March 19, 2008

Over 11,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s schedules from her years as First Lady were released yesterday, with hungry reporters anxious to dig in. At first blush, their anticipation is not unfounded — getting a better sense of how Clinton spent her years in the White House could bolster or undermine her claims about her experience, which are obviously underpinning her presidential campaign.

But the schedules themselves are actually kind of boring. As the NYT noted, the records have “all the emotional punch of a factory-worker’s timecard.” The materials aren’t a diary, they don’t include transcripts or gripping details, and they more or less just give a sense of where Clinton was on any given day.

Left with little relevant news, major outlets aimed lower and ran with irrelevant news. Consider this bizarre report from the ABC News “Investigative Unit.”

Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened, according to records of her schedule released today by the National Archives.

It wasn’t just ABC; the lead item this morning on CNN’s political blog was this AP item: “Hillary Clinton was in the White House on a half dozen days when her husband had sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky, according to the first lady’s calendars released Wednesday.” The report goes onto list every single Lewinsky liaison, and where Hillary Clinton was at the time.

These reports are cheap, tawdry, and absurd. By what rationale is this considered important? How does an editor or producer justify humiliating a presidential candidate for no reason?

My suspicion is that shallow journalists, who enjoyed the Lewinsky scandal a little too much a decade ago, never really got over it. Sure, they moved on to other scandals and personal-interest distractions, but they never forgot their first love. Given half a chance, they’ll go right back to it, whether it has news value or not. And yesterday, they were given half a chance.

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