THE 90s MADE US DO IT
HOW SEX, SCANDAL AND MEDIA SCRUTINY IN THE AGE OF SLICK WILLIE LED TO THE TAWDRY TRUMP TEENS
TWO DECADES AGO, ON A FRIGID night just before the New Hampshire primary, America first met Bill and Hillary Clinton as a couple.
It was January 26, 1992, a drowsier time when daily papers controlled the narrative of presidential campaigns; when CNN was the only cable news network on the air, and blogs didn’t exist. Bill Clinton was the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and face President George H.W. Bush in November.
And then he had what a chief adviser of his would call a catastrophic “bimbo eruption.” Her name was Gennifer Flowers, and the Star, the supermarket tabloid, was about to publish a story saying she and Clinton had had a 12-year affair. In response, Arkansas’s first couple had agreed to a do an emergency interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, to talk about their marriage. The Arkansas governor and his wife insisted on appearing together, and it was her words, more than his, that saved his candidacy.
The Clintons sat beside each other on a couch: Bill, in a suit, with his hands almost prayer-like between his knees, and Hillary, with her arm draped on his back or straying occasionally to settle on his arms. She wore a thin black headband and a turquoise suit with matching turtleneck and eye shadow. She examined her husband lovingly, yet maintained a commanding air, nodding approvingly as he spoke, then jumping in as necessary.
Her husband’s responses to Kroft’s questions were measured, firm and softly delivered. At some points, a viewer couldn’t help think he was a nimble actor, patting his heart and leaning forward. Now and again, he appeared hurt, even vaguely aghast, his bottom lip resolutely chewed or his eyebrows gone all circumflex. Other times, he shook his head or narrowed his eyes to express exasperation with his interrogator.
You’ve said that your marriage has had probKROFT: lems…. What do you mean by that?
I think...people that have been married a CLINTON: long time know what it means and know the whole range of things it can mean.
Are you prepared tonight to say that you’ve KROFT: never had an extramarital affair?
I’m not prepared tonight to say that any marCLINTON: ried couple should ever discuss that with anyone but themselves.... And I think what the press has to decide is: Are we going to engage in a game of “gotcha”?
Finally, Kroft tried to articulate what many viewers were thinking: “I think most Americans would agree that it’s very admirable that you’ve stayed together—that you’ve worked your problems out, that you’ve seemed to reach some sort of understanding and an arrangement.”
“I wanted to slug him,” Clinton would later concede in his autobiography, My Life. “Instead, I said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage.’”
Hillary pounced, and her coolheaded response was the reverberating sound bite: “You know, I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through
and what we’ve been through together. And, you know, if that’s not enough for people—then, heck, don’t vote for him.”
Then, in a portion of the segment that was never broadcast, the overhead lights that had been set up somehow became unmoored, along with their wood-beam mount. The rigging toppled over, with a clamber, barely missing Hillary. “They just kind of popped off,” Kroft remembers, “and came crashing down on the back of the sofa behind the Clintons...[who] lurched forward [to avoid the] burning filaments and flying glass.”
A tragedy averted, Bill Clinton took his wife in his arms, clutched her close, and kept telling her, softly, that he loved her—that everything would be OK. The couple would be fine, but the interview—and Clinton’s presidency—marked the beginning of a seismic shift in American culture, which led to much of what we abhor about the present day.
Sex, Voyeurism and Reality TV
THE SHAME-STRAFED 1990S began two years before that infamous interview, with a blaring tabloid headline in the New York Post: “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had.” The story was about real estate mogul Donald Trump and his lover, Marla Maples—she was supposedly talking about his prowess in the bedroom. This was well before Trump’s career as a reality-tv star (though he had already boasted he could become president).
The decade ended on the eve of the 2000 election with Americans in suspended agitation. They were doubtful that presidential hopeful Al Gore could emerge from the shadow of yet another Clinton extramarital relationship (with White House intern Monica Lewinsky) and his subsequent impeachment (he couldn’t). They also hoped that our computer programs could avoid a global Y2K meltdown (they did, though many tech fortunes would evaporate a few months later with the end of the dot-com bubble).
In between those events, it was much ado about Clinton, the man whose time in office perfectly captured the rapid changes taking place in American culture during the 1990s—the voyeurism and virulence aroused by social media; the thirst for scandal incited by 24/7 tabloid news; the false narratives concocted by reality TV; the breakdown of private barriers (as a result of the World Wide Web); the tacit permission to lie about unethical conduct; and the partisan rancor perpetuated by the culture war.
This was the decade when Americans, as never before, confronted an expanding public encroachment on their personal lives. They were entertained and alarmed by tales of well-known figures ensnared in scandal. They grappled with matters surrounding
sexuality, the web and nascent social media. Sex moved to the forefront of their lives—from the creation of Viagra and the growth of internet porn to the sometimes venomous backlash against both.
Today, a generation after Clinton was sworn in as president, it’s no coincidence we ended up with President Donald Trump. Clinton’s naughty ’90s led to the prevaricating age of George W. Bush (remember “Mission Accomplished”? Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction?). Those 16 years created an environment in which, after two relatively scandal-free terms of Barack Obama, a divided America, accustomed to its versions of faux reality, chose Trump, a serial untruth-teller as president—a man many voters felt they knew because of his reality-tv show.
‘You Ate Good Pussy’
IN EARLY 1992, after the Clintons appeared on 60 Minutes, many voters admired their unflinching commitment to each other. But at least one viewer was aghast. “I was seething with outrage,” Flowers would recount in her memoir, Passion and Betrayal. “To watch the two of them sit there with innocent looks on their faces, lying to the entire country, was infuriating.”
The next night, Flowers showed up at a packed press conference. The media free-for-all—350 people by one estimate, with CNN covering it live—represented a nadir in real-time TV news. Flowers wore a bright honeysuckle suit with black lapels and some majorly ’80s shoulder pads. Her lips were full and red and almost cartoonishly solemn. Her pyrotechnic blondeness, with its cascade of dark roots, wreathed her face like a spray of goldenrod. “The truth is I loved him,” she said. “Now he tells mee to deny it. Well, I I’mm sick of all the deceit, and I’m sickck of all the lies.”
She had the tapes to prove it too. In one snippet, she and Clinton talked about what she might say if reporters asked about the rumored affair; what she recalled with a naughty laugh, was that she would tell them, “You ate good pussy.” Later, Clinton seemed to be urging Flowers to deny what sounded very much like an affair. “If they ever hit you with it, just say, ‘no’ and go on.… If everybody sort of hangs tough, they’re just not going to do anything.… They can’t, on a story like this…if they don’t have pictures.”
The press conference soon devolved from farce to vaudeville. One reporter asked if Flowers would “be so kind as to elaborate on the sex and the relationship you say you had with him over 12 years? We want you to talk about it. That’s why the cameras are all here.” (Flowers declined, telling her to read the Star.)
As the crowd continued to fire off questions, one man distinguished himself from his peers—“stuttering John” Melendez, a fixture on the Howard Stern radio show who’d made his name by ambushing celebrities with comically confrontational queries. “Did Governor Clinton use a condom?” he asked, straight-faced. At once, it became clear that the retaining wall between news and entertainment had collapsed. And now a mock reporter appeared, using tabloid language to lampoon the press, politicians and their pieties.
Stuttering John’s follow-up question: “Will you be sleeping with any other presidential candidates?”
His one-liners underscored why the press pack was there. This was the dawn of the sex-scandal lynch mob. They had come to listen in on what they normally wouldn’t hear. They had come to see for themselves what Bill Clinton might have seen in Flowers. And they had come, cheeky devils, to be in the same room with a woman lusty enough to charm a governor—and crafty enough to switch on a tape player.
Flowers had merely whetted their appetite. They would soon be salivating for more.
The Great American Sex Tape
SOME TIME IN THE MID-’90S, American decorum disappeared. The media began to pay far more attention to the disgrace of others. If there was a tipping point, it may well have been May 6, 1994, the day Paula Jones filed a civil lawsuit against Bill Clinton, alleging that he had made an insulting sexual proposition to her while he was the governor of Arkansas—and later defamed her. (Clinton would deny the charges.)
A month later, an audience of nearly 100 million watched what’s now deemed one of the first real-life reality-tv shows: a phalanx of police cars pursuing former NFL star O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco, days after the killings of his wife and her male companion. Simpson’s subsequent trial would dominate national headlines for more than a year.
The Jones and Simpson cases signaled a massive cultural shift. In previous decades, Americans, as a rule, had tried to suppress many of their baser instincts. Upon encountering a humiliating real-life circumstance, they may
“WILL YOU BE SLEEPING WITH ANY OTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ?”
have been drawn to it, but they were simultaneously repulsed. No more. By the mid-’90s, with the rise of the media’s tabloid fixation, 24/7 news and the internet, our dominant impulse was to eavesdrop, to leer, to pry into the private affairs of others, particularly famous people. The decision by many in the media to turn every alleged wrongdoing into an excuse for spectacle helped news consumers accept and then expect explicit details about embarrassing, sexually compromising or criminal events.
Many of those events stand out—from the Simpson trial to “the wife with the knife,” Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her husband’s penis after she says he raped her (he denied it). But one incident speaks most clearly to the collision of celebrity media, sex and voyeurism, and foreshadowed how the internet would play such a paramount part in our everyday existence.
In late October 1995, disgruntled handyman (and sometimes porn actor) Rand Gauthier reportedly stole a safe from the home of buxom Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and her husband, Tommy Lee, the tattooed drummer of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe. The contents included a home video showing the newlyweds in various states of connubial union. Somehow that footage was then duplicated, packaged and sold off. Despite the lawsuits that followed, an internet porn mogul acquired a copy of the pirated tape and marketed it as a triple-x film.
The video became the Citizen Kane of celebrity sex tapes, and people all over the world—some of whom had never before felt compelled to watch porn—or use the internet, were eager to see it. In her 2005 book, Pornofied, Pamela Paul wrote that the video “is credited with bringing more users online than any other single event.”
This celebrity sex tape scandal wasn’t the first (in 1988, actor Rob Lowe filmed an encounter with two young women, one of them a minor), but it was shocking because it was explicit, it was off-limits—clearly intended for the couple’s private consumption—and it was among the earliest videos to show famous people getting it on. Its reach was also immense. Before the end of the decade, according to The Wall Street Journal, a not-insignificant percentage of the internet’s tens of millions of webpages (many not related to porn) would be meta-tagged with the words “Pam” or “Pamela” or Sextape”—as the site’s owners were hoping to draw residual clicks, gelt by association. A bevy of purloined sex tapes have followed—starring Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Kendra Wilkinson, all of whom became reality-tv stars. (It wouldn’t be until 2017, however, that major media outlets would speculate about a phantom—and likely bogus—sex tape involving the president of the United States.)
By the mid-’90s, the web was the world’s masturbation mecca and the epicenter of the culture wars.
Electile Dysfunction AMERICA’S RABID, HYPERPARTISAN divide began in the early ’90s—and it was mostly about sex. Pop culture had become crude. Pornography was rampant. Casual sexual encounters were more prevalent and less stigmatized. There was a major upsurge
THE PAM ANDERSON AND TOMMY LEE VIDEO BECAME T HE CITIZEN KANE OF CELEBRITY SEX TAPES.
in cases of sexually transmitted diseases. And “the divorce rate remains, stubbornly, one in two,” journalist Joe Klein wrote in a 1992 Newsweek cover story: “The out-of-wedlock birth rate has tripled since 1970.… A nauseating buffet of dysfunctions has attended these trends—an explosion in child abuse, crime…name your pathology.”
Neither Democrats nor Republicans celebrated these developments, but Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the left place at the right time. In the seven months between their 60 Minutes appearance and the Republican National Convention, the couple brought animosity against those who would defend one’s right to choose—and one’s right to love whomever one chose. Despite Bill Clinton’s broad appeal, he and his wife, both proud feminists, were widely vilified. They were the dreaded duo of the 1960s counterculture. Or so said Republicans, evangelicals, right-wing radio hosts and secular and religious conservatives.
Whether out of genuine concern or cynical electoral politics, Republicans tried to capitalize on that view, using increasingly harsh rhetoric and tactics against the Clintons, beginning with their 1992 National Convention in Houston. The gathering was supposed to propel President George H.W. Bush, a moderate, to a second term. But inside and outside the antiquated Astrodome, a far more radical, trash-the-bastards theme had taken hold. Decades before the crowd at the 2016 GOP convention chanted: “Lock her up!” T-shirts at the ’92 Republican confab advised: Blame the Media. Stickers urged: Smile If You Have Had an Affair With Bill Clinton. One placard bore a cannabis logo: Bill Clinton’s Smoking Gun. Another: Woody Allen Is Clinton’s Family Values Adviser.
The virulence went beyond the mordant slogans. Former Nixon speechwriter and ultraconservative commentator Patrick Buchanan had secured nearly a
quarter of all Republican votes in the primaries. Bush had to appease Buchanan’s forces or have his convention implode, so he and the GOP mandarins gave over large swaths of the party platform to the hard-liners. It was packed with provisos related to sexual mores, cultural kashruth and the supremacy of the nuclear family. It sought to ban gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, the sale of porn and public funding that might be used to “subsidize obscenity and blasphemy masquerading as art,” among other things.
The moderate Republicanism of Bush would struggle to wear two masks—and he wound up losing to Clinton that fall. And during the new president’s first term, radical GOP insurgents, led in part by Newt Gingrich, inaugurated an era of “hyperbolic partisanship,” according to historian Geoffrey Kabaservice. “It was Mr. Gingrich who pioneered the political dysfunction we still live with…usher[ing] in the present political era of confrontation and obstruction.”
An erudite history buff with a cherubic presence and silvery helmet of hair, Gingrich became a quantum force in American conservatism. On September 27, 1994, he assembled 367 men and women, all running in that year’s midterm elections, and assembled them as one battalion on the Capitol steps. As the cameras rolled, he had each candidate sign a so-called Contract with America. This measure, beyond addressing popular issues such as tax breaks, street crime, an invigorated military and a balanced budget, focused on some of the same culture-war priorities laid out at the 1992 Republican National Convention. This was great political theater. It also animated and unified the party. Gingrich helped Republicans make massive gains in Congress. And though he’d eventually overreach, leaving an opening for Clinton to win re-election, the hyperpartisan environment he helped create presaged the Tea Party, the rabid Republican response to Obama and the rise of birtherism and other bloviating buffoonery.
He also had some crucial help.
A Brief History of Right-wing Slime
GINGRICH, BUCHANAN AND other forces on the right received a major boost from a newly resurgent rightwing press—from talk radio’s angry high priest of the right, Rush Limbaugh, to the GOP’S fair-haired hatchet man, David Brock—a journalist who slimed the likes of Anita Hill, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. (He would deny all charges.)
Joining Limbaugh and Brock was the decade’s most transformative conservative voice: Fox News. The right-wing cable network, devised by Rupert
Murdoch and developed by Roger Ailes, premiered in 1996. At the time, CNN was being derided on the right as unapologetically leftist; some called it the Clinton News Network. Ailes formulated Fox during the GOP’S stunning Gingrich-led resurgence. It went on the air as Bill Clinton ran for his second term. And Ailes would prove to be its ideal architect: a TV sage with Mcluhanesque instincts; a political strategist who had helped shape hard-right “brands” such as Nixon, Limbaugh and eventually Trump.
Ailes envisioned his channel building its brand on the rancor of the disenfranchised, the public itch for tabloid stories and a moral seething about the Clintons and the culture’s progressive drift. Tempestuous and incestuous (many of its commentators were GOP stars), Fox News would become the party’s 24/7 infomercial, a handmaiden of the right’s successes into the next century. All the while, it would advertise itself as politically evenhanded—what Sam Tanenhaus, the conservative historian, would describe as a “sardonic parody (‘fair and balanced’) of a mainstream media [that] it assumes to be rife with contempt.”
The fourth horseman in this posse was Matt Drudge. He grew up as a Beltway boy who delivered The Washington Star, moved to Hollywood, managed the trinket shop at the CBS Studio Center and in 1995 started a gossipy email blast. He called his creation the Drudge Report—the first comprehensive online aggregator of opinion, headlines, and celebrity and political poop. For a while, his target audience was the rumorati within Washington, Hollywood and the media. But by June 1997, once AOL started co-hosting his site, Drudge was a webwide phenomenon and a fedora-wearing favorite of American conservatives.
With his web links and gossipy droppings, Drudge was a national nemesis and a guilty pleasure. He linked to far-right columns and home pages, some of them borderline batshit—and gave their rants and rumors equal weight with wire-service items. He reported on other reporters’ reporting—and got the biggest political news break of the decade—bill Clinton’s extramarital relationship with Lewinsky, which in turn, would lead to the president’s impeachment.
Limbaugh, Brock, Ailes and Drudge ruled rightwing radio, print, cable and the web. In the ’90s, media types would debate whether the ethical standards of mainstream newsmen and -women applied to bloggers and their ilk. But within a decade, that question was moot. And thanks in part to this quartet of rogues, the dividing lines were ever less distinct between news and rumor, between information and entertainment, between the media’s treatment of one’s public and private behavior.
A clear line can be drawn, attests Tanenhaus, from Drudge in the 1990s to Donald Trump 25 years later. “It all goes back to Drudge in Hollywood,” he says, in an assessment of Trump’s advisers: “From Drudge to the late alt-right news pioneer Andrew Breitbart and then to Steve Bannon, President Trump’s [former] chief strategist. It’s not just the alt-right. It’s alt-politics—outside the two parties, all via sensationalist media.”
As the web and social media gained currency, these new-media,
CLINTON PERFECTED THE SPIN DEFAULT AT THE VERY MOMENT THAT TRUTHINESS WAS BECOMING AN ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
ultraright conspirators were disseminating rumor, agenda-bent screeds and a long and gnarly anti-billary thread—from the slur that they had set up the “murder” of confidant Vince Foster to the loony concoction of the Pizzagate child-sex ring. That blurring of fact and fiction, and the far right’s accusations of a “liberal bias” by a supposedly monolithic mainstream media, led many to see the press, not the politicians, as the problem, despite the bevy of reporters still unearthing legitimate corruption and scandal.
But the damage was done. The definition of truth and facts had become malleable.
The Michael Jordan of Mendacity
IN MY LIFE, BILL CLINTON finally admitted the obvious: that he had lied. “Six years after my January 1992 appearance on 60 Minutes, I had to give a deposition in the Paula Jones case, and…i acknowledged that, back in the 1970s, I had had a relationship with [Flowers] that I should not have had.”
It wasn’t just the Flowers affair that fit into his lying theme. In the fallout of his second-term scandal, he almost lost the presidency by lying under oath about whether he’d had sex. Yet many Americans weren’t fazed by this pattern. For all the pique and wincing and mincing, this tendency to parse the truth was a Clinton habit, a strategy, an ethical tic—and one that many appeared to be adopting in their own lives.
The lesson of the Watergate scandal of the 1970s was that the cover-up—the lie—is always worse than the crime. But modern presidents have long terms and short memories. Clinton and George W. Bush after him would elevate lying into spin art. Over the 16-year span of their back-to-back administrations, truth—as presented by presidents, White House aides, political spinmeisters and media outlets— became rhetorical taffy. News consumers became seasoned skeptics, learning to expect and tolerate a certain level of elastic veracity (a quality the comedian Stephen Colbert later identified as “truthiness”).
Much of this flimflam, of course, predated the 2000s. In his book Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen traces alternate American reality back 500 years. More recently, some form of elastic veracity had been rolled out by Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam advisers and spokesmen, honed by Nixon and his White House aides during Watergate and fine-tuned by Reagan during the Iran-contra scandal—all before the pre-eminence of cable news and the internet.
Yet Slick Willie turned out to be the Michael Jordan of this craft. He perfected spinning as his default mode at the very moment truthiness was becoming an acceptable response in human interactions of every kind—from Wall Street to the ballfield (remember the juice-induced Sammy Sosa-mark Mcgwire home-run race of 1998?).
As the ’90s progressed, Clinton began to incarnate the equivocal. “A clear pattern has emerged—of delay, of obfuscation, of lawyering the truth,” Joe Klein wrote in a 1994 essay in Newsweek. “With the Clintons, the story always is subject to further revision. The misstatements are always incremental. The ‘misunderstandings’ are always innocent—casual, irregular, promiscuous. Trust is squandered in dribs and drabs. Does this sort of behavior also infect the president’s public life, his formulation of public policy? Clearly, it does.”
Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s former press secretary, is more charitable: “[It] was a tactic that Clinton used more effectively—and I don’t mean it in a good way—than anyone I’d ever worked for. In politics, people lawyer the truth, and Clinton did. [He] would say things that were technically true but that created a misimpression that kind of intentionally sent people in the wrong direction. Or, more often, I think he
TRUMP’ S JOURNEY TO THE WHITE HOUSE WOULD HAVE BEEN INCONCEIVABLE WITHOUT THE COARSENESS OF THE CLINTON YEARS.
tried to leave himself wiggle room and change his mind and say he never said [that].”
Years later, both Hillary Clinton and Trump, perhaps the two most distrusted opponents in a modern presidential contest, perpetuated the post-fact syndrome during their 2016 race for the White House. Clinton, from her tenures as first ladyy (Travelgate) up through her time as secretary of state (Emailgate), was considered by many to be an unconscionable obfuscator, while Trump elevated lying to a dark art. “On the PolitiFact website,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof would report, “53 percent of Trump’s [public statements were rated as demonstrably] ‘false’ or ‘pants on fire’—a number that would climb to “71 percent…‘mostly false’” on the eve of the election. This endemic fabricating was tactically deceptive in a manner reminiscent of totalitarian leaders—a pattern made all the more ominous, as Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter has pointed out, since Trump would routinely crib his “talking points from the dark corners at the bottom of the Internet.”
Trump would prove to be the ideal candidate for the era of fake news, hate blogs, “agita”-prop, fearand-ballast news networks, nonstop gossip and Twitter-feed screeds. And it is no exaggeration to state that his candidacy would not have been possible, or viable, had it not been for the rhetorical and stylistic precedents set by the ever-parsing Bill Clinton—and his mendacious detractors on the right.
Crude and Canny
TWO AND A HALF DECADES after the Clintons appeared on 60 Minutes, America elected a president, who once bragged that fame allowed him to grab women by their genitals—largely without consequence.
By then the rules of sex scandals in American politics had changed. The 1990s had ushered in personal branding, reality programming, 24/7 news, tabloid scandal coverage and online self-expression. Although crude and predatory, Trump was a media maestro. He seemed to understand that harnessing the twin forces of traditional media and social media was the new mode for asserting power, for manipulating public opinion (to acquire power), for humiliating or undermining others (who were displaying too much power) and for perpetually deflecting or diverting the influence of those in other power centers (to maintain power). Kim Kardashian knew it, the Islamic State group knew it, Russian President Vladimir Putin knew it. And Trump did too.
His victory augured a new and chilling reality in American life. And there was an unmistakably ’ 90s tenor to it all. Trump’s journey to the White House would have been inconceivable without the coarseness of the Clinton years, a coarseness equally attributable to popular culture and the newfound web, the president’s scandals and the prurience of his right-wing critics.
As Nina Burleigh wrote in Newsweek after the 2016 presidential election, “Amid Trump confirming the size of his manhood on national TV, the return of Bill Clinton’s sexual-assault accusers and a gnarly campaign-capsizing FBI announcement regarding Anthony Weiner’s sexting, election 2016 was a national referendum on women and power.”
And on men in power. And race and power. And the substitution in American politics of rage for reason, entertainment for information and bluster for truth.
BIG LITTLE LIES: Even Clinton’s supporters say he would try to lawyer the truth to leave himself wiggle room to change his mind.
January 1990 Marion Barry The mayor of Washington, D.C., is nabbed in an FBI sting while smoking crack with a former girlfriend. The scene is recorded on videotape as Barry is placed in handcuffs and declares, “Bitch set me up.”
February 1990 Donald and Ivana Trump The couple announce their separation after the New York Post trumpets an alleged comment from Marla Maples, Trump’s lover: “BEST SEX I EVER HAD.”
May 1990 Christian Brando is arrested and later found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death of the boyfriend of his half-sister.
LOVE AND DAMAGE CON
TROL: After the Gennifer Flowers accusations in 1992, Hillary Clinton’s words, more than Bill’s, saved his candidacy and helped him win the presidency.
July 1990 Roseanne Barr At the start of a San Diego Padres baseball game, a jeering crowd drowns out the comedian’s controversial rendition of “The StarSpangled Banner.”
March 1991 William Kennedy Smith After going out with uncle Edward Kennedy, the med student returns to the family home with a young woman. He is arrested on—and later cleared of— rape charges.
July 1991 Pee-wee Herman The comedian, whose real name is Paul Reubens, is caught in an adult movie theater and charged with indecent exposure. Claiming his innocence, he pleads no contest and avoids a public trial.
February 1992 Mike Tyson The boxing champ is convicted of raping Desiree Washington, a beauty queen. Released from jail in 1995, Tyson regains his title but later forfeits his boxing license after biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a bout.
BELITTLED WOMEN: After going public with their stories about Bill Clinton, both Jones, top, and Flowers became fodder for an increasingly scandal-hungry 24/7 press.
October 1991 Elizabeth Taylor The actor weds her seventh husband, Larry Fortensky. As ceremony takes place, a paparazzo paraglides down from the sky and lands on the lawn, only to be clocked by security guards.
May 1992 Amy Fisher Smitten with her married lover, Joey Buttafuoco, the teenager shoots his wife (she survives). Buttafuoco does four months behind bars for sleeping with a minor. Fisher serves seven years for reckless assault.
January 1994 Michael Jackson The king of pop agrees to an out-ofcourt settlement in a child-molestation suit, reportedly paying out $20 million.
January 6, 1994 Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan is whacked with a baton during practice. Kerrigan’s rival, Tonya Harding, and her husband, set up the hit.
December 1992 Lyle and Erik Menendez The brothers go on trial for killing their parents. Despite claiming their father sexually abused them, they are convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy and must spend the rest of their lives in prison.
July 1995 Princess Stephanie of Monaco marries her ex-bodyguard Daniel Ducruet, who is already the father of two of her children.
June 1994 Anna Nicole Smith The pillowy model marries 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall II, an oil baron six decades her senior, who is worth half a billion dollars. He dies the next year.
June 1995 Hugh Grant The actor is arrested with a hooker in Hollywood. He tries to redeem himself by going on The Tonight Show, saying, “I did a bad thing. There you have it.”
MUST-SEE TV: The release of the Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape and the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial were two pivotal events that marked the disappearance of American decorum.
December 1996 Jonbenét Ramsey The brutal slaying of the 6-year-old in Boulder, Colorado, sparks obsessive press coveragec and intensifies criticism of the child beauty pageant boom. Ramsey’s murder remains unsolved.
August 1996 Dick Morris During the Democratic National Convention, thehe Star informs President Clinton’s political strategist that it’s about ut to publish a story saying ng the married Morris hadd been spending time with th a prostitute. He resigns. s.
FAR-RIGHT SUPREMACY? At the 1992 GOP convention, Republican mandarins gave over large swaths of the party platform to hard-liners such as Pat Buchanan.
August 1997 Frank Gifford Sportscaster Frank Gifford—who is married to popular TV talkshow host Kathie Lee Gifford—is caught with a flight attendant, part of a secretly photographed honey trap.
May 1997 Police stop Eddie Murphy while he’s with a transgender prostitute. The comedian is not charged and says he was just helping someone in distress.
April 1997 Michael Kennedy Robert F. Kennedy’s son is alleged to have been carrying on with his children’s underage baby sitter. Michael Kennedy dies several months later in a skiing accident.
Septemberer 1997 Marv Albert lbert The sportscaster is convicted of assault and battery, stemming from an incident involving a woman he had occasionally trysted with. aster nd rom y
January 1998 Bill Clinton
CThe Drudge Report says Clinton had extramarital encounters with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. The president’s testimony about their relations leads to his impeachment. Dru Cl ext encoun H pre testimo re im
August 1997 Princess Diana Diana and a male companion die shortly after their car crashes in a Paris tunnel. Their driver—legally intoxicated at the time and killed in the accident—was reportedly trying to elude the paparazzi.
THE NAUGHTY ’ 90S: Decades after Jones, far right, accused Bill Clinton of making unwanted advances, Americans elected Donald Trump as president. His messy divorce from Ivana Trump, left, no longer seemed to matter.