Defending the American Presidency: Clinton and the Lewinsky Scandal

By Makemson, Harlen | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Defending the American Presidency: Clinton and the Lewinsky Scandal


Makemson, Harlen, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


* Defending the American Presidency: Clinton and the Lewinsky Scandal. Robert Busby. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 264 pp. $65 hbk.

In the aftermath of the Clinton-- Lewinsky scandal, a sorry mess in which none of the players came out looking particularly good, it was hoped that with time, something worthwhile could be learned from the experience. If a blueprint for avoiding a similar debacle was too much to ask for, at least perhaps someone could definitively explain how a president could survive politically after being caught in a sexual scandal while in office and misleading the public, his cabinet, and prosecutors in the matter.

Robert Busby proposes to give us some of those answers in Defending the American Presidency: Clinton and the Lewinsky Scandal. Busby, a lecturer in American Studies at Liverpool Hope University College and author of a previous book about Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal, sets out to analyze the tactics Clinton used to minimize the impact of the Lewinsky matter on his presidency.

Busby correctly recognizes that Clinton faced a much more difficult challenge in shaping the scandal agenda than did predecessors such as Richard Nixon. The cacophony of twenty-four-hour cable news services hungry to fill airtime and grab ratings put a relentless focus on the Lewinsky scandal that spilled over into print coverage. The Internet pushed rumor to the fore and also gave prosecutors an avenue to deliver seemingly damning evidence directly to the public, bypassing traditional media filters. An in-depth examination of how the Clinton public relations team adapted its message in such an environment would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor.

Unfortunately, thebook too often simply rehashes facts with which we are already all too familiar. The first two chapters detail "The Clinton Scandal Epidemic" and recount Troopergate, Nannygate, the two-- hundred-dollar haircut on an airport runway, the original Whitewater probe, and the Vince Foster suicide, then recounts how the Paula Jones sexual harassment case led to the president's affair with an intern being revealed to the public.

Such background would be necessary and helpful if more substantive analysis followed in the later chapters. The text, however, too often relies on restating what is already well known about the Lewinsky scandal, or including detail for detail's sake. As just one example, Busby includes a table from the Starr Report showing that Clinton and Lewinsky participated in ten sexual encounters, fifty telephone calls (some including phone sex), and that Lewinsky gave Clinton thirty gifts and received eighteen in return. Such facts do nothing to advance the author's goal of analyzing Clinton's scandal management and undermine Busby's contention that the scandal was not about sex but about perjury.

Busby makes his strongest analyses in chapter three, "Protecting the President: Damage Limitation and the Lewinsky Scandal," where he examines over time the president's actions, the administration's responses, and attempts by the administration to manage the response of Congress. …

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