Newsreal: Hillary was right

There is a right-wing conspiracy to bring down the president.

By Andrew Ross

Published March 19, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

No matter the eventual outcome of the attempted putsch against a duly elected president of the United States, its backers and financiers are certainly getting value for their money and efforts.

The fruit of their labors was evident in Saturday's New York Times, which devoted a three-column all-caps headline and five full pages inside to the groundless lawsuit filed by one of the Clinton haters' chief puppets, Paula Corbin Jones. There, and all over the mainstream media, popped up the same discredited figures -- from Gennifer Flowers to Dolly Kyle Browning (many of whom the coup plotters have been promoting for years) -- all dressed up in the formal clothing of legal depositions. More ammunition for independent counsel Kenneth Starr, the pundits sagely agreed.

The plotters ought to be equally pleased with Starr, their front man, whose chair at Pepperdine University, funded by arch-conspirator Richard Mellon Scaife, still awaits the independent counsel's comfortable posterior once the coup is complete. What other truly "independent" prosecutor would still be pursuing, at taxpayers' expense, a 20-year-old land deal that investigation after investigation has conclusively shown involved no criminal misconduct, or even impropriety, by the president or his wife? Who else but Ken Starr would be relying on a convicted scam artist, David Hale, whom the late James McDougal once laughingly described as a "recreational liar," and who, too, has been a beneficiary of the plotters' financial largess?

As Salon has detailed in a series of investigative reports by correspondents Murray Waas and Jonathan Broder, the money spigot is open for any opportunist or mud-slinger who has a Clinton smear to sell. Billionaire reactionary Scaife has pumped nearly $2.5 million into a sleazy propaganda campaign called "the Arkansas Project" aimed at sabotaging the Clinton presidency. Substantial amounts of this Scaife loot ended up in the hands of Hale, who is Starr's primary Whitewater witness. Meanwhile, the chief attorney for Scaife's Arkansas Project was lavishing $50,000 on Paula Jones. And a shadowy group connected to the Rev. Jerry Falwell was secretly paying more than $200,000 to another rogues' gallery of Clinton defamers, who accused the president of everything from murdering Vincent Foster to protecting an Arkansas drug smuggling racket.

The American Spectator, whose 1992 "Troopergate" story has since been repudiated by its author, David Brock, turns out to have been a virtual washing machine for money paid to liars and convicted felons whose stories found their way -- often unchecked -- into the dockets of the independent counsel. So disturbed was the Spectator's longtime publisher about these financial shenanigans that he demanded they be stopped -- whereupon he was fired by the magazine's editor, R. Emmett Tyrrell.

And how relieved -- perhaps amused is a better description -- the conspirators must be that Congress, the judiciary and the media establishment continue to ignore what is going on right under their noses. While obsessively chattering about every Ken Starr and Paula Jones maneuver, the esteemed members of the press elite have not exhibited the slightest curiosity about the motives and backgrounds of Clinton's enemies.

"Conspiracy" may be the wrong word, redolent as it is of some sort of "X-Files" cabal of plotters, manipulating the levers on all aspects of a grand design. But as the work of Salon's reporters -- and a few others like the New York Observer's Joe Conason and the Arkansas Press Democrat's Gene Lyons -- is beginning to demonstrate, there does exist, in a broader sense, a community of interests within which informational and financial transactions are being conducted and alliances are being struck. It may not be as "vast" and tightly woven as the first lady has suggested, but it does have a common goal: the bringing down of the president of the United States.

We should say here, as we have said before, that Salon is not, despite what ABC's "Nightline" spuriously suggested, a part of some sort of White House "damage control" operation. We have, at best, mixed feelings about President Clinton's performance in office, and might have been devoting much more space to criticisms of his policies -- or lack thereof -- had these largely manufactured scandals not blotted everything else out. Salon columns by Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz have been among the most bitterly condemning of Clinton's alleged activities; Salon will continue to run their disparaging views. In Newsreal commentaries, we have expressed deep concerns about the Clintons' myopic stonewalling in the Whitewater investigation and even deeper concerns about some of the allegations in the Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey affairs. In our Mothers Who Think section today, we air feminist Barbara Ehrenreich's savage denunciation of the president.

If Clinton blatantly lied to the American people about the Lewinsky affair and urged others to lie on his behalf, this editor has written, he should resign. And if the president does fall, we still believe, it won't be at the hands of the conspirators, though their celebrations will be long and loud. It will have been by his own hand.

But the investigation into Clinton's private affairs reeks so strongly of partisanship that the American people remain properly skeptical, continuing to award the president with record-high poll numbers. The public knows what the press refuses to acknowledge: Starr's investigative juggernaut, veering from musty real-estate deals to crackpot theories about Vince Foster's suicide to the Paula Jones civil suit, is obviously political. Extreme right-wing Republicans like Sens. Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, at whose behest Starr was appointed independent counsel by a highly conservative three-judge panel, didn't choose him for his judicious temperament. They knew he'd be more a conservative hunting dog than his respected predecessor, Robert Fiske.

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Take the Jones case, which has become the flywheel of the
anti-Clinton operation. Starr wrote a legal brief on her behalf. That was before he
was made independent counsel, and around the same time Jones was making
guest appearances in Falwell's libelous "Clinton Chronicles" video and onstage with the
Conservative Political Action Committee. Since then, Starr's flailing
Whitewater investigation has constantly been rescued by Jones. She
has provided the rationale for Starr's G-men to terrorize the state of
Arkansas with interrogations and subpoenas relating to residents' sex
lives. The Lewinsky affair, brought illegally to Starr's attention by avid
Clinton-hater and fortune-hunter Linda Tripp, was transmogrified by Starr, with a cowed Janet Reno waving him on, into a presidential "pattern of obstruction of justice." That Starr consistently piggybacks his "independent"
investigation on the baseless Jones case seems not to have raised questions
of obvious conflict of interest in any of the branches of government, not
to mention our vigilant press.

And what of the Jones case itself, bought and paid for by Richard Mellon
Scaife and various right-wing "foundations"?
Jones has absolutely no evidence that she suffered any damage
as a result of her alleged sexual encounter in a Little Rock hotel room
with Bill Clinton eight years ago. In fact, like Kathleen Willey, she seems
to have done rather well in the wake of her rejection of Clinton's
alleged advances. Moreover, Jones and her changing legal teams have
continually recut the cloth of their tattered case every time it becomes
blatantly apparent that her harassment claims will be laughed out of court.
Suddenly she remembered that she felt intimidated by Clinton when she went
to leave the hotel room. Not good enough? Well, how about feeling
frightened by the fact that Clinton's state trooper stationed outside the
hotel door had a gun?

Had this case involved anyone but the president of the United
States -- a political hot potato for any judge -- it would have been
tossed out long ago. In fact, Jones herself might be in the dock by now. As both the
Chicago Tribune and Salon have reported, money that donors thought they
were giving to Jones' "legal defense fund" (based on a direct-mail appeal
signed by Jones) was spent on personal items such as makeovers,
dresses and doggie care for her canine, Mitzi. As Salon
has reported,
a highly placed official associated with the conservative
Rutherford Institute, which is currently financing Jones' legal efforts,
has used the term "mail fraud" in connection with the fund-raising scheme, which allows Jones to skim $100,000 off the top in
the first year alone. No wonder Jones has displayed such doggedness in the pursuit of her case -- justice can be lucrative indeed.

Respected prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has expressed outrage that Jones' and the far right's get-Clinton project has been allowed to tie up the entire nation -- a concern shared by many Americans.
But don't wait for the nation's agenda-setting press to shine its harsh light on these conservative machinations. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the TV
networks seem to have no interest in any of the frauds, con games, money
laundering, lying under oath, subornation of perjury and other tactics
utilized by the conspirators. The Chicago Tribune's bombshell story about
Jones' possibly illegal "legal defense fund" was dismissed in a
couple of paragraphs by the Times as merely another piece of fodder in the
White House spin-control armory. Vicious smears against a sitting president
bought and paid for by one of the nation's leading televangelists? Yawn.
Time magazine was perhaps too busy entertaining the good Rev. Falwell
(along with an older practitioner of the Big Lie, Leni Riefenstahl) at its
75th anniversary bash to grant this story more than one passing line.

How is it that the "liberal press," second only to Clinton in the
extreme right's demonology, appears to have signed up with the coup forces? There is no one cabalistic
explanation, but as with the conservative plotters, there is a community of
interests. One is the need to cover up its shockingly credulous reporting,
especially by the Times and the Post, whose correspondents were spoon-fed
early on by elder statesmen of the anti-Clinton brigade, Arkansas division, and then by Starr.
Another is the Woodward-Bernstein -- or rather the Redford-Hoffman --
syndrome. Bringing down a president is a sure bet for a Pulitzer, not to
mention lavish book deals and movie rights. Inconvenient facts cannot be
allowed to get in the way of such rich rewards.

Finally, there is a certain Junker mentality among the media establishment,
an aristocratic and arrogant self-regard. Exercising power without
responsibility, these media grandees feel free to use their pages and
airwaves to wage personal vendettas, vent spleen and cast out from polite
society the Clintons, those declassé Arkansas hicks who never sought entry to the Washington club. These multimillionaire lords and bejeweled ladies are
as breathtaking in their disregard for basic rules of their trade -- like
accuracy, fairness and diligence -- as they are sickening in their hypocrisy.

The most recent example is Don Hewitt, executive producer of "60 Minutes,"
who told us in shocked, moralistic tones how his show's softball interview with Kathleen Willey was "incredible ... and leaves little doubt about
what happened." Sexual harassment, pure and simple, opined Hewitt.
Actually, the interview (essentially a re-reading of her deposition with
correspondent Ed Bradley acting as a human microphone stand) left a great deal of doubt
about what happened. It was interesting, for example, to note how little
effort "60 Minutes" made to contact Julie Steele, a former friend of
Willey's who claims in a sworn deposition that Willey asked her to lie. And
Hewitt also
failed to mention his own history as an accused groper and harasser of female employees.

Whatever the motives of the media potentates, they are quite right, of course, to report on Kenneth Starr's investigation, leaks or no leaks. They are
equally entitled to interview Willey, regardless of her
motivations, and to speculate on the culpability of the president. But by
ignoring the parallel story -- the concerted effort to bring down
Clinton by any means available -- they are failing to do their job. In its
blood lust to see him fall, the media is ignoring people who present a far
more serious threat to the politics of this nation than a man who might have insufficient control of his libido.

The people featured in this parallel story -- Scaife, the "reclusive" heir to
the Mellon fortune; Tyrrell, the ultra-right wing magazine editor who was spreading
anti-Clinton smears before the 1992 election (I was one of the recipients); Falwell, a man who will go to any extreme to impose his religious agenda on America -- exhibit a pronounced anti-democratic tendency.
They never got over the fact that a man seen as so inimical to their
interests got elected to the White House not once, but twice. With Clinton's
election, the authoritarian conservatism they worked so hard to establish
-- articulated by Patrick Buchanan's call at the 1992 GOP convention for a
"cultural and religious war" -- turned to ashes. The loose anti-Clinton
conspiracy, in major respects, is a continuation of that war by other means.

Sen. Jesse Helms, an early string-puller on behalf of Starr,
once famously remarked that the president's safety could not be guaranteed
if he ever set foot in North Carolina. Coming from the best friend of the
late El Salvador death squad leader Roberto D'Aubisson, Helms' remark
should not be surprising. But it is nonetheless chilling, and is a perfect
example of the paranoid, fascistic mentality exemplified by the forces
determined to topple an elected president. The kind of American order
that these men have in mind is far from the free environment now enjoyed by the nation's press.

The next time the bewigged aristocrats of the Fourth Estate gather 'round Sally Quinn's Georgetown dinner table, chuckling at how they intend to cut the Arkansas hick's nuts off, they may want to think about that.

Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

MORE FROM Andrew Ross

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