Joe Conason’s Journal

The former top editor at the New York Times proves fact-impaired -- suggesting why his paper pursued presidential pseudo-scandals for so long.

Topics:

Corrections for Mr. Lelyveld
Thanks to Joseph Lelyveld’s long, sloppy, rather mean-spirited review of Sidney Blumenthal’s “The Clinton Wars” in the current New York Review of Books, the Whitewater mystery is finally resolved, at least in part. That mystery was never much about Whitewater itself — a mundane, money-losing land deal. What always defied understanding was why the editors of the New York Times tolerated their paper’s persistent hyping of the phony “scandal.”

The answer, as Lelyveld reveals inadvertently, was a remarkable degree of carelessness at the very top. Although he has defended the paper’s coverage publicly for several years — and continues to do so as if he knows what he’s talking about — the former Times executive editor clearly never mastered the basic facts.

When preparing reporter Jeff Gerth’s first Whitewater story on March 8, 1992, he writes, “Gerth and his editors” — that includes Lelyveld –”had to decide whether they knew enough to publish what they had. The decision seemed obvious and, at the time, routine. The story said that the Clintons had a half-interest in a real-estate development company in the Ozarks and that the other half was owned by an old friend who was at the helm of the biggest savings and loan association in the state when it became insolvent.”

The biggest savings and loan association in which state? Not the state of Arkansas, by a factor of 10 or 15 times (as Atrios pointed out the other day). If he possessed even a scant familiarity with Whitewater’s history, Lelyveld would know that Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan lost a total of $65 million — and was thus among the state’s smallest S&L failures. Maybe Lelyveld should have glanced at “The Hunting of the President,” which explains on Page 37 that the two largest failed thrifts in Arkansas were First Federal and Savers Savings, with $950 million and $650 million in losses, respectively.

You Might Also Like

It is kinder to assume that Lelyveld’s misleading synopsis of Whitewater is simply uninformed rather than deceptive. But that isn’t always easy, as when he insinuates that Whitewater dragged on until 1999 or so because of the Clintons’ stubborn refusal to produce financial records. In fact, the Clintons were decisively cleared of any wrongdoing no later than 1995 by the Resolution Trust Corporation’s exhaustive and independent investigation, which produced a multivolume report with appendices that Lelyveld should now be required to read in full. The first couple cooperated fully with the RTC investigators, providing lengthy interviews and thousands of pages of documentation.

My old friend Blumenthal reviews all this history, noting that the Times managed to bury and virtually ignore the RTC’s ringing exoneration of the paper’s presidential prey.

While trying to sound knowledgeable, Lelyveld also lets loose a couple of silly bloopers — the funniest being his inclusion of the late R.J. Rushdoony in a list of anti-Clinton schemers. I suspect that if Lelyveld’s life depended on it, he couldn’t correctly identify Rushdoony, who played no part in the Clinton wars. In his eagerness to sketch an acid portrait of Blumenthal, however, his other errors are more serious. Consider the following.

Lelyveld: “Blumenthal doesn’t make explicit that the President’s acknowledgment on television that he had ‘misled people’ was the only apology Blumenthal would ever get. So much for the inside view.”

“The Clinton Wars” (describing the day the House voted impeachment), on Page 552: “Clinton grabbed my arm and asked me to come into the Oval Office … He was sorry about what everybody had been through because of the scandal. He was apologetic that he had given ammunition to our enemies. He was sorry about Lewinsky and the whole thing, but no apologies would be enough.”

Lelyveld: “[Blumenthal] also doesn’t find room to mention that Morris took a poll that told Clinton he might not survive early disclosure [of his dalliance with Lewinsky].”

“The Clinton Wars,” Page 343: “Much, much later, after the release of the Starr Report, I learned almost everything [Clinton] had told me was true. Almost. He had spoken with Morris, who had run a poll. (When I saw the poll reproduced in the Starr Report it struck me as mostly worthless as a political document, because all the key questions had the word ‘crimes’ attached to them, ensuring negative responses. The statistics indicating the public’s inclinations to forgive incidents that were just sex, Morris misinterpreted.)”

Lelyveld: “[Blumenthal] remembers that Joe Lieberman was ‘the son of a New Haven liquor store owner’ but somehow neglects to mention his Senate speech denouncing Clinton’s behavior in the Lewinsky matter as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘immoral.’”

“The Clinton Wars,” Page 478: “Senator Joseph Lieberman had given a speech denouncing Clinton’s behavior as ‘immoral’ and went up to the edge of calling for him to quit.”

Lelyveld could easily have consulted the book’s index to check those damning assertions before committing them to print. His casual attitude about significant facts — and his unshakable certainty about his own false assumptions — both suggest why the nation’s most important newspaper so credulously promoted pseudo-scandals during the Clinton years.
[11:56 a.m. PDT, May 12, 2003]

For your regular Joe, bookmark this link. To send an e-mail, click here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • 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>