In early 1998, as rumors of Bill Clinton’s trysts with Monica Lewinsky grew into a scandal that would ultimately threaten his presidency, journalists scrambled to make sense of the flood of allegations of extramarital affairs and sexual misconduct leveled at the 42nd U.S. president. The editors of New York Magazine, which was closely following developments in the story, decided to put black-and-white photos of all of Clinton’s accusers and former mistresses on a single cover.
“There were already several dozen women accusing him of various unsavory acts, but we still decided to fly them all out to New York for an interview and photo shoot,” says S.N. Hobby, who was the Washington affairs editor. “Things got tricky when a handful of additional women showed up, but we managed to fit them all on a single cover. Then the phone rang. At least 10 more of Clinton’s ex-girlfriends wanted to tell their stories, too, so we decided to do a two-page centerfold instead. And more women just kept pouring in.”
“Our graphic designers squeezed about 250 women into the centerfold, but at that size, their faces looked rather blurry, which was unacceptable because we wanted each woman to be treated respectfully, as an individual,” Hobby said. “Frederico, our photographer, was working 20-hour days and had started losing his mind. So we postponed the project by several weeks, hired two more photographers and opted for a four-page glossy insert, which ended up looking gorgeous, but all the time new women claiming to be Clinton’s ex-lovers were parading through our office doors.”
“The day before we were supposed to go to press, the insert had grown to 20 pages,” she said. “Our shipping guys were really worried about the extra cost of postage, not to mention the damage that would be done to the magazine’s binding. There was just one option. We got rid of the insert concept, and we decided to do a special fall issue instead, devoted solely to the president’s women, which was by then a list of several thousand names.”
“By September, we had the entire NYU photography department working for us, with lines of ladies waiting to be photographed literally wrapping around the block, and we were spending a fortune just to feed and provide lodging for them all, even as more kept popping up from all corners of the globe,” she said. “We had no choice but to open up a new six-floor office in lower Manhattan, and we also launched our own catering company, which did help to keep the food expenses down. We also chartered two 747s for our exclusive use to transport accusers from overseas. Those two planes barely touched the ground that whole year.”
“At some point, we admitted to ourselves that a single 100-page issue wouldn’t provide nearly enough space, so we got in touch with Random House, and they agreed to publish a 15-volume set of books, with each volume featuring photos and biographical details of up to 5000 of Clinton’s women.”
“Fact-checking became a total nightmare,” she added. “We outsourced that to a company from India, but they ended up outsourcing the job to an Indonesian firm after employees began suffering en masse from mental breakdown.”
But by that time, a few years had passed and the public had dramatically lost interest in Bill Clinton’s love affairs. Also, Hobby says, the number of women was so absurdly high that it no longer made an impact. Lastly, George W. Bush was by then in the White House, so the story was judged démodé. The editors made the difficult decision to scrap the project altogether.
Despite having stopped working for New York Magazine in 2007, Hobby says she’s pleased the original concept finally saw the light of day in a recent cover story featuring interviews with Bill Cosby’s 35 accusers, but she admits the Clinton cover was far more impressive.
“With the Cosby cover, there’s just so much wasted empty space,” she said. “The Clinton cover was teeming with women. It was beautiful.”
Also check out “Beautiful Wives,” Bill Clinton’s stunning portraits that celebrate the nude female form.