For several weeks now, the right-wing media has been flogging something it calls "The Hillary Tapes," a recording in which Hillary Clinton discusses her work as a defense lawyer for an accused rapist. Since then, though, the story has made the species jump to the mainstream media, and some liberals are helping to advance the smear, which has led to the unusual sights of Media Matters attacking Ezra Klein, and of Salon's Joan Walsh getting steamrolled on MSNBC.
It all started about three weeks ago, when the conservative Washington Free Beaconpublished audio of an interview for an Esquire magazine profile that was never published, an interview which conservatives insist demonstrates that Clinton was yukking it up over how she was able to get her guilty-as-sin client off with time served. Days later, Daily Beast reporter Josh Rogin got exclusive, angry reaction from the victim in the case, who accused Hillary of "ly(ing) on me." She had previously told Newsday, in 2008, that she held no ill will toward Clinton, but that was before the recent revelations, and while she now disputes Newsday's characterization, Glenn Thrush (now with Politico) tells The Daily Banter that he stands by his reporting.
Then, German Lopez of Klein's Vox.com published an explainer on the story, with the headline "Hillary Clinton's legal career is coming back to haunt her," and that story was the peg for Klein's appearance on Tuesday's Morning Joe. Aside from the chilling and absurd premise that attorneys can never enter politics if they defend undesirables (as was demonstrated in the blocking of Debo Adegbile's nomination to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division in March) and Klein's sickening adoption of the "some say/others say" frame (he almost literally says "We report, you decide"), there are a few other substantive problems with Ezra Klein's handling of this segment.
Although Klein didn't do any of the reporting on this story, he only disclaims himself from reporting that shows Clinton was forced to take the case over her protests, a point over which there is no factual basis for dispute. He also gets the age of the victim wrong, telling Scarborough she was 15, when she was actually 12 at the time of the attack. Most egregiously, though, he makes a false factual leap by telling the MJ crowd that "Clinton's legal strategy was pretty aggressive, in which they discredited this young girl who had been raped by a man much, much older than her, said that she fantasized about older men."
At one point, Clinton signed an affidavit that claimed the girl often fantasized and sought out older men.
That makes it sound just like what Klein said, that Hillary then-Rodham swore, in an affidavit, that the victim fantasized about older men, and sought them out. What the affidavit actually said was quite a bit different. Here's the relevant portion:
“I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing. I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”
There are a few subtle, yet very important, differences here. First of all, Klein and Vox are the first to attempt to attribute the discrediting quotes directly to Hillary, although others have implied it. Plainly, she is relaying claims which were made by someone else, probably her client. There's also the heavy implication that Hillary attempted to introduce these claims as evidence to discredit the victim, but the affidavit in question was actually a motion for a psychiatric evaluation of the victim.
Now, none of this is pleasant, but far from being aggressive, these are exactly the things a lawyer would have to do if her client (or someone else) made such claims, legally and ethically. Failure to do so would, at the very least, give the accused rapist grounds for appeal, as would any obvious dereliction of duty by a defense attorney. Aside from giving air to an absurd smear, this was just bad journalism.
But the part of this story that's generating the most hand-wringing is Hillary's laughter at several parts in the tape, which got a good going-over on Tuesday night's Hardball, and which disturbed Chris Matthews so much that he let conservative commentator Michelle Bernard completely steamroll Joan Walsh as she tried to defend Hillary:
Again, Matthews allows Hillary's legally-compelled representation to remain an open question, even after Walsh's repeated protestations, and falsely accuses her of "attacking" the victim. All three of them, though, evince varying levels of disturbance at the offending laughter, all the while noting that they've listened to the entire tape. As ridiculous as it seems to parse three instances of laughter in a 30 year-old tape, there's really nothing mysterious about any of it:
In the first instance, Hillary is obviously laughing cynically about her lost faith in polygraphs. In the second, the interviewer first laughs at the way the prosecution botched the evidence, and then Hillary lets out a bit of an astonished laugh that she actually had to inform the judge that defense attorneys do, indeed, have a right to see evidence before it's presented. She later relates how the same judge tried to get her to leave the room so as not to offend her delicate sensibilities while speaking to her client. Finally, the part where she laughingly calls the evidentiary issue a "miscarriage of justice" was at the end of a long anecdote about this eccentric forensics expert, and was clearly aimed at that expert's reaction.
If this story is any indication, Hillary Clinton is going to have a long 2016 campaign, because despite her popularity among Democrats, she hardly has a friend in the world when it comes to the media. Conservatives are obviously going back to batshit mode, and the MSM just wants conflict, but among liberals, even those inclined to call out this garbage will have their enthusiasm dampened by their love of Elizabeth Warren.