BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. If this is a time of reckoning, for many Americans it may have to include a reconsideration. In February, 1999, during a sort of dénouement in one of our nation's seamiest political scandals, a woman previously known only as “Jane Doe No. 5” told her story.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: He starts to, uh, bite on my top lip and I tried to pull away from him. (CRYING) And then he forces me down on the bed. And I just was very frightened, and I tried to get away from him and I told him, “no.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, unlike today, with the public and the media, for the most part, believing women's awful stories about powerful men, in 1999, we mostly chose not to believe Juanita Broaddrick.
LISA MYERS/NBC: You’re saying that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted you, that he raped you.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: Yes.
LISA MYERS: So you have no -- there’s no doubt in your mind that that’s what happened?
JUANITA BROADDRICK: No doubt, whatsoever.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week, MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted, “…Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.” And this week, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote, I believe Juanita Broaddrick. Michelle, welcome to the show.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Given all of the political commotion swirling around Bill Clinton and allowing that one or more of the accusations of sexual predation against him are true, how is it that he managed to last two full terms as president?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, I think part of it was that the sexual predation wasn't taken particularly seriously. When people talked about Bill Clinton, they talked about affairs.
STEVE KROFT/CBS: Are you prepared tonight to say that you've never had an extramarital affair?
BILL CLINTON: I'm not prepared tonight to say that any married couple should ever discuss that with anyone but themselves.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: So it was talked about less in terms of power and harassment and violence and more in terms of sex. And so, the question, as I remember it, was, do you impeach a president for sex? And most people's answer was no, and to most people impeachment seemed like this absurd overreach. But it was a completely different framework that we had at the time for talking about sex and power and their interaction.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The stories of women like Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey are awful. Paula Jones told Sean Hannity last year that she absolutely would fear for her life under [LAUGHS] a Hillary Clinton presidency.
PAULA JONES: Why wouldn’t we? I mean, there’s been so many things happened to so many people that are connected to the Clintons, and we are --
SEAN HANNITY/FOX NEWS: You fear for your life.
PAULA JONES: Absolutely, I feel that way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Even as we can dismiss some of these particular claims, we can’t necessarily dismiss the women, right, I mean, even if they willingly appear on Breitbart and openly support Donald Trump?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, I don’t think you dismiss women because of their politics but, at the same time, I think that the totality of their accusations does impinge on their credibility, right? I mean, Kathleen Willey's description of Bill Clinton groping her sounds totally plausible but, when you think about the fact that she’d also accused the Clintons of having her husband murdered and her cat killed, it's a very different sort of dynamic than what you usually see in these cases. There were so many bad actors skulking around the margins of every single Clinton scandal that there really was this hall-of-mirrors aspect to it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: I mean, I, I still don't know what I make of Paula Jones’s accusations but what I do know is that she was treated with a degree of kind of contempt and certainly classism that nobody deserves.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine in 2016, before the election and well before Weinstein, he wondered of progressives’ reluctance to renounce Bill Clinton as abusive was tactical. He wrote, “We could have had this reassessment of Clinton’s moral fitness last year. But maybe it seemed like keeping the presidency out of Trump’s hands was more important. And maybe that decision was…understandable.” Is that okay?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: I mean, I think that this is very complicated, right, because it really is true. You know, to some extent, I have a fraction of a degree of sympathy for some of the people who are saying that they're voting for Roy Moore because the party that controls Congress or the party that controls the White House ultimately has much more effect on policy than the character of the individual, So, to some extent, people who are making these really grotesque moral compromises do so, I think, with a fair understanding of how politics works. It’s just up to all of us to decide what is too much to justify keeping people whose policies we consider, you know, disgusting and immoral from taking power. Most people, I think, think that sleeping with a 14-year-old falls into that category, and I think most people think that forcible rape falls into that category, if they believe that that's what Bill Clinton did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you believe Juanita Broaddrick. What do you do with that?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: You know, I’m really not sure, and I think that's one reason why, you know, I would have been happier if I never did really have to reckon with this stuff. There is something uncomfortable for me and, and maybe morally wrong with, you know, saying that we’re going to render someone a pariah because they can't prove themselves innocent in a situation in which there is no way to prove yourself innocent. At the same time, I think that if these two sets of facts were presented to me and probably to a lot of us with different names attached or with no names attached, it would be pretty clear that Juanita Broaddrick’s story, and not just her story, the fact that she told five people contemporaneously, had no interest in going public and was sort of dragged into the limelight against her will, it’s hard to disbelieve her. It’s hard for me to think of a, of a different explanation for the set of facts.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think we’re living truly in a different world now? Would Anita Hill have kept Clarence Thomas off the bench?
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, I don’t know. I mean, we have a president who says on tape that he likes to sexually assault women, who makes no pretense of believing that women are equal and who has paid no price for either the things that he's admitted to doing or the things that he's been accused of doing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michelle, thank you very much.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Oh, thank you so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michelle Goldberg is a columnist for The New York Times.