Where’s the media mea culpa?

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

Topics: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton, The New York Times, Washington Post,

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 is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>