Butler University has been in the news lately because of a question asked by Butler journalism student Evan Strange to Chelsea Clinton, who recently visited our campus. Evan Strange apparently asked Chelsea how she would respond to those who accuse her mother of displaying weakness in her response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in a way that had potential ramifications for her having the strength required of a president.
“Wow, you’re the first person actually that’s ever asked me that question in the, I don’t know maybe, 70 college campuses I’ve now been to, and I do not think that is any of your business,” Chelsea Clinton replied.
Chelsea Clinton was around the age of Butler freshmen when the Monica Lewinsky scandal occurred. Sure, Strange’s question was personal, but how personal a question is too personal in a country where everyone is interested in the sexual activities of politicians, and a member of a candidate’s family is campaigning on her behalf? I found most surprising in Chelsea’s response the claim that no one had asked her that before on a college campus, and am inclined to think that this is evidence not of the politeness of students on other campuses, but the fact that few undergraduate students in the U.S. were aware of the scandal when it happened, and just as few have taken the time to learn about the presidency of Hillary’s husband or her own political career. I wonder how many of our students at Butler had to ask “Who’s Monica Lewinsky?”
I’m in no particular hurry to defend Butler’s journalism students. I’ve been misquoted on several occasions by students who seemed not to understand that only exact words are to be placed in quotation marks. Burned by such experiences, I’ve gone so far as to turn down requests for interviews from students whose e-mail requests lacked the clarity or fluidity (much less the eloquence) I expect from a professional writer, even one still in training. But in those cases I had a clear complaint, namely having been misquoted. In this case, a student asked a question that touched on a personal aspect of this family’s experience. Chelsea replied that it was none of the student’s business. I’m not sure that the question was clearly off limits, or that the answer was in any way inappropriate when Chelsea considered it too personal. That leaves only one more question, then: What’s the big deal?