The TV Interview that Haunts Hillary Clinton

In 1992, she helped save Bill’s candidacy. Yet the picture Americans saw has hurt her ever before since.

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With red lips, blue eye and large blond hair, a previous newscaster and lounge singer named Gennifer Flowers had actually talked to a supermarket tabloid about how she had been presidential candidate invoice Clinton’s mistress because that 12 years. The was approximately his wife to deal with it. For this reason on Sunday, January 26, 1992, on 60 minute on CBS, in a time slot immediately following the at sight Bowl, Hillary Clinton responded fiercely to questions around her husband’s reported infidelity and also the nature of your marriage—by invoking the surname of a country music star.

“You know, I’m no sitting here, some tiny woman standing by my male like Tammy Wynette,” she said, wearing yellow earrings and also a black color headband, perched beside him ~ above a couch in a hotel suite in Boston and also waving she clenched right hand. “I’m sit here due to the fact that I love him, and I respect him, and also I respect what he’s been through and what we’ve been with together. And also you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck—don’t poll for him.”

This was America’s introduction to Hillary Clinton, and it worked—for she husband. What she walk on 60 Minutes saved his candidacy and also his politics career. Many agree he would certainly not have come to be president there is no it.

For her, however, it came at a steep cost. In 10 minutes of television, she projected a collection of complicated, also conflicting images—forthright but defensive, feisty but dutiful—triggering the mix that skeptical, antagonistic feelings the have defined her through a share of the American public ever before since.

Now, together she gets closer come the presidency than any type of woman ever has, she is struggling through unfavorable ratings that would certainly be historically high if it no for she opponent’s being even higher. There room substantive reasons, as with any type of politician v a long public record, but underlying them are the very same frictions that pertained to the fore in the 60 minute interview—sentiments that, fair or not, have grown only much more pronounced v Clinton’s perennial, awkward and also generally unsuccessful efforts to re-introduce herself, come redefine herself.

It didn’t need to be this way.

Some that her crucial staffers indigenous the ’92 campaign said in interviews v the they feeling deep, lasting regret about this legacy. There was so lot to occupational with, lock explained—her education reform, she advocacy because that children, her role as a mother, as opposed come the harder, an ext threatening persona of one ambitious corporate lawyer or do-anything operator—and yet “there was small strategic thought given to how to existing her come a broader audience,” according to Richard Mintz, her staff director during that campaign. This, he and also others said, was due to the fact that of time constraints, and because the Clinton bid at an early stage was seen as a lengthy shot, and because everybody was understandably much more worried about how to package him, no her, and because staffers observed her together so intelligent and capable the it didn’t dawn top top them that she would need political aid herself. In retrospect, though, there to be one possibility to aid her make a very first impression, they said. And they blew it.

“It’s one of the good regrets, seriously, of mine life,” Mintz said.

“Certainly ns feel choose we can have done, and should have done, a better job. There is a many regret in me,” stated Patti Solis Doyle, the veteran politics strategist who was a young an elderly adviser to Hillary Clinton in that campaign. “There was never any, ‘Oh, Hillary might be a difficulty …”

There was, though, a problem—albeit one that wouldn’t be fully understood because that years come come. Due to the fact that of the dire circumstances under i m sorry she was compelled to go into the nationwide glare, the enduring paradox the Hillary Clinton to be cemented before the Super key champion Washington Redskins had actually flown home. The illustration on 60 minute amounted come a mandate come come off strong enough to aid him yet not so strong as to hurt him, an nearly impossible balancing act. Also as she was placing up an reliable unified front, she was presenting to an estimated 50 million viewers a tangle the contradictions. She want to present her independence—a high quality that ended up alienating a whole set of traditionalist voters—but she to be standing by she man—a decision the still today pushes away younger people who see it together a sort of surrender. She had her own career, yet she was likewise the “wife of.” It was a extension of the basic tension that had actually underscored her nearly two decades living in Arkansas—but now this knotty push-pull to be laid bare in the harshest of nationwide spotlights.

That image of an assertive, outspoken woman was reinforced 7 weeks later when on in march 16, 1992, she comment to questions around the figure of conflicts of interest between her work-related as a partner at among the most prestigious legislation firms in Arkansas and also her husband’s place as the governor of the state by unleashing a headstrong remark countless women discovered insulting.

“I expect I can have remained home and baked cookies and also had teas,” Clinton snap to reporters at a restaurant referred to as the liven Bee during a project stop in Chicago, “but what I determined to do was to fulfill my profession, which i entered before my husband was in public life.”

These 2 sound-bite snapshots and the time in between turned Clinton right into a Rorschach test through which civilization from coastline to coastline wrestled through a woman’s role at home, in ~ work and also in politics. She came to be a contentious problem in the coverage the the campaign, which brought about a too-little, too-late initiative to amend the approach and “soften” the look at of the highest-profile surrogate, which brought about the initial ring of discussion in the national media about who she “really” was and whether her marital relationship was true love or a calculating political partnership.


Here heading into the critical month and a fifty percent of this mad, hinge-of-history election, and as Clinton prepares for an additional high-stakes TV moment—the hotly anticipated very first debate versus Donald Trump—her former staffers and also longtime friends can’t help but look ago to the 60 minutes interview and also the comment about “cookies” and “teas” and also see the unmistakable roots of her penchant because that stilted caution and the public’s implacable suspicions.

“Boy,” claimed Nancy Wanderer, who’s been friends through Clinton because they were classmates in ~ Wellesley College. “Two short tiny sentences that packed a the majority of punch. … I simply said the various other day, ‘When go this business start, once people started to not like her, no trust her?’ and also I think the the 60 minutes interview.”

“There was this means of seeing her in a particular light,” said Jan Piercy, another close girlfriend from Wellesley, “that she can not shake.”

“The an excellent tragedy is that we shed the thread the was at her core,” claimed Mintz, her employee director. “It’s more than likely one of the good political missed opportunities of all time.”


He always needed her more than she needed him.

“Hillary doesn’t need to stay through Bill Clinton,” her girlfriend Linda Bloodworth-Thomason claimed in 1992. “She might get come the Senate or perhaps the White residence on her own—and she to know it.”

“She had more choices than any type of woman in America,” her girlfriend Susan Thomases claimed the exact same year. “But she chose this and chose to make her life v him.”

And the selection was forged from crucial compromise: A whip-smart, aggressive, Yale-prepared attorney, she had left behind avenues in East coast power cities and moved come rural, out-of-the-way Arkansas to marry among the most promising political talent of her generation.

Her virtually two decades in the state spooled out as a collection of assertions the independence—rural health treatment reform, state education and learning reform, helping to begin the Arkansas proponents for Children and Families and the state’s very first neonatal nursery, national recognition for her work-related as a lawyer, seats on boards—but additionally concessions. She walk corporate law, i m sorry wasn’t she passion, rather of children and also family law, i beg your pardon was, because it permitted her to be a far better provider—to do a salary three to four times what her husband made together the governor. She took off she glasses and put in contact lenses. She changed her hair. She readjusted her clothes. She readjusted her name. For her own career, she want to be Hillary Rodham. For her husband’s career, she had to be Hillary Clinton.

“I think that world who are married to political leaders are under a tremendous strain,” Clinton said earlier in 1979, in one interview on local TV weeks into her time as the mam of a governor, “because unless you have a pretty solid sense the your own self-identity, it becomes very easy to it is in buffeted around by every the people who are about your husband.”

“She had actually to execute this, she had actually to execute that—and she acquiesced,” claimed Ann Henry that Fayetteville, who’s been her girlfriend for more than 40 years. “Because it is what they want her to do, OK? that’s what Arkansas want her come do!”

“I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this is the mrs that rose to the top at Wellesley, the was president of our university government, because we believed she to be so competent and intelligent,’” Wanderer said.

“The person she was,” Wanderer said, “wasn’t going to it is in acceptable down there. It to be a substantial sacrifice.”

The sacrifices continued. The fall prior to the 60 minute interview, in a trip to Chicago soon after her husband had announced his presidential candidacy, she invested a night with Piercy, an additional college friend.

“She stated to me, ‘You know, Bill’s been attorney general and governor, and also we’ve been in the public eye because that years now—but there’s something it is absolutely a different universe once you step right into this running for the presidency,’” Piercy said. “It really was a moment of stepping throughout a line, and also it worried her.”

It is just with the advantage of hindsight, of course, the everybody agrees bill Clinton wouldn’t have been president without what Hillary Clinton did on January 26, 1992. It took a second-place end up in the brand-new Hampshire main some 3 weeks later, after i beg your pardon he practically declared win by dubbing self “the Comeback Kid.” It took a faltering economy. It took a breakable incumbent in George H.W. Bush. It took, in the end, a success in November the made the the 42nd president of the unified States.

He hadn’t announced he was running till October the the vault year, and in those first couple of months, one more former staffer stated in one interview, “the project leadership was focused on bill Clinton and had not yet totally considered Hillary’s role.” But all of a sudden, with the eruption of the flowers story, it couldn’t have been much more clear: “We bet a whole project on a solitary interview,” communications director George Stephanopoulos would certainly write in his memoir—and Hillary Clinton, no Bill Clinton, was by much the most vital cog.

“We were under push from the story that had actually been published in the garbage tabloid,” project chairman Mickey Kantor stated in an interview. “We thought the best person to address these, of anybody, to be her.”

As optimal strategist James Carville would say later: “No her, no go.”

“Did she want to execute that interview,” Doyle said. “Abso-frickin’-lutely not. This to be survival. She was going to fight. She to be fighting for her husband, because that herself, for your political careers.”

So in the post-Super key interview on CBS, Hillary Clinton offered the expression “zone the privacy,” and he “acknowledged wrongdoing” and also “causing pains in my marriage” however stopped quick of an outright denial the couldn’t provide without lying. But what elicited what became the most unforgettable comment indigenous either among them was a question from 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft in which that expressed the notion that their marriage was “an understanding,” “an arrangement.”

“Wait a minute,” invoice Clinton said. “You’re looking in ~ two civilization who love every other. This is no an plan or an understanding. This is a marriage.”

At which point Hillary Clinton piped up and said what she said around Tammy Wynette.

“I great I had let him have actually the critical word,” she would write a little more than a decade later.

Still, in ~ the time, what came throughout on the screen, at the very least to her friends anywhere the country, was … authentically her.

“That was my friend,” said little Rock’s Skip Rutherford, that watched in ~ a Super bowl party turn Clinton viewing. “That was my girlfriend Hillary.”


She referred to as Doyle the night the aired. “She referred to as me to ask how I thought it went,” Doyle said. “I told her I assumed she was really strong, yes, really forceful, and also appeared really committed to she husband and to she family.” Clinton thanked her.

“She was certainly pleased,” Doyle added. “She was happy with it since she to be truthful. She claimed what she had actually to say. I love this guy. I respect this guy. Really matter of fact.”

And in countless corners that the press, she was praised. The Economist dubbed her “sharp-tongued” and also “attractive.” “Tough woman, this Hillary Clinton,” created a columnist for the Los Angeles day-to-day News. The TV doubter at the Washington article said bill Clinton “looked like a fear kid. No a presidential image. Hillary Clinton, top top the other hand, showed up impressively impervious, saying perhaps the the dorn Clinton is to run for office.”

She was lauded also by a leading brand-new Hampshire Republican.

Said Tom Rath, then a George H.W. Bush appointee as a manager of the Legal solutions Corporation and now a Insider, come the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day after 60 Minutes: “The big winner to be Hillary Clinton. I think he’s gained a difficulty still.”

But she also drew some fire from exterior the pundit class.

“Tammy’s madder than hell,” Wynette’s 5th husband called USA Today.

Wynette composed a plainspoken open letter in which she actually reduced right to the crux, demanding an apology and also portraying the aspiring West soup spouse as an elitist enabler riding she husband’s coattails. “I think you have actually offended every human being who has actually made it on their very own with no one to take it them come the White House,” the singer said. She tested Clinton to “stand toe to toe with me. I have the right to assure you, despite your education, friend will uncover me come be just as bright.”

Told that Wynette’s reaction throughout a meeting through the editorial board of a little newspaper in grand Junction, Colorado, Clinton rolled her eyes and slapped her forehead, according to an account from the connected Press. “I didn’t average to pains Tammy Wynette as a person,” she said. “I occur to be a country-western fan.”

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But Clinton couldn’t uncover the right tone and also stick with it. She appeared to vacillate in between apologetic and apoplectic. She stated sorry to Wynette, again, two nights after that national TV top top ABC’s Primetime Live—in a an extensive feature in which she also offered up a withering dismissal of Flowers, calling she a money-grubber, a fame-chaser, “some failed cabaret singer that doesn’t have actually much of a resume come fall back on.”

And the world readily available its critique. Even Richard Nixon weighed in.

“If the mam comes with as gift too solid and as well intelligent, it renders the husband look prefer a wimp,” the former president told the new York time a week and a half after the 60 minute interview. Nixon quote Barbara shrub as the version wife—somebody who has actually her own opinions yet doesn’t upstage her husband.

By March, a new narrative had emerged. Stated the Washington Post: “Hillary Clinton, make the efforts to have actually it All; Lawyer, Author, Activist, Strategist, Mother, Political wife … and also Now, politics Problem?”

Further complicating matters for her: the an initial story in the Times about the money-losing genuine estate transaction in Northwest Arkansas that ultimately would metastasize into the Whitewater scandal and an post in the write-up headlined, “The uncertain Intersection: Politics and Private Interests; Hillary Clinton’s regulation Firm is prominent With State.”

Jerry Brown, the governor of California and an opponent in the presidential primaries, brought up the Post post in a debate, accusing invoice Clinton the funneling money to his wife’s firm—a false representation. He comment to Brown’s charge of “corruption” by calling the a liar and also saying he “ought to it is in ashamed” because that “jumping on mine wife.”

The following day, the day prior to the Illinois and also Michigan primaries, with tension mounting, reporters approached Hillary Clinton at the busy Bee.

“Back then,” said Jim Cullinan, a staff aide act her development work, who was there, “it was much an ext casual in terms of the press being close come her.”

Out come the comment about “cookies” and “teas.”

“Exasperation,” stated Piercy, her friend. “Complete exasperation.”

“Just pure frustration,” said Jody Franklin, she chief of staff on the campaign.

“I think this nation wasn’t prepared for a professional, strong, extremely competent, feminist an initial lady—I think the country was not all set for that, and the campaign didn’t recognize that,” Franklin said. “And there she was, acquiring humiliated top top 60 Minutes, saving him—and climate she gets shit because that it. And then she gets shit for … working, for simply having actually a job.”


The Clinton brain trust knew immediately “cookies” and “teas” would be a big problem.

“As shortly as ns heard that,” Paul Begala, a chef strategist for the campaign, would say in 2000, “I thought, ‘People space going to take it that out of context. They’re going to suggest she no care around stay-at-home moms.’ So ns went approximately her and I told her that. I pulled her aside, and also I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve acquired to walk restate this. Human being are going come think it is an assault on stay-at-home moms.’ and also she had actually the most wounded and naïve look on she face. … She had actually no idea that might be taken out of context. She said, ‘No one can think that.’ She said, ‘I would certainly have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. My mommy was a stay-at-home mom. I simply didn’t have actually a choice because bill was making $35,000 a year and also we needed to assistance the family.’ ns said, ‘I understand that.’ and she said, ‘Oh, you problem too much.’ ns mean, it was unimaginable to her that that would certainly be a firestorm. Ns was particular it would certainly be.”

So outside, ~ above the sidewalk in the cold, she tried come clean the up.

“The job-related that i have done together a professional,” she explained, “as a publicly advocate, has been aimed in part to assure that women deserve to make the selections that they need to make—whether it’s permanent career, permanent motherhood, part combination, depending upon what phase of life they space at.”

It didn’t help.

And over there she was, getting humiliated on 60 Minutes, conserving him—and then she gets shit for it.”

The following day, her husband winner the primaries in Michigan and Illinois, closeup of the door in top top the democratic nomination—but headlines were about her. “Hillary Clinton law Career brings Up Spouse function Issue,” claimed the Los Angeles Times. “Hillary Clinton is fair political game,” claimed the Chicago Tribune. “Hillary Clinton defends herself,” said the Boston Globe.

And on NBC, make a connection that would certainly calcify native there, correspondent Lisa Myers tied “cookies” and also “teas” come 60 Minutes. “Hillary Clinton’s solid performance throughout the Gennifer flowers episode helped save her husband’s candidacy,” Myers reported. “But now, she might be fast coming to be an issue herself.”

Times columnist william Safire provided it a name: “The Hillary Problem.”

Gloria Cabe, the campaign’s conference liaison and the manager that its office in Washington, worried the it had actually the potential to be “fatal.”

“We gained lots of phone calls,” Cabe later said. “And that was apparent to me that not just were we hearing from traditional women who had chosen, for everything reason, to remain at home with your children, but we were inundated v calls from skilled women that felt it had actually insulted them, who had made the decision to take a few years off—and many of them talked about baking cookies.”

The campaign devised a food shift—the type of Hillary-specific strategy her advisers to speak hadn’t entirely existed up until that point—and it occurred quickly.

“Hillary Clinton,” Newsweek noticed in so late March, 2 weeks post-Busy Bee, “has clearly lowered her profile on the campaign trail.”

Bill Clinton pulled back his “buy one, obtain one free” stump-speech catchphrase, which had prompted talk of a kind of “co-presidency,” and Hillary Clinton began talking less about policy and much more about family. She i agreeed to get involved in a cookie bake-off sponsored by family members Circle magazine. She agreed to an interview because that a puffy human being profile about their friends, family and also faith. She got her hair styled. She took off her unfussy experienced woman headband.

In May, she gave the graduation decided at she alma mater, 23 years after she speak at commencement as a student.

“As ladies today, you confront tough choices,” she called the Wellesley College course of 1992. “You understand the rules room basically together follows,” she said. “If you don’t acquire married, you’re abnormal. If you get married however don’t have actually children, you a selfish yuppie. If you acquire married and also have children, but work outside the home, she a bad mother. If you get married and have children, however stay home, you’ve wasted her education.

“So girlfriend see,” she concluded, “if you hear to all the human being who do these rules, you can just conclude that the safest food of activity is just to take her diploma and crawl under her bed.”

So girlfriend see,” Hillary concluded, “if you hear to all the world who make these rules, you could just conclude the the safest food of activity is just to take her diploma and also crawl under her bed.”

She didn’t carry out that. Yet she go agree come adjustments—the latest in a sequence that had started v her acquiescences in Arkansas.

“My recollection is that after the convention,” claimed Franklin, she chief of staff, “there to be a really significant, purposeful transition in strategy.”

It consisted of appearances like a avoid at a vocational school, Doyle remembered, to stage a photo-op that her obtaining her nails done by the cosmetology students. “She was like, ‘Really? This is what ns doing now?’”

“After those situations”—Tammy Wynette, “cookies” and also “teas”—“the project … decided to use her come rally the base, a large Democratic base that adored her. However that was like putting her in a box,” Franklin said. “She was placed in a box for the remainder of the campaign—and the worked.”

“The political image makers are tough at that this year,” Tom Brokaw claimed on NBC News in beforehand August, a couple of weeks after the convention. “They worried the Hillary Clinton was coming turn off as too bright, as well outspoken, also upfront. So, lock asked her to warm it increase a bit.”

It wasn’t shed on everybody—including some in the press—that her principal transgression actually seemed to be that she to be a mrs who claimed what she thought rather of quiet receding right into the traditionally accepted politics staging.

“Women who space not plainly submissive are viewed as dominating and reviled for it. Females who carry out fit the photos room not bring away seriously.Like Hillary Clinton, you space damned if girlfriend do and damned if friend don’t.”

Deborah Tannen

“Politicians in both parties favor to say the this is the Year of the Woman,” correspondent Andrea Mitchell discussed in she Brokaw-introduced report. “But that doesn’t necessarily apply to the politician’s wife.” She contrasted the Hillary Clinton of the primaries v the Hillary Clinton that the basic election. “When the wives are presented these days,” Mitchell said, referring to Hillary Clinton and also running friend Al Gore’s wife, Tipper, “it’s to take it a bow and also step back.”


Throughout the summer and also fall, a shorthand tags developed amongst newspapers, news magazines and also the TV networks. “The Hillary Factor,” they started calling it. “Is She helping or Hurting she Husband,” Time request on its covering in September.

“But the real Hillary Factor,” argued Deborah Tannen, climate a fellow at Stanford’s center for advanced Study in behavioral Sciences, in one op-ed in October in the Times, “is the twin bind that affects all successful or achieved women—indeed, all females who execute not right stereotypical pictures of femininity: women who are not plainly submissive are seen as dominating and reviled because that it. Women who do fit the images are no taken seriously. Favor Hillary Clinton, you room damned if friend do and damned if you don’t.”


That November, obviously, bill Clinton won—but his wife discovered that the tightrope she had actually walked in the 60 minutes interview just kept going.

She go it as she took her location as a plan advisor with an office in the West Wing rather of the customary very first lady quarters on the various other side of the White House. She walked it as she led health treatment reform—and climate stumbled, necessitating an additional recalibration, one more “softening.” She walked it in 1998 through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, return to national TV come mount an additional defense of she husband that he eventually didn’t deserve—this time on The Today present on NBC, this time alone, this time talk not about Tammy Wynette yet a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” sparking echoes of 60 Minutes and also bolstering the skepticism about their marriage, that it was mainly a union of politics expedience.

She go the tightrope the end of the White House, too, her eye on a politics prize of she own—which she won. In the Senate, she walked that still, the world-famous former very first lady that tried at the start to be head-down, back-bench anonymous, the aisle-crossing policy wonk that attempted to display a stern side through her poll to support the invasion of Iraq.

And she walked that in 2007 and 2008, through her first presidential bid, beating Barack Obama in the brand-new Hampshire primary only ~ she cracked simply a tad in ~ a project stop at one more eatery—16 years after the liven Bee—and nearly cried.

“Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton,” the new York time Magazine headlined a story critical summer at the outset the her current campaign.

The “issue of she political authenticity,” college of Maryland interactions professor Shawn J. Parry-Giles wrote in her 2014 publication Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and also Authenticity in American Politics, has been a “preouccupation” that the press that has actually “dogged” Clinton “from 1992 onward.”

All this questions—Why is she therefore stiff? Why is she therefore scripted? Why is she therefore cautious? Why is she for this reason secretive?—I think it every goes ago to 1992.”

“I don’t understand that Mrs. Clinton has ever totally recovered indigenous the obstacles of the at an early stage stages of the campaign,” claimed Russell Riley, a professor and co-chair that the college of Virginia’s presidential oral history program.

“All these questions—Why is she so stiff? Why is she so scripted? Why is she for this reason cautious? Why is she for this reason secretive?—I think it all goes ago to 1992,” stated Tannen, now a professor of grammars at Georgetown.

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That interview to add “cookies” and also “teas,” said Wanderer, her girlfriend from Wellesley, included up come “an odd introduction, due to the fact that I think both the those moments stood for her trying to explain who she really is. However instead of saying what she in reality is—a person devoted to make positive transforms to relocate the nation forward in what friend might speak to a progressive way—I think she felt very defensive about it, prefer this wasn’t going to it is in acceptable.”

I’m not sitting here, some little woman …

I expect I might have …

“Is she guarded every the time?” Franklin, she chief of staff in the ’92 campaign, claimed this week. “I think she is. And also I understand why.” In both the 60 minutes interview and also the comment at the liven Bee, Franklin said, “she was herself, she said what she believed, and also with personality. However it was misinterpreted. And she got screwed because that it.”

To Doyle, one of Clinton’s closest advisers throughout that campaign, it all began with the 60 minute interview—about which, she said, there room two great truths.

The first? “He would certainly not have actually been president had she not protected him, period, finish of story.”

And the second? “There was no method for she to success in that situation, no method for her to win there, as a woman.”