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1991 - Have you ever …?

Brummett predicts the media's below-the-belt fascination with candidate Clinton.

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You know, political columnist John Brummett may be a legendarily grumpy old bear in the dark woods of Arkansas media, but that don't mean the boy ain't right - maybe even right most of the time. A good example is Brummett's June 1991 column in the Arkansas Times. Therein, Brummett read the tea leaves, predicting the coming crush of media scrutiny about soon-to-be presidential candidate Bill Clinton's sexual infidelity. During the 1990 gubernatorial race, Brummett pointed out, a fired employee of the Arkansas Finance Development Authority first raised the zipper issue about Clinton, claiming the governor had carried on affairs with several women, including a few local celebs. The allegations, mostly well-worn, went largely unreported in the local press. "An equally pertinent question went unasked," wrote Brummett. "Whether the reports, if true, were of any legitimate interest to anyone other than the governor, his wife, and the women who were named." The sleeping dog slept until 1991, when Clinton made a trip to Cleveland to chair a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council. As soon as Clinton's feet touched the tarmac, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran with a story detailing rumors of Clinton's indiscretions and quoting Arkansas Republican Sheffield Nelson as saying that Clinton would never run for president because he would not address questions about his infidelity. Citing previous politicians who had gone down in flames over a specific sexual dalliance - and the lack of anything more concrete than rumor to pin on Clinton - Brummett wrote, "I think Nelson is wrong to say that Clinton will have to answer the sex question if he runs for president. It is more accurate to say that his refusal to answer it will kindle the speculation that he is vulnerable to it, and he will be dogged by it." Give that man a cigar. Too, Brummett could hear the avalanche rumbling in the distance. "We have had capable presidents who were unfaithful to their wives," he continued. "But we live in a new, increasingly puritanical time. Ever since Gary Hart was photographed with a blonde in his lap on a friend's sailboat, marital infidelity has been established as a flaw that is appropriate for public consideration." How right he was. Soon after Clinton announced his candidacy for president in October 1991, the mainstream media damned the torpedoes and went full speed ahead with stories about Clinton's alleged sexcapades in Little Rock. Still, Brummett admits today that he didn't anticipate how far they'd go to root out Clinton's past. "I expected the media to go chasing after every rumor during the campaign," Brummett told the Times in a recent e-mail. "I mistakenly thought it would end after he won, naively unaware of the right-wing attack machine, not quite a vast conspiracy, encompassing rich benefactors and biased media outlets. "They went after Clinton because he's what Republicans hate most," he said. "A politically talented Southern Democrat."

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