy that you signed when you were the governor of the state of Arkansas?
A. It is. I signed it in 1987, and I’m fairly sure that I was, we were the first or one of the very first states to actually have a clearly defined sexual harassment policy.
MR. FISHER: Objection, nonresponsive beginning with the words, “I’m fairly sure.”
Q. Mr. President, the criteria there under Roman numeral III were actually federal guidelines that you were adopting as the policy in the state, correct?
A. Yes.

Clinton is bragging today about a state policy that merely implemented new federal guidelines, probably as a result of the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that sexual harassment, including a hostile work environment, was indeed sexual discrimination. It’s not as if he was a trendsetter.

Indeed, a state-by-state guide published in 1987 by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund listed Arkansas as among the dozen worst places to live for any woman concerned with equal rights under the law.

The Fact Checker also noted the Paul Jones sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton over an encounter she had with the governor in 1991 while working at a state-sponsored conference. The suit was settled for $850,000.

Clinton came close to the maximum four Pinocchios, but was given the benefit of the doubt this time.

In both cases, Clinton skirts close to Four Pinocchios. He did have large legal debts, perhaps several million as he once said, but $16 million is clearly wrong. In any case, he and his wife were able to quickly dig themselves out of that hole. As for the sexual harassment policy, he was simply implementing federal guidelines — and it’s an odd thing to brag about, given the circumstance.

Since the interview, Clinton has been trying to clarify his remarks after liberals reacted negatively to his admission that he never personally apologized to Lewinsky.

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