Recently Salon has felt a blast of hot air from the right. The Wall Street Journal's arch-conservative editorial page, columnist and TV pundit Robert Novak and the Moonie-owned Washington Times, among others, have all taken aim at Salon's articles about Kenneth Starr's investigation, principally the story we broke March 17 about payments from conservative philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife being funneled through the American Spectator to key Whitewater witness David Hale. Salon's highly partisan critics have dedicated themselves to impugning the credibility of one of our sources, as well as that of the story's co-author, investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Murray Waas.
Our critics' anxiety is certainly understandable. As a result of Salon's reporting, the Justice Department has decided that the alleged payments to Hale must be thoroughly investigated, a probe that could strike at the heart of Starr's massive Whitewater inquiry. Starr and the Justice Department are now involved in a momentous tug of war over who will control the Hale investigation.
The lead editorial in Friday's Wall Street Journal took the most pointed aim at Salon. The Journal tried heroically to shore up the tattered reputation of the American Spectator, a publication that allowed itself to be used as a money laundering machine for Scaife's anti-Clinton propaganda operation. So distressed was the Spectator's publisher about this misuse of the magazine that he protested vehemently, only to be fired by editor R. Emmett Tyrrell. Despite this, and a barrage of other bad publicity about the Spectator (including former Spectator writer David Brock's recent repudiation of his own "Troopergate" story), the Journal still champions it (albeit somewhat faintly) as a "bona fide publication."
Salon, on the other hand, is disparaged as an "Internet magazine ... (paid circulation zip)." We plead guilty to both charges. Because Salon is free and because of our commitment to publishing important and overlooked stories, our circulation has grown to nearly 8 million page views a month and over a half million individual users. Our reporting on the Clinton-Starr national drama has not only been more enterprising than the Wall Street Journal's, it has been more reliable. Let's not forget the Journal's only "scoop" to date -- that a White House steward had caught the president and Monica Lewinsky alone together. Unfortunately, this shocking exclusive proved to be untrue, which the Journal was forced to concede a few days later.
The Journal's editorialist also implies, in a particularly garbled passage, that Salon has a sinister relationship of sorts with White House spinmeister Sidney Blumenthal. This is a smear, pure and simple, of the kind that the Journal's editorial pages have long been masters. When facts fail the Journal's editorial hit team, as they so often do, they resort to party-line invective.
For the record, Salon is a thoroughly independent publication that has published a wide and vibrant range of reporting and opinion during its two-and-a-half-year history. As a scroll through our archives will clearly attest, we have attacked President Clinton from the left, right and center -- taking him to task for everything from his failed health-care reforms to his show of tears over the Rwanda holocaust, an epic tragedy he could have brought to a quicker conclusion. Throughout the Lewinsky affair, we have published scathing attacks on his character from regular columnists such as David Horowitz and Camille Paglia, as well as contributors such as Barbara Ehrenreich.
But we have also grown concerned, as have many Americans, about how Clinton's most obsessive critics seem so intent on advancing their own political agenda that they have resorted to covert and anti-democratic tactics to bring down his presidency. This secret campaign against Clinton, and its connections to the Starr investigation, is a story of far greater importance, in our opinion, than the Lewinsky saga.
The most pressing question, then, is not about Salon's demonstrably independent journalism, but about major journalistic institutions like the Wall Street Journal. How did a great national newspaper allow its editorial pages to be hijacked, for many years now, by far-right propagandists? During the Clinton presidency, these propagandists have turned the Journal's pages over to some of the most noxious sludge that has ever been dredged up in American politics, including dark charges about Vincent Foster's death and Clinton's "connections" to Arkansas cocaine smuggling.
Who is on watch at the Wall Street Journal while this rot corrupts the newspaper's good name? When will someone in authority at this venerable publication finally step forward and say, "enough" to this subversion of the Journal's reputation?
The air has been filled of late with much somber commentary about the damaged reputation of the presidency. But we feel even more concern about the credibility of America's media institutions. While the public looks on with puzzlement and disgust, too much of the press has sunk to the level of that "bona fide" publication, the American Spectator. It's time for some deep and fearless media soul-searching.