As is often the case with Bill Clinton, the details of his personal life can't help but push him and his good works a bit off center stage. Hours after his triumphant walk down the steps of the private plane that flew him and his entourage to North Korea to effect the release of the young American journalists, and then back to Burbank, California, the women in tow, the name Stephen Bing was all over news stories.
Bing, it turns out was the owner of the 737 that made the mission possible.
The tearful, spine-tingling tribute to the former president from the rescued Laura Ling was still in the news, but the leads were sometimes about Bing, one of several of the former president's billionaire buddies. Like others who are in Bill Clinton's inner social circle, Bing owns a private plane, not just any private plane but a big and lavishly appointed one.
Post White House, Bill has used it often -- usually to commit good works in third-world countries, sometimes for trips with Bing and others that are mostly about having a good time.
I tried to interview Bing, who keeps his distance from the press, when I was writing my book on Bill Clinton's post presidency. Several of the people I interviewed, talked about the close relationship between the two and about Bing's generosity to Hillary and to the Democrats.
Bing is a movie producer ("The Polar Express," "Beowulf"), the heir to his grandfather's real estate fortune of nearly $1 billion, often in the gossip columns, most famously in 2001 and more recently after Elizabeth Hurley claimed Bing fathered her son, A DNA test backed up Hurley's charge.
Paternity tests also showed Bing as the father of a daughter born to Kirk Kerkorian's former wife, Lisa.
Bing raised big money for Hillary Clinton. A Wall Street Journal reporter described him as competing with Clinton friends and money-men Ron Burkle and Haim Saban to see whose haul for Hillary is bigger.
"We were sitting there at [Burkle's] house and he handed me his check for a million dollars. About 30 minutes later a guy in his 30s walked in wearing ripped-up old jeans and a t-shirt with holes in it. I was thinking who is this guy? Was he out cleaning Ron's yard up? Or is he the pool man? I went ahead and gave the pitch anyway and told this nice guy in jeans that Ron was giving me a million."
Bing then wrote a check for a million as well. "Later," McAuliffe, writes, "I found out that Bing was a producer and real-estate developer who was one of the wealthiest men in California."
One journalist who has written extensively about Bill Clinton, told me:
"Stephen Bing epitomizes that crowd. Clinton's still very much a skirt chaser and these guys in Hollywood are movers and shakers. Stephen Bing [is a] rich, young guy on the loose with power and .... who is bedding every broad.....That really appeals to Clinton. He really responds to that. He has done some things that are wildly inappropriate, even after Monica Lewinsky, even after he's trying to become this venerable sage of American politics, he still does it. He's just fundamentally flawed. And these guys, ....I think he likes being around them. He just enjoys it. He likes the beautiful women that they know and he likes the power they wield and likes the fact that they'll cut him fat checks for his Foundation and help to enhance his lifestyle by offering him their private planes and the other things they have available to them."
In a column that appeared while Bill Clinton was campaigning in Iowa with Hillary over the 4th of July weekend in 2007, trying to boost her numbers in the state with the first caucus, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd imagined a conversation between the Clintons. Dowd has Hillary reminding Bill, whom she suggests will be called "First Lad," if she's elected, "You promised me two terms after your two terms, and I'm not going to get that if you're caught Burkling or Binging."