Thomas Sowell

THE predictable media reaction to Gary Condit's bobbing and weaving has been to say that he should be candid, come clean and "get all this behind you." It is the kind of advice that they have offered repeatedly over the years to people in trouble, whether Nixon in the 1970s, Clinton in the 1990s, George W. Bush last year or Gary Condit this year.

Whether that is good advice or lousy advice depends largely on what the truth is. If Nixon had come clean early on about his role in the whole set of activities known collectively as "Watergate," he would have been out of the White House early on. And if 18 minutes had not been erased from the subpoenaed audio tape that was made public, maybe the outrage would have been enough to prevent President Ford from pardoning him.

Bill Clinton survived as president, despite much speculation that he would be run out of town in the wake of his scandals, by doing the exact opposite of what the media advised him to do. The problem with a "tell all" strategy is that, when everything comes out simultaneously, people can connect the dots and see exactly what you have done. Clinton's whole strategy was based on letting isolated facts dribble out here and there, but in a way that created no coherent picture. Clinton's press secretary described this process as "telling the truth slowly."

Although most of the public and the media were never very excited about the Whitewater scandals involving the Clintons in Arkansas, an Arkansas jury came back with more than 20 guilty verdicts on felony charges against the Clintons' business partners, Jim and Susan McDougal. The difference was that the jury sat down and heard the whole story at one time and had the dots connected by the prosecutors.

By contrast, when the public heard that Hillary Clinton's billing records had disappeared in the White House for two years, it really rang no bells because there was no real context presented to them as to why these records were important. Those records were in fact crucial because they linked her to the frauds and conspiracies that had cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. But, by the time the records were finally "discovered" in the White House, all connection with what had happened before had been lost.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate