Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared at Acculturated. It is reprinted here with permission.
American Crime Story show runner Ryan Murphy recently announced that he is planning a series on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. The History Channel just gave the green light to a show on the same subject. And Amazon Studios is slated to do a film related to what has proven to be the biggest crisis to hit the American presidency in the last 45 years.
Murphy’s take is based on CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s 2000 book, The Vast Conspiracy. The book appears to pin the blame for Clinton’s troubles not on Clinton for deciding to perjure himself, but on a network of scheming political opponents on the right. Upon its release, the New York Times called the book “highly partisan” and “willfully subjective.” The Times added that the author “ignores Clinton’s failure in his constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law.”
However, in a Vox interview, Murphy framed the narrative of the time and of the show as “the birth of a certain movement. The alt-right movement in some ways—a movement that was so riled up against the Clintons.” This characterization seems to clear Bill Clinton of culpability for his actions while straining to tie recent events, such as the rise of the alt-right, with Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, which is absurd.
Curiously, one of the people Murphy seeks to depict as a victim differs sharply from him in her view of the alt-right. In an August 2016 campaign speech, Hillary Clinton described the alt-right by quoting the Wall Street Journal, saying the “mostly online” and “loosely organized movement . . . ‘rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism.’”
It wasn’t the alt-right, but movement conservatives who spearheaded impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. They were concerned about his serial abuse of power. This wasn’t the fringe faction Murphy suggests he’ll portray in his series. Why complicate an already complicated story? Vox speculates that Murphy is hoping to air the series during the 2018 midterm elections, perhaps hoping to sway voters with his revisionist history.
The History Channel, meanwhile, is keeping true to the story—mostly. Their project sidelines the scandal of the president’s inappropriate relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, in favor of focusing on the impeachment trial itself. This approach risks preemptively absolving President Clinton of any possible wrongdoing by omitting the very circumstances that led to the charges levied against him by the House in the first place.
At least the History Channel will be tackling the impeachment. Amazon Studios’ film focuses not on the former president’s illegal steps to conceal his impropriety, but instead on the animus between two women, Lewinsky and her friend and confidante, Linda Tripp. Yet even this choice suggests that Amazon is going out of its way to avoid focusing too much negative attention on Bill Clinton.
The three creative works on the Clinton impeachment were announced before revelations were made about the sexual misconduct of Hollywood titan, longtime heavy Democratic donor and staunch Clinton ally Harvey Weinstein. From Manhattan to Hollywood to Capitol Hill, a sweeping cultural reckoning appears to be taking place. This has prompted long-overdue protests on the left about President Clinton’s behavior in relation to his female subordinates. MSNBC host Chris Hayes acknowledged on Twitter, “Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against” Clinton. Progressive liberal journalist Matthew Yglesias declared Clinton abused his position over Lewinsky. The Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan penned a piece castigating feminists for giving the former president’s “sex crimes” a pass. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who now holds Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat, has argued he should have resigned.
Some people have been slow to learn, however. On November 3, HLN aired a two-hour news retrospective on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair headlined, The Monica Lewinsky Scandal. The show chose to highlight not the man of power and influence in the relationship, but rather his early-twenties underling. Lewinsky tweeted out her disapproval, suggesting the title be about the investigation or the impeachment.
It remains to be seen if the cultural attitude shift about workplace harassment will influence American Crime Story, the History Channel, and Amazon Studios as they approach Clinton’s impeachment. Thus far, despite the current climate holding alleged sexual misconduct perpetrators accountable in the court of public opinion, none of these projects appear to have altered course. Hollywood’s ongoing effort to protect Slick Willie is almost as chilling as the sordid story it refuses to tell about our 42nd president.