The facts are these. In 1975, before she married Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham defended a child rapist in Arkansas court. She was not a public defender. No one ordered her to take the case. An ambitious young lawyer, she was asked by a friend if she would represent the accused, and she agreed. And her defense was successful. Attacking the credibility of the twelve-year-old victim on the one hand, and questioning the chain of evidence on another, Clinton got a plea bargain for her client. He served ten months in prison, and died in 1992. The victim, now 52, has had her life irrevocably altered — for the worse.
Sometime in the mid 1980s, for an Esquire profile of rising political stars, Hillary Clinton and her husband agreed to a series of interviews with the Arkansas journalist Roy Reed. Reed and Hillary Clinton discussed at some length her defense of the child rapist, and in the course of that discussion she bragged and laughed about the case, implied she had known her client was guilty, and said her “faith in polygraphs” was forever destroyed when she saw that her client had taken one and passed. Reed’s article was never published. His tapes of the interviews were later donated to the University of Arkansas. Where they remained, gathering dust.
Contrary to what you may have heard over the past week, Clinton’s successful defense of the rapist Thomas Alfred Taylor is not “old news.” On the contrary: For a CV that has been scrutinized so closely, references to the rape case in the public record have been rather thin. One of those references came from Clinton herself. In 2003, when she was a senator from New York, and published her first memoir, Living History
, Clinton included a brief mention of the case, mainly as a way to take credit for Arkansas’s first rape-crisis hotline. And in 2008, Glenn Thrush — then at Newsday
— wrote a lengthy article on the subject.
Don’t remember it? There’s a reason. “My then-editor appended a meaningless intro to the story, delayed and buried it because, in his words, ‘It might have an impact,’” Thrush said in a June 15 tweet. Well, the editor got his way. It didn’t have an impact.
The occasion for Thrush’s tweet was “The Hillary Tapes” by the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman, who obtained the Reed interview and made it public for the first time. Goodman is careful to quote a source saying that, once an attorney takes on a client, he is required to provide that client with the strongest possible defense. Yet the same source also noted that Hillary Clinton’s subsequent narrative of the case — specifically, her implication to Reed that her client had been guilty all along — raised serious questions regarding attorney-client privilege. And Goodman also notes the casual and complacent manner in which Clinton treats such a morally fraught episode, as well as the “parallels between the tactics Clinton employed to defend Taylor and the tactics she, her husband, and their allies have used to defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing over the course of their three decades in public life.” Pretty newsworthy, it seems to me.
And yet, looking over the treatment of Goodman’s scoop over the past week, I can’t help thinking that the reaction to “The Hillary Tapes” is just as newsworthy as the tapes themselves. That reaction has been decidedly mixed. Not long ago, in 2012, the Washington Post ran an extensive investigation into the “troubling incidents” of Mitt Romney’s prep-school days, whereupon the media devoted hour after hour to the all-important discussion of whether Willard M. Romney had been something of a child bully. Here, though, we have a newly unearthed recording of Hillary Clinton laughing out loud over her defense of a child rapist — and plenty of outlets have ignored the story altogether. The difference? As the Newsday editor said: It might have an impact.