Simply Truth: the Cardinal Tenet of Journalism
    by Gene Lyons

 At the expense of giving an antagonist the benefit of the doubt, Joseph Lelyveld couldn't have
 known when he wrote his dismissive review of  Sidney Blumenthal's book "The Clinton Wars,"
 what a bad week it would be for condescending New York Times editors. Lelyveld retired as
 executive editor in 2001. According to the Time's front page apologia for the transgressions of
 plagiarist and fabulator Jayson Blair, he'd written a memo in 2000 warning that too many factual
 blunders were creeping into the newspaper.

 It's tempting to say Lelyveld woke up at least 10 years too late.  Except judging by his patronizing
 attitude toward Blumenthal in the New York Review of Books, he's still snoozing. Since one of
 the "The Clinton Wars'" major themes is how The Times and the national press madly pursued
 one absurd Clinton "psuedoscandal" after another until they finally caught the Big Creep with
 his pants down, sleepwalking was a professional necessity.

 Caveat: Blumenthal is a personal friend; I'm a minor character in his book, which makes
 considerable use of Joe Conason's and my book "The Hunting of the President."

 Although comical and sad,  Jayson Blair's inventions did little real harm. Many journalists secretly
 love the ritual purging of hoaxers like him, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke, the Washington Post
 reporter who made-up a in imaginary child heroin addict. It lets them display their dedication to
 what The Times expose calls "the cardinal tenet of journalism, which is simply truth."

 Ah, simple truth. Crediting "The Hunting of the President," Blumenthal describes several
 absurdities in Times reporter Jeff Gerth's initial reporting of the Whitewater psuedoscandal,
 including his portrayal of Arkansas securities commissioner Beverly Bassett Schaffer as
 suspiciously forgetful about Jim McDougal's doomed Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan.
 The story clearly implied that Schaffer, a Clinton appointee, had malingered while Clinton's
 business partner played financial games.

 "In fact," Blumenthal writes "before [Gerth's] article appeared, she had given him a twenty page
 memo spelling out in detail what had actually happened--she had requested federal regulators to
 close the S & L--an account Gerth ignored." She'd urged the Feds in writing to shut Madison
 Guaranty down fourteen months before they acted. If Lelyveld ever knew that, he's not saying.

"Not many people will want to dive into the details of the Whitewater case again," writes Lelyveld.
"But since I had a measure of responsibility for the appearance of the first story on the subject,
 I can't avoid quarreling with the depiction of the reporter that became standard in the Clinton
 camp and that is faithfully repeated by Blumenthal. Far from being a  gullible tool of Clinton-haters
 with a casual relation to facts, Jeff Gerth is an estimable and painstaking investigative reporter
 who knows how to read legal papers and financial reports."

 Interesting, then, as Blumenthal also shows, that the facts and conclusions in the 1995 Pillsbury
 Report--including every single document and cancelled check The Times had demanded to see
 --basically got ignored as Gerth and the press pack went whooping down false trails laid by
 Kenneth Starr's leak-o-matic prosecutors. Lelyveld is still kvetching about the Clinton's refusal
 to put the documents into Gerth's hands after he'd demonstrated his selectivity toward that
 elusive willow-the-wisp "simple truth."

 Sophisticated reporters like Gerth know better than to make things up.  But like Clinton, they
 also know what to leave out. In a "Clintonian" statement, apparent fidelity to literal fact masks
 an intention to mislead. To wit,  "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."
(But I did let her...)" Well, we all know what he let her do.
 Just so, Whitewater, which became the most elaborate shaggy-dog story in recent American
 history--weakening the White House and empowering Starr's partisan witch hunt--precisely
 because few "disturbing questions" about the Clintons' ill-fated real estate venture ever made
 sense. Exculpatory facts were routinely concealed. An editor with a fraction of Lelyveld's
 self-esteem should have known.

 Alas, he still hasn't mastered the basics, falsely asserting that Jim McDougal "was at the helm
 of the biggest savings and loan association in the state when it became insolvent." In reality,
 Madison Guaranty was one of Arkansas's smaller S & L failures, roughly 1/15 the size of
 First Federal's $950 million cave-in. Nor was McDougal in charge. He'd been removed two
 and a half years before Madison's closure, partly at Bassett Schaffer's insistence.

 Elsewhere, Lelyveld portrays Blumenthal as an equivocating "courtier" for failing to acknowledge
 aspects of the Lewinsky scandal hurtful to Clinton. In, Conason quotes directly from
"The Clinton Wars" to show that every item Lelyveld says Blumenthal ignored, Blumenthal dealt with,
 often pungently, including a tough passage in which he told both Clintons that the president's
 reckless actions "had given ammunition to his enemies and endangered everything he believed in."

 Among the most formidable of those enemies was The New York Times.

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