There was a time when this journalist believed that the private lives of politicians should be just that -- private. Then came Bill Clinton's hijinks with an intern wearing a blue Gap dress.
While Clinton certainly demeaned the office in a shoot-the-moon kind of way that even his most challenged predecessors didn't, my big takeaway from the months that I spent covering the impeachment circus full time in 1998-99 was not that his perjurious behavior hadn't been blown out of proportion. It had. No, the overarching lesson that I gleaned is that the private lives of public officials must be able to stand up to scrutiny because it was no longer possible to separate conduct in the office from conduct in the bedroom when there was someone other than the missus between the sheets.
With this in mind, I was one of the very few journos to argue in 2008 that Bill Clinton's private conduct bore close scrutiny because as the husband of Hillary Clinton he arguably would be a co-president if she was nominated and won.
This is because Bill would not morph from an alpha male into a passive male on Inauguration Day. He would have an outsized, historically unprecedented and likely unwelcome impact on her presidency and government -- and all the more so if it was found that his wandering eye was continuing to take him off the marital reservation as it so infamously had as Arkansas governor and then president.
So it didn't exactly come as a shock that it was an open secret among the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign staff -- as well as the guys and gals on the press bus -- that Bill indeed was having an ongoing affair as the missus battled Barack Obama.
This is confirmed well after the fact from the tittering and twittering sensation of the moment. That would be Game Change, Mark Halperin's and John Heilemann's tell-all on the 2008 race, which states that Mrs. Clinton set up a "war room within a war room just to deal with questions about her husband's libido" after it was learned that Bill was "indeed having an affair -- and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship."
"For months, thereafter," they write, "The war room within a war room braced for the explosion, which her aides knew could come at any moment."
Well, it turns out that Game Change is not a tell-all because H&H, while going deep and then some in dishing McCain-Palin and Edwards campaign dirt, were unable to bring themselves to identify the woman -- said to be divorced and the mother of several children -- let alone say anything substantial about she and Bill.
The unwillingness of the media to out Bill Clinton then and continue to pretty much give him a free pass now is extraordinarily unprofessional because his philandering was and remains something of a national-security issue. Seriously.
This brings us to to the unapologetic rationalization of Mayhill Fowler, who covered the campaign for the Huffington Post and explains ad nauseam why she joined in this conspiracy of silence: If she knew about Bill's squeeze then surely Kate Seelye of The New York Times and other media potentates did, the squeeze's kids were still minors and revelations about their mother would embarrass them in front of their high-school peers, and . . . rather unbelievably, she is personally scarred because her grandmother had been seduced by E.H. Crump, the legendarily corrupt Memphis machine politician, who then used their affair to try to blackmail her grandfather.
Fowler deserves to have every press card and credential hanging from the chain around her neck flushed down the nearest toilet. But then so does Seelye and her fecklessly blindered peers.
It turns out that the only publication to mention Bill's mistress during the campaign was the National Enquirer, which famously outted John Edwards for his affair (and mating) with Rielle Hunter that the Seelyes infamously pretended didn't exist.
As the Enquirer suggested and H&H now confirm in Game Change, the public John and Elizabeth Edwards of virtue, sweetness and light masked an ego so monstrous that the presidential wannabe practically dared the media to expose him and a crazy wife whose hair-on-fire complicity put the lie to the belief that she was a spouse besmirched.
Some of my peers argue that Game Change and dirt about the Clinton and Edwards tandems is gossip and not journalism.
"We tried to tell a story of the intimate reality of what it's like to run for president," says Heilman, while failing to note that the real story of Bill and Hillary and John and Elizabeth was not told when it mattered most.