The Republican attack dogs can dish it out, but they can't take it. That's why they're calling in the FBI -- and stomping on freedom of the press in the process -- to investigate their false and scurrilous charges that Salon's Henry Hyde exposé came from the White House.
Pity the poor lynch mob. After we revealed that Hyde, the congressman who will sit in judgment on President Clinton's sex life, had an extramarital skeleton in his own closet, the Republicans went berserk. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay announced today that the Republican leadership has asked FBI chief Louis Freeh to "investigate allegations that certain associates and allies of the White House have embarked on a campaign to intimidate members of Congress." Asked what evidence he had, other than vague and unsourced media reports, that the White House was involved in Salon's Hyde story, DeLay said, "I don't have any evidence."
Well, there's a good reason why DeLay doesn't have any evidence. His allegations are completely false.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, let us make it clear once again: The White House had nothing to do with the Hyde story. Salon is an independent publication. We are not an "ally" of the White House. The only connection we have with the Clinton administration is the same one every major news organization has: We have sources there. We have attacked Clinton from every point on the political spectrum -- in fact, one of our top editors called for Clinton's resignation. And less than a week ago, our top investigative reporter, Murray Waas, wrote a damning piece about an Arkansas woman who was bumped out of a state job by Gennifer Flowers -- perhaps the only woman to be truly harmed by Clinton's sexual adventuring. With allies like these, who needs enemies?
We expected this kind of wild attack from the Rottweiler wing of the Republican party. They don't want their own sacred cows subjected to the sexual inquisition they have gleefully imposed upon the president -- in the process dragging the country down into an unprecedented morass of vengeance and vulgarity. And we didn't expect any great concern from the Republican leadership over a little matter called freedom of the press. A free press, it seems, is just fine -- as long as it confines itself to pulling down the president's pants, or repeating leaks from the independent counsel's office, or intoning penny-ante moral sermons, or breathlessly reporting on the Clinton-survival horse race. But let the press begin pulling down the wrong pants, and the Republic is threatened! Call in the G-men!
All highly predictable. But we confess we expected better from our colleagues in the media who have rushed to assume Salon is part of the Clinton spin machine. Exposing the excesses of the Starr investigation, and calling into question the wisdom of impeaching a president over private behavior, should be seen as a badge of independence -- not servitude.
We didn't expect everyone to agree with our decision to run the Hyde story. As we wrote in the editorial that accompanied the story, it was the most difficult decision we've faced since starting Salon. But we ultimately decided that the reasons for running the story outweighed the reasons not to.
We asked a dean of American journalism about our decision. Ben Bagdikian, former Washington Post ombudsman and professor emeritus of UC-Berkeley's journalism school, said Thursday, "Salon was justified to run the story because the press coverage of the upcoming judiciary hearings stressed that Hyde was just and fair with no biases." Echoing our own criticism of Kenneth Starr's sexual inquisition, whose absurdity our Hyde story was intended to expose and end, Bagdikian added, "Salon was justified because the process of probing into the private lives of public officials -- when it is not proven that it affects their public duty -- has gone so far in this country that it endangers not only every public official but every citizen who ought to have the right of privacy."
By publishing our revelations about Hyde's past we've created a storm of debate about the relationship between private behavior and public accountability. That was our intention. And it's now up to the public to decide what the limits of politics by exposure should be.