Dropping in on the fact checker

The media overstates Denise Rich's White House visits; black leaders call the "conspiracy" in Florida a "modern-day reincarnation of slavery." Plus: Wednesday briefing.

Published February 28, 2001 11:49AM (EST)

Reports emerged this week that Denise Rich, ex-wife of pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich, visited the White House between 12 and 20 times during Bill Clinton's time in office. That number will come as a disappointment to the many pundits and media outlets that have reported, repeatedly, over the past several weeks that Denise Rich visited the White House a whopping 100 times over the past year.

The "100" number crept into the public conversation about Rich just days after the pardon -- appearing first Jan. 24 in a story in the New York Post by reporter Todd Venezia, who wrote, "Sources close to [Rich] say the White House even contacted the multimillionairess -- who has visited the Clintons 100 times over the past year -- to serve as a go-between for the administration and Marc's lawyers." Venezia might have been first with the inaccuracy, but he wasn't the last. Below is a short list of those who called it wrong:

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., Fox News, Feb. 25:
"She was there, we had been told, up to 100 times. I don't think we have verified all that yet."

Steve Dunleavy, New York Post, Feb. 25:
"Well, Denise Rich is rich by name and nature. She can say she loved Bill's politics and may have been infatuated (platonically, of course) with his company, seeing she visited the White House more than 100 times in one year, something some Cabinet members didn't actually do."

Don Imus, on CNN's "Live With Larry King," Feb. 22:
"According to fairly reliable sources, she made 100 visits to the White House."

Sean Hannity, on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes," to Dick Morris, Feb. 20:
"A 100 times at the White House in a year, Dick!"

Sue Reid, Sunday Times (London), Feb. 18:
"The searing political row that followed was stoked by news that Rich had met the Clintons -- whom she calls "incredibly compassionate human beings" -- 100 times over the years."

The Houston Chronicle, editorial, Feb. 17:
"By now everyone is aware that Rich's former wife, Denise, visited the Clinton White House on at least 100 occasions last year and that she was active in the New York social and political scene on behalf of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign."

Michael Barone, on "The McLaughlin Group," Feb. 9:
"I've heard the figure 100 -- that Denise Rich visited the White House last year."

Dick Morris, on Fox's "The Edge With Paula Zahn," Feb. 8:
Denise Rich is "a woman who spent 100 nights at the White House over the last 365 days."

Dick Morris, on Fox's "The Edge With Paula Zahn," Jan. 25:
"It doesn't have much to do with Denise Rich's 100 visits to the White House. It has to do with one thing and one thing only, what Jack Quinn knows."
-- Alicia Montgomery [9 a.m. PST, Feb. 28, 2001]

A "modern-day reincarnation of slavery"?

The Congressional Black Caucus convened Tuesday for close to six hours for a hearing about voting irregularities in the presidential race. Unlike hearings held by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and by the NAACP in the wake of the election, this event didn't feature any "real people" telling stories about being turned away from the polls on Nov. 8.

Instead, leaders of civil rights organizations and left-leaning interest groups summarized their suggestions for improvement, including setting nationwide election standards, pursuing federal funding to modernize voting equipment and declaring Election Day a national holiday.

Select Democratic Party bigwigs were on hand to praise the caucus and promise reforms. "This to me is the most important issue we face," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "It's at the heart of our Democratic experience." Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also joined in the handwringing, calling the stories of disenfranchisement "troubling, to put it mildly."

Though the volume stayed low for most of the hearing, the rhetoric occasionally got heated. The panel seemed particularly upset with CBC critics who had called for the group to quit talking about the Florida voting problems. "This is almost a modern-day reincarnation of slavery," said Maynard Jackson, national development chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He compared the calls to end the Florida probes to masters who beat their slaves harder the more they cried out.

Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., said there was enough evidence that Florida officials took questionable actions to merit an investigation into whether there was a coordinated effort to suppress minority turnout. "Could we use the word 'conspiracy' and not be afraid of it?" he asked.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, toed a more moderate line. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist myself," he said, "but I don't think Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall by himself."
-- Alicia Montgomery [4 p.m. PST, Feb. 27, 2001]

With his address Tuesday night, the new president finally seized the headlines from the old one. Bush's remarks before a joint session of Congress replayed the greatest hits of his campaign speeches, with an emphasis on delivering the $1.6 trillion tax cut that he has pursued relentlessly despite the vocal doubts of Democrats and deficit hawks.

As Bush takes his tax cut message on the road over the next two days, with planned campaign-style stops in Iowa, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, the details of his $1.9 trillion budget will get hashed out in Washington. The battle lines on the Bush agenda have long been drawn, with most Republicans insisting that Democrats just don't want to give American taxpayers more control over the national purse strings, and Democrats objecting that Republican tax cuts are bloated, reckless and aimed primarily at the wealthy.

While Congress chews on the new president's budget, it's not quite done with Bill Clinton. The House Government Reform Committee meets Thursday to further probe his presidential pardons, particularly that of fugitive financier Marc Rich. On Tuesday, committee chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., got one of the items on his wish list. The former president waived executive privilege for three of his top White House aides, which leaves John Podesta, Beth Nolan and Bruce Lindsey free to testify about their conversations with Clinton on the pardon process.

Clinton himself wants to be free of the spotlight. The once notoriously attention-hungry politician now claims that he's weary of dominating the headlines as ex-president, and has urged the media to start covering something else.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:45 a.m. PST, Feb. 28, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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