Stuart Taylor Jr., the legal affairs journalist whose support of Paula Jones charges against President Clinton so heavily influenced coverage of that salacious lawsuit, has provided us with a laboratory example of press bias. Having examined only half the available evidenceor lesswhen he published his lengthy pro-Jones essay in The American Lawyer last November, Mr. Taylor now has taken a look at some of the evidence on the other side. And guess what? He has reconsidered his earlier conclusions.
The headline on his story in the June 23 issue of Legal Times, a trade journal published by American Lawyer, reads: ÒNew Disclosures Could Cloud Jones Credibility.Ó So far, his findings have received little attention from the mainstream media, with the honorable exception of NBCs Tim Russert, who featured the Legal Times story on Meet the Press on June 22. It has not received mention yet in The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal.
It is a particularly telling omission: Unlike the American Lawyer piece, which actually contained little original reporting, the Legal Times article provides real news.
Mr. Taylor came in for some harsh criticism in this space not long ago because his earlier piece adopted an inappropriate tone of near certainty about the Jones charges. The November article mostly retraced the work of other journalists, and Mr. Taylor at the time was unable to convince the Presidents lawyer, Robert Bennett, to grant him an interview. By returning to the case and uncovering some of the evidence that tends to discredit Ms. Jones, Mr. Taylor did the part of his job that he was unable (or unwilling) to do last November.
Much of the new material comes from Daniel Traylor, the Little Rock, Ark., attorney who first represented Ms. Jones when she made her charges public in 1994. In an interview with Mr. Taylor and another Legal Times reporter, Timothy Burger, Mr. Traylor reveals that his client never told him about the supposed Òdistinguishing characteristicsÓ in the Presidents genital area. The first mention of those stigmata came months later, in a complaint drafted for Ms. Jones by the two Republican lawyers who represent her now. (Mr. Traylor has resigned as her counsel.)
Mr. Traylor also told Legal Times that the original account given to him by Pamela Blackard, a Jones friend who corroborated the charges, was less dramatic and detailed than what she later told reporters (including Stuart Taylor, who deemed her highly credible last fall). In those interviews, she claimed that she had heard the entire tale, Òin X-rated detail,Ó from Ms. Jones minutes after the alleged incident occurred. But according to Mr. Traylor, he was told by Ms. Blackard that Ms. Jones added the most lurid details, about Mr. Clinton exposing himself and asking Ms. Jones to Òkiss it,Ó several days later. Ms. Jones and Ms. Blackard were employees of an Arkansas state agency that was holding a conference in a Little Rock hotel. Then-Governor Clinton came to the conference, which was staffed by the two women, and it was during that event, in an upstairs office suite, that the alleged incident took place.
Another source, who asked for anonymity, also told Mr. Taylor that Ms. Blackard had said Ms. Jones put those juicy bits in her story Òmonths later.Ó And the Legal Times story includes a lengthy interview with another friend of Ms. Jones named Carol Phillips, who at the time of the alleged incident was working as a receptionist in the Arkansas Governors office.
Ms. Phillips is a Clinton supporter who now holds a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington. She says that the day after the alleged sexual harassment, Ms. Jones Òcame by the Governors officeÓ and told Ms. Phillips, in Òa happy and excited manner,Ó that Òshe went up to meet the Governor and they met in a room and they just talked.Ó She and Ms. Jones were in the habit of exchanging gossipy confidences, and Ms. Phillips says that after her conversation with Ms. Jones, she regarded what had happened in the hotel room as Òtotally, totally, totally innocent … He asked her about her job, what did she do for the state, and she told him … I dont think anything happened in there, and the reason I think that is that she would have told me.Ó
As Ms. Phillips tells it, her pal Paula was completely charmed by Mr. Clinton. In the months following her meeting with him, she turned up as often as twice a day outside his office in the state Capitol, carrying official documentsand hoping to catch the Governors eye. She even signed a birthday card from his staff, according to Ms. Phillips, who gave a sworn affidavit to Mr. Bennett back in 1994. Mr. Taylor describes Ms. Phillips as someone who Òexudes a confident, professional demeanor.Ó And he mentions that she is not alone in offering testimony to Mr. Bennett about how Òcalm and happyÓ Ms. Jones seemed after her meeting with Mr. Clinton.
The result of all this is that Mr. Taylora writer who sometimes sounds as if he is wearing black robeshas returned to a more judicious and less judgmental position regarding Jones v. Clinton. Perhaps those who seized upon his intemperate article of last November should take note of his self-correction.