Alternate universe


Geraldine Sealey
June 28, 2004 5:16PM (UTC)

The New York Times isn't the only major newspaper to gloss over its flawed Whitewater coverage in recent reviews and commentary of President Clinton's autobiography. In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Clinton's lawyer takes the paper to task for ignoring its own role in hyping the non-scandal and continuing to perpetuate myths about what the Whitewater probe actually accomplished. It reads:

"The Post's June 23 editorial on former president Bill Clinton's autobiography is aptly titled ['Alternate Universe'] but not in the way intended."

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"'My Life' contains acknowledgments of error and personal mistakes, but the editorial contains not a whisper that the paper's coverage of Whitewater was frequently overhyped, under-skeptical and just plain wrong. The Post said, 'The tangled real estate investments that became known as Whitewater merited investigation, and the inquiry produced numerous convictions.'"

"It appears that denial is not just a river in Egypt."

"'Investments'? There was only one, made in 1978 for about $200,000. It was financed by bank loans, which were repaid with interest. Bill and Hillary Clinton lost almost $50,000 on this investment. As even the Office of the Independent Counsel conceded, the Clintons 'invested a substantial amount of personal funds and realized no profit from the venture.'"

"As for the 'numerous convictions,' most were guilty pleas wrested by the overwhelming resources of the independent counsel -- small, sad cases involving misstatements in loan applications and personal bankruptcy filings. Many of these pleas were to misdemeanors; none involved the Clintons."

"The office led by Kenneth W. Starr spent more than $70 million on its seven-year investigation, and it was the first independent counsel to lose a jury trial. Indeed, it lost three out of four cases and both cases it appealed to the Supreme Court."

"One of the most devastating parts of 'My Life' is its description of how the media overplayed and misreported the ever-shifting controversies of Whitewater, seeing in its faux 'scandals' the glimmer of a new Watergate. The Post was in the vanguard here from 1994 to 1996, churning out story after story about Whitewater questions and allegations, but underreporting when these were answered and disproved. For example, Resolution Trust Corp.'s December 1995 exculpatory findings about the Clintons' Whitewater investment were barely mentioned in The Post."

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"The former president has acknowledged his personal mistakes that led to his impeachment. Isn't it time for The Post to confess its own journalistic mistakes over its Whitewater coverage?"

DAVID E. KENDALL

Washington

The writer is personal counsel to former president Bill Clinton.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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