Randall Tobias and Bill Clinton.
Their politics couldn't be more different, but in offices around town Monday people linked their names thanks to the latest Washington sex scandal.
"I can't believe he did that" was a common refrain among people in Indianapolis three days after Tobias resigned from his post as the top foreign aid adviser in the State Department. That often was followed by "I'm so disappointed."
And then an emphatic thought: "What was he thinking?"
Seems like it's 1998 all over again.
The comparison of Tobias' situation to Bill Clinton's could not be more off the mark. When Tobias was asked by ABC News' Brian Ross about his name appearing on the client list of the D.C. Madam, he admitted he used her services, although he denied having sex with any of the escorts. Now, some may be attempted to compare his "there was no sex involved" denial to Bill Clinton's famous "I smoked [pot] but didn't inhale" comment, but that's another debate. Tobias could have simply told Ross he never used the D.C. madam's escort services. He wouldn't have been under oath. And what could Ross have done? Run the story with the risk that the call list was a fraud and face a defamation lawsuit against ABC News. Tobias answered Ross' question truthfully because he's fundamentally the good person so many people in Indianapolis came to know him as.
Ketzengberger quotes a couple of local PR experts who agree that Tobias did the right thing. "I always advise people to own up to things," said Myra Borshoff, a principal at public relations firm Borshoff Johnson Matthews. Borshoff, who is known for advising clients in crisis, thinks Tobias "did the right thing" by confessing his involvement. The confession also means "it's a two-day story at most," said Gene Sease, the veteran PR pro in charge of Sease Gerig and Associates.
But are they right? If you practice the Bill and Hillary Clinton school of ethics, the answer would clearly have been NO. When Bill Clinton was confronted with the Lewinsky scandal, his natural instinct to lie kicked in and he denied and denied and denied. He also hired private investigators to dig up all the dirt they could find on his political opponents, which he successfully used to discredit several of them, including Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde and Dan Burton, to name just a few. Dozens of people's lives were turned upside down as they were forced to lawyer up and appear before a grand jury panel all because Bill Clinton was fundamentally incapable of telling the truth. His lifetime partner, Hillary Clinton, who now wants her turn at being president is no different. Whether it was Whitewater, her $100,000 killing on cattle futures, Travelgate, the White House fundraising scandals, et al, Hillary's natural instinct always kicked in and she denied and denied and denied. The toll for some of her closest friends and advisers was unbearable. But in the end, she survived unscathed.
So I have to wonder whether Tobias was better off telling the truth. Lying seems to work well for Bill and Hillary Clinton. And reading from today's Star about the D.C. Madam's strategy in defending her own case, the only word that comes to mind is the word "blackmail". While she claimed to be apologetic that Tobias got drawn into the affair, she gloats about the success of her strategy:
But Palfrey, who had considered selling the phone numbers to raise money for her legal defense, said she gave the numbers to ABC in hopes the network could identify former clients who could be witnesses. She said ABC's interview with Tobias showed her strategy worked, and his admission "supports my position all along that I operated a sexual, albeit legal, business."
But Palfrey, who asked the media to "put aside the titillation of the who's who list," also chided Tobias for not coming forward on his own.
"Had he done so earlier, along with many, many others who have used my company's services throughout the years," Palfrey said, "I most likely would not
be in my current predicament."
Palfrey didn't have to resort to blackmailing anyone on her client list because she had ABC News' Brian Ross doing her dirty work for her. The truth is that if Tobias had simply denied the allegation, ABC News would have been hard-pressed to run the story. Like Bill Clinton was able to do, he would still have his job and life would go on. It would be interesting to learn how many people on that list Ross called before he found someone who would own up to the fact that they had used the escort services. And it still looks like Ross is only managing to find Republicans on the list of more than 10,000 names. The Star writes, "ABC News, which plans a report on Palfrey to air on Friday's "20/20" program, has said other names and numbers in client records include a Bush administration economist, others at the White House, lobbyists and military officials."