WASHINGTON – No one was killed in a surprise attack on America 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 1998, yet the country was rocked by the events that transpired that Friday morning.
Three years before four airliners hijacked by jihadists would crash into New York’s Twin Towers, the icon of financial prominence, the Pentagon, the symbol of military power, and an obscure field in Pennsylvania – all told resulting in the deaths of nearly 2,000 Americans and setting the country on a course of decades of costly wars and economic and social calamity – the U.S. faced a political and cultural crisis of a different kind.
It was “the other 9/11” – the day America lost its innocence.
It was the day Congress released “the Starr Report,” which included 11 possible “high crimes and misdemeanors” and setting off a chain of events that would lead to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton just three months later.
There was no Facebook or Twitter back then. “Google” hadn’t yet become a verb meaning to search the internet. Yet, somehow Americans got the news breaking too fast for even 24-hour cable news to digest. There were no “blogs” let alone a “blogosphere.” There was the DrudgeReport, which played such a critical role in the unfolding national melodrama, WorldNetDaily, the first independent, alternative online news-gathering enterprise, later to become known as WND, and the palace guard known pretty much known as the rest of the media.
Clinton’s presidency would survive when the Republican Senate refused to hold a real trial, let alone convict on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. But America would never again be satisfied being spoon-fed the news in quite the same way. The seismic political after-effects were felt in the presidential election of 2016 and are still reverberating today with another controversial special counsel investigation of another president.
Back then, before the “#MeToo” movement, the lives of women like 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Paul Jones, Juanita Broadrick, Kathleen Willey and dozens of others, were dismissed by the political and media establishments, as well as first lady Hillary Clinton, as little more than political “collateral damage.”
Within two days of this other 9/11, 20 million people had read the 455-page report, with more held back only by overloaded servers.
Still, what we euphemistically call “the mainstream media” would not report the details of President Clinton’s sexual escapades in the White House nor the cover-up that led to the first perjury and obstruction charges against a sitting U.S. president since the 19th century.
To this day, Monica Lewinsky, now 42, refuses to talk about her experiences of that time in any detail, last week walking off the set of a Jerusalem event hearkening back to that traumatic time for her and the nation.
Almost forgotten in the events of that “other 9/11” is Clinton’s White House breakfast with religious leaders in which he claimed to have “a broken spirit.”
“I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to the end of this, to the rock-bottom truth of where I am,” Clinton said. “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine. First and most important, my family, my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.”
He went on to say: “I have repented. I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be – a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek, a renunciation of the pride and the anger, which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain.” He would not step down, though. Instead he offered to seek “pastoral” counseling while instructing his attorneys “to mount a vigorous defense using all available, appropriate arguments.”
An entire generation understandably recalls few of the details of what actually transpired in those momentous and historical days 20 years ago. Perhaps the best account can be found in former House impeachment manager James Rogan’s comprehensive book, “Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment.”