Monday, June 9, 2003

Hillary says, yes, she forgives Bill

She tells Barbara Walters: 'I hope we'll grow old together'

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You can question Hillary Rodham Clinton's choice in men - but not in women. To promote her new Living History autobiography, to be released today, Clinton wisely chose the first lady of TV news: Barbara Walters.

The veteran TV journalist crafted a compelling one-hour broadcast Sunday from her three exclusive interviews with the former first lady, and now U.S. senator from New York.

It was candid and conversational, and not once confrontational. But most of all, Walters kept the juiciest tidbit until the end.

Viewers had to wait the full hour to hear Clinton answer the question - "the big question" teased in the opening moments: Why is she still married to former President Bill Clinton?

"I'm often asked why Bill and I have stayed together," Clinton said.

"All I know is that no one understands me better, and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does. Even after all these years, he's still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I've ever met."

It was a masterful stoke, considering that those who buy it will read that passage just 75 pages into the 562-page book. Yes, Walters knows how to deliver compelling television.

As expected, half of the special, Hillary Clinton's Journey: Public, Private, Personal, focused on Clinton's relationship with her husband after he lied to her - and the rest of the nation - about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

'I was beside myself'

"I was furious. I was dumbfounded. I was, you know, just beside myself with anger and disappointment," she said.

"I couldn't imagine how he could have done that to me, or to anyone else, and that's what I basically told him. ... It was a terrible time for all of us as a family."

Although many of us had read or heard of leaked excerpts from the book last week, it still made great television to see Clinton, calmly and cordially, recounting the darkest days of her life. She not only was selling her book, but also quite possibly winning votes for any future national election. Who couldn't sympathize with her, after the humiliation her womanizing husband put her through so publicly?

"I've read about some people who threw their husband's clothes out the window on their lawn. I couldn't do anything like that, although, you know, I could have wrung his neck for a million reasons," she said.

Did she consider separation or divorce?

"I thought about everything, and that's all I spent doing, thinking hard ... Getting through those days was very hard."

Finally, she did forgive him.

"It took a long time, but I reached the point where I decided that I was either going to have to forgive and let go of the anger, and the disappointment that I felt, or we weren't going to have a marriage.

"And both of us worked very, very hard to reach that point. ... It was something that we, you know, had to work toward. I didn't just wake up one day and decide. It took quite some time."

Clinton revealed that she and her husband sought counseling to repair their fractured relationship. Surprisingly, Walters did not press for follow-up details: How long? Jointly? Did her husband attend willingly?

What little was said about their therapy sessions on the ABC special just helped plug the book:

"As I also write in the book, we have spent some time in counseling, which I highly recommend to people...

"I learned during the counseling that ... this was a marriage and a love that I wanted to try to preserve, if it could be, and I was willing to try."

Despite her reputation for being a tough interviewer, Walters let Clinton off the hook several times throughout the hour - which again worked to Clinton's advantage.

She never explained how her husband reconciled his denials about having an affair with Gennifer Flowers - the subject of a CBS News special early in the 1992 primary - with later admissions of the affair.

Though Clinton made clear she won't run for president next year - "Absolutely, I'd say no" - she talked around a possible White House campaign in '08.

'We've been tried and tested'

But the most glaring omission came in the final minutes, when Walters bluntly asked: "Do you trust your husband totally today?"

Clinton, clearly a skilled politician, gracefully sidestepped by replying:

"You know, we've really been tried and tested, and we are at the point now that we're looking forward ... I hope that we'll grow old together. That's how I look at our future."

Walters then closed the show by noting that as Clinton's "journey continues, she'll have plenty of material for a second autobiography."

And for another exclusive TV interview to promote her next book. You can bet she'll choose her TV interviewer wisely again.


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