What's The Hillary Clinton Lamp Throwing Story? Let's Take A Look At This Long-Standing Rumor

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Two major things involve Hillary Clinton have happened over the past week: One, she launched her campaign for presidency; and two, a book called The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House by journalist Kate Anderson Brower was released. Perhaps because these two things happened so closely together, something odd has popped up yet again — by which I mean the Hillary Clinton lamp throwing story. This story has been circulating for over 20 years now; but although it's an old story at this point, its major players are still in the public eye. I suspect this might be why it tends to resurface so frequently, but that doesn't stop it from being any weirder each time that it does.

So here's the question: What's the deal with the Hillary Clinton lamp throwing story? Did she really throw a lamp at Bill? It turns out that the answer isn't a short one — or, even, really a full answer. Let me be clear before we go into this whole thing that I'm not accusing anyone of domestic violence, and I'm obviously not condoning it, either; with that in mind, though, I did a little digging, and here's what I found.

The Story As We Know It:

The story actually isn't a complicated one, and if it weren't for the fact that the two people it allegedly involved were some of the most powerful people in the country, it probably wouldn't have gotten shared around as much as it did. Basically, rumor has it that not too long after the Clintons moved into the White House in 1993, Bill and Hillary had a fight during which Hillary pitched a lamp at her husband. Reasons for the alleged fight ranged from where Hillary's offices would be located (that is, in the West Wing or somewhere else) to whether Bill got… shall we say, distracted by one of the celebrities at a pre-inaugural show of some sort. That's it. That is literally all there is to the story.

(The lamp seen here, by the way, is not the lamp that allegedly went for a brief flight. It is for effect only.)

How Did It Spread?

Honestly? We don't totally know. Part of the legend involves Secret Service agents leaking the story, which allegedly (again, this entire story is prefaced by one giant “allegedly” that applies to everything that follows) resulted in some subsequent friction between Hillary and her bodyguards; since that particular method of leakage is all tied up in the bigger rumor, though, we might consider it more of a subplot to the main story than a mode of transfer. What we do know is that on February 19, 1993, the Chicago Sun-Times printed an article entitled “'Hot' Rumors Dog Clintons” which included the following excerpt:

Seems first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has a temper to match her hubby's. Wicked Washington whispers claim Hillary broke a lamp during a heated late night argument with the president. Not to worry: The lamp was in the family quarters, belonged to the Clintons and 'wasn't a priceless antique, or anything like that,' says a White House source.

That's the first time the story appeared in print, and from there, it spread like wildfire.

Variations on a Theme:

Like all urban legends and gossip-based stories, this one changed a few times as it progressed. It wasn't always a lamp that was thrown; sometimes it was a book, or a Bible specifically, or an urn. Sometimes it was even punches. It's worth noting, as Snopes does, that the first print version of the story — the Chicago Sun-Times one — Hillary “merely broke a lamp during an argument with Bill; she didn't launch it at him.” Furthermore, the time spent describing the lamp as a low-value, personal possession “focuses more attention on the actions of the people involved by resolving what would otherwise be nagging questions about the value of the property destroyed and speculation on whether it had been a historic White House piece.” The focus is on the people, not the thing, which makes it a classic gossip item.

Is There Any Truth to It?

We're probably never going to know for sure; personally, I think it's all just a rumor. I don't pretend to know what's going on in Bill and Hillary's marriage — and for that matter, nor do I want to, because it's none of my damn business. My take on it is that although there are drips and drops of gossip and a whole lot of “heard it through the grapevine” whispers going around, I don't really see any solid evidence that it happened.

A few talking points:

  • In their recent examination of the story, the Washington Post brought up something John McCaslin wrote for the  Washington Times in March of 1993: McCaslin theorized that the whole thing might have just been a big misunderstanding. Apparently Rachael Worby, who married West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton in 1990, had issues with her police detail which became public knowledge in 1992. News service reports referred to her as “the first lady,” which McCaslin thought may have resulted in some people thinking the reports referenced Hillary. I think that explanation might be stretching it, but I guess it's not outside the realm of possibility.
  • Meanwhile, in The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House, author Kate Anderson Brower traced the lamp story back to a White House staffer named Ronn Payne, who said he heard the Clintons fighting behind closed doors. Payne said he heard Hillary called Bill “a goddamn bastard,” followed by what sounded like a heavy object sailing through the air and hitting something. The Washington Post attempted to get a comment from Payne about it, but their call was never returned; furthermore, other White House employees couldn't confirm the incident for Brower. Said usher James Allen, “I certainly heard those rumors, but I don't have any first-hand knowledge…. I don't remember reports of any lamps being broken”; meanwhile, housekeeping Christine Limerick added, “I never saw [Hillary] throw anything. My experience is that… rumors get started and then they feed on themselves.”
  • According to WaPo, The Residence also references two other instances of things allegedly being thrown during the Clinton years — both of which were books. In one, a White House maid is said to have gone into the Clintons' bedroom not too long after news of Bill's affair came out and found blood all over the bed; the book says that Bill “insisted that he'd hurt himself running into the bathroom door in the middle of the night” and subsequently got stitches. In reference to that story, an anonymous worker told Brower, “We're pretty sure she clocked him with a book.” WaPo notes that news reports at the time contained nothing about the President having stitches — which doesn't necessarily mean he didn't have them, but “maybe he did, maybe he didn't” is not a solid “yes, he had them” or “no, he didn't have them.”
  • The other story described to Brower by a White House staffer involved Hillary allegedly pitching a copy of  Leaves of Grass at Bill through the bedroom door. Whether or not it was supposed to be the copy Bill later gave to Monica Lewinsky remains to be seen.

The Takeaway:

JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images

As I noted earlier, I don't think we can really consider the lamp or book throwing stories anything other than rumor, purely because all we have to corroborate it are stories told by other people. There's no physical evidence of it having occurred and the Clintons sure as heck aren't talking, so we're at an impasse. Again, I am neither accusing anyone of domestic violence or condoning domestic violence — but the bottom line is that we have no proof of it either way.

But maybe whether or not the lamp story happened isn't the point. Maybe the point is this: Why do we the people (see what I did there?) keep feeling the need to bring it up again and again and again? I have a theory, and it's all tied in with how we deal with celebrity in our culture:

We like to pretend we know celebrities personally, even when we don't. We like to know what's going on not only in their work lives, but also in their private lives, which is why we get so invested in celebrity gossip. The Clintons, however, have always kept the details of their marriage closely under wraps — which is pretty remarkable when you consider the extreme scrutiny through which it's been examined. So maybe that's why the lamp story persists: Because we feel this weird need to know what's happening not only in famous people's lives, and because we know so little about what actually happens between Hillary and Bill when they're on their own, we latch onto whatever crumbs we can get. If those crumbs happen to take the form of an airborne lighting fixture, so be it.

So, where do we go from here? That, I think, is simple — possibly the simplest part of this whole thing: We need to let it go. What's to be gained by dredging it up again and again, even though each time, we still have no more proof that it did or didn't happen than the last time? It's possible — likely, even — that in this case, it's been trotted out as a way to discredit Hillary. But it can only do that if we let it, so let's just… not. Let's not focus on weird rumors when trying to figure out who should run our country. Let's focus on what we know about the candidates themselves. Because that's what realy matters, right?

Images: Getty Images (2); david_pics, _olga_/Flickr; Giphy (2)