Enron Style Journalism
   by Gene Lyons

   On evidence, you'd think Americans had real problems to think about. Afghanistan appears to be sliding back
into civil war. Pakistani tribesmen threaten to attack U.S. Special Forces. Feuding has broken out between the
State Department and Pentagon over the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. A failed right-wing coup in Venezuela has
Bush administration fingerprints all over it; American troops edge closer to action in Colombia's civil war.
President Junior hints at a dynastic war to depose Saddam Hussein, although even a GOP stalwart like
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) warns that the U.S. has nothing credible to replace him with.

   Here at home, unemployment has reached a six year high, the stock market's staggering, corporate profits
look shaky and government projections show rising budget deficits for the forseeable future. That Social Security
"lockbox" the candidates bickered about during the 2000 election campaign? It's gone, a casualty of recession,
tax cuts and the war on terrorism. So what did our peerless Washington press corps spend last week ranting about?
Why Bill Clinton, naturally.

   After the L.A. Times cited anonymous sources saying Clinton was negotiating with NBC to become
"the next Oprah Winfrey," the clique freaked. On its face, the story had the approximate credibility of a recent
tabloid photo depicting the former president with his new three-breasted girlfriend. ("I thought he was a leg man,"
Hillary said.) That didn't prevent the Washington Post from sounding as if its editorial columns had been taken
over by a particularly vicious clique of eighth grade "Heathers."

   "Like any great talk show host," the Post sneered "[Clinton] has the dysfunctional family history and a proven
willingness to talk about it. The cyclical weight problems, always helpful (think Oprah, Rosie) in winning the
sympathy of the daytime audience. And, of course, the garrulousness and the stamina...As for real guests,
what a range he could command. Kathleen Willey! Yasser Arafat! He could get Al Gore on; they could
make up; cry; have a no-holds-barred discussion about male grooming and, if there was time left, the 2004 ticket."

   Fox News and all the TV wits had a big time with the story too. Even after it turned out that what Clinton actually
proposed was occasional "Town Hall" public affairs forums, the New York Times' inimitable Maureen Dowd devoted
a column to what might have been. "Who's going to watch a show like that?" asked a nameless TV executive.
Answer: a bigger audience than watches "Hardball" or "The Capitol Gang," one reason the man still drives them crazy.

   "He's the most talented politician of his generation," Kenneth Starr said. "No one else comes close to the political
brilliance and genius of William Jeffrson Clinton." Yes, you read that right. According to the Deseret News, Starr also
told a University of Utah audience that investigating the president's sex life was "a horrible job...I was praying for a Saturday-night massacre or that pink slip. I would have been the happiest person in town should I have been fired."
Likening his reputation to Saddam Hussein's, Starr denied leading a partisan vendetta and expressed a wan hope
for public forgiveness.

   Also throwing Starr a pity party was Michael Isikoff, who devoted a book review in Washington Monthly to
explaining how the independent counsel "went so disastrously awry." Now he tells us. Back then, Isikoff rode the
Clinton sex probe like a jockey flogging a race horse. In an astonishing passage in his own book "Uncovering
Clinton," Spikey actually quoted an anonymous caller in an attempt to bolster Kathleen Willey's shaky credibility.
Eventually, even Starr's investigators had to give up on her.
 
   According to Isikoff's review of Washington Post editorial writer Ben Wittes' book "Starr: A Reassessment,"
the poor independent counsel was a misunderstood idealist who "turned his office into a sweeping 'truth commission'
---a la Bishop Desmond Tutu's in South Africa---that was determined to get to the bottom of every allegation
of wrongdoing leveled against the Clinton presidency."

   But how would these jokers know? Assuming Isikoff's summary of Wittes' book is halfway accurate, neither
has an elementary grasp of basic Whitewater facts. Spikey fecklessly recycles "inherently malodorous" charges
long ago proven false. That Hillary Clinton got $2000 a month payola to do corrupt favors for Jim McDougal,
for example. No such payments existed. Two volumes of the 1995-96 Pillsbury Report-one before, one after
her billing records showed up-comprehensively debunked wrongdoing by the Rose Law Firm. The 2002
"Ray Report" added nothing of substance. Isikoff even revives the hoary myth that McDougal was "covering
the Clinton's debts" in Whitewater, a tall tale OIC prosecutors demolished in cross-examining McDougal at trial.

   Why write a "Clinton scandals" book at this late date seemingly without consulting primary sources?
Easy. This is journalism, Enron-style. It's not about history, but corporate imagery.
If it wasn't in the Washington Post, it didn't happen.
 
 

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