Where's the media mea culpa on Whitewater?
                          by smoking Joe Conason:

                     Though the final Whitewater1 report clearly shows the Clintons were innocent,
                     the New York Times and Washington Post arrogantly refuse to admit they were wrong.

                     Anyone who paid the slightest attention to the moldy
                     allegations subsumed under the heading of "Whitewater" has
                     known for years what the independent counsel grudgingly
                     conceded in the final report released last week -- that the
                     prime targets of the investigation of that little old Arkansas
                     land development, Bill and Hillary Clinton, had done nothing
                     that could be prosecuted as a crime. There was nothing
                     remarkable about that conclusion, nor about the
                     independent counsel's strenuous literary effort to justify a
                     breathtaking expenditure of time, not to mention $73
                     million, in the pursuit of partisan goals.

                     What may have surprised the naive reader was the
                     concluding commentary in the nation's leading newspapers,
                     whose editorial pages, opinion columns and news accounts
                     had encouraged noxious speculation about Whitewater and
                     the Clintons from the very beginning of the "scandal." Rather
                     than acknowledge the hollowness of the accusations they did
                     so much to publicize, America's most prominent editorialists
                     substituted "spin" for accountability.

                     The Wall Street Journal, whose editors have published four
                     volumes of bilious frothing on this topic, blatantly twisted
                     the final report's exculpatory findings into a guilty verdict.
                     "The lesson here isn't that there were no facts, but that the
                     coverup worked," according to the Journal editorial, which
                     found a way to compare the Clintons unfavorably with
                     Richard Nixon and to claim, falsely, that Whitewater itself
                     was "a serious bank fraud involving numerous Clinton
                     intimates." In fact, as the report reveals in excruciating
                     detail, Whitewater was simply a land deal that lost money for
                     the Clintons and their partners. The frauds that resulted in
                     prosecutions of various people -- some friends, some
                     enemies and some strangers to the former first family -- had
                     nothing whatsoever to do with that deal or the Clintons themselves.

                     Fair-minded analysis is too much to ask from the Journal's
                     bitter polemicists at this late date, but the editorial board of
                     the Washington Post might be expected to understand the
                     foundations of this country's justice system. Evidently they
                     do not. Like their colleagues at the Journal, the Post's
                     editorialists seem unable to transcend their newspaper's
                     failed journalistic investment in "Whitewater," their
                     longstanding friendship with former Independent Counsel
                     Kenneth Starr and their inexhaustible fury at the Clintons.

                     Having long ago convinced themselves (and presumably
                     many of their readers) that the Clintons were guilty of some
                     criminal offense in Whitewater, they continue to insist that
                     the final report is "at the end of the day, inconclusive as to
                     whether the Clintons committed crimes in their dealings with
                     James and Susan McDougal and in their subsequent
                     interactions with investigators," and "leaves ample reason to
                     suspect wrongdoing by both the former president and Sen.
                     Hillary Clinton." Exactly what wrongdoing they don't bother
                     to specify -- the hallmark of a political smear. (They also
                     seem not to have noticed the headline in their own pages a
                     few days earlier that declared the Clintons to have been
                     "cleared" by the independent counsel.)

                     The Post editors apparently believe that, unlike any other
                     targets of a criminal investigation in the United States, the
                     Clintons aren't entitled to the presumption of innocence. For
                     them, a decade of extraordinarily costly investigation that
                     resulted in no indictments, let alone convictions, is not
                     enough to discourage insinuations of guilt.

                     That leaves the New York Times, where Whitewater first
                     sprang to public attention in a famously murky front-page
                     story by reporter Jeff Gerth. As the paper's Week in Review
                     section noted last Sunday, the Times "printed articles about
                     Whitewater and Madison Guaranty and editorials urging the
                     Clintons to cooperate with investigators." That's an amusingly
                     bland description of the paper's role in this fiasco, which
                     ranged from repeated accusations of a coverup on the
                     editorial page to repeated announcements by star Op-ed
                     columnist William Safire of impending indictments that never
                     came. (Safire promised to "eat crow" if his predictions proved
                     false, but he has remained strangely silent about the final
                     report so far.)

                     Gerth's original story suggested that the Clintons' Whitewater
                     partner, James McDougal, might have benefited from lenient
                     treatment by Arkansas regulators while Bill Clinton was
                     governor. That notion gets short shrift in the final report,
                     possibly because the evidence so clearly demonstrates that
                     McDougal received no special consideration from Clinton's
                     appointees. Yet the Times doggedly ignores those facts, a
                     habit that its editorials have exhibited time and again over
                     the past several years.

                     Rather than forthrightly admit the emptiness of all the
                     multifarious insinuations and allegations about Whitewater
                     (not to mention "Travelgate" and "Filegate"), the Times
                     editorial spews out additional chaff. With its references to
                     "the web of shady dealings that sprang up around" the
                     Whitewater land deal, to "missing files, destroyed documents
                     and unanswered queries," to "charges of tampering with
                     regulators and other questionable behavior" and to the
                     Clintons' supposed "strategy of denials and evasions," the
                     newspaper of record revives the implication of guilt that the
                     final report ought to dispel.

                     The Times does acknowledge the ultimate judgment of the
                     independent counsel more generously than the Post or the
                     Journal: "If an eight-year investigation fails to find any
                     substantial evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons,
                     the only fair response is to declare them cleared." Yet in its
                     ungenerous attempt to shift blame for the phony scandal that
                     it did so much to create and sustain -- without a whisper of
                     honest introspection about its own dubious role in this fiasco
                     -- the Times is just as evasive as Bill Clinton at his worst.

                     Joe Conason writes about political issues for Salon News
                     and other publications.

                     Reprinted from Salon:

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