Trial by Media
THE OLD LAWYER'S advice to a young attorney -- "When your case is weak, shout louder" -- should now be updated to read: "When your case is weak, take it to the media, instead of to the courts."
There are full-time television journalists who do not appear on the tube as frequently as Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg. He and the Clinton lawyers have been loudly proclaiming to the media that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has overstepped the bounds.
If they could make this charge stand up in court, Mr. Starr could be dismissed by the judges who sanctioned his appointment or by Attorney General Jane Reno or by President Clinton himself. Yet White House lawyers and their media allies are making noise on TV, instead of having to put up or shut up in court.
Some media people who have glided over the Clintons' long-standing pattern of playing fast and loose with the law, of lying and paying off potential witnesses with jobs, as well as conducting campaigns of character assassination against individuals who cross them, now get all worked up into great moral indignation over the fact that secret tapes were used to expose lies and corruption.
This whole case would not exist, except for character assassination from the White House. When Clinton spin-doctor James Carville pictured Paula Jones as trailer-park trash after she sued the president for sexual harassment, he ruined the chances of an out-of-court settlement. If she had not been publicly insulted like this in the nationwide media, Paula Jones might have accepted the Clinton offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to go away.
If Ms. Jones had taken the money and gone away, then there would have been no subpoena issued for Monica Lewinsky and no need to involve former White House aide Linda Tripp, who said that she had seen another woman who emerged from a meeting with Clinton looking like she had been manhandled. At that point, the character assassination turned against Ms. Tripp, when Clinton's attorney Bob Bennett called her a liar in the media.
Realizing that she could be a target for White House vengeance -- Ms. Tripp had also revealed the rifling of Vincent Foster's office on the night of his death, despite law enforcement requests to leave everything as is until they got there -- she figured that she had better protect herself by getting the goods on Clinton. That is when she started taping Monica Lewinsky.
But the way the story is played on some media talk shows, it is just mean old Kenneth Starr and sneaky Linda Tripp out to get Bill Clinton and his cronies and playmates for some nefarious reason. It is all about the president's private sex life, these media pundits claim.
The issues of committing perjury, urging others to commit perjury, tampering with evidence and buying off witnesses are all blithely ignored. This kind of shameless corruption by the Clintons goes all the way back to the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas and the swindling of bank depositors there by the Clintons' business partners, with the aid of misleading legal documents drawn up by Hillary Clinton.
Watergate was not about a burglary and the Clinton scandals are not about sex. These were just some of the acts that led to a pattern of behavior that adds up to obstruction of justice.
Corruption occurs all over the world but that is wholly different from saying, "Everybody does it." Among our many blessings as a nation is that corruption and abuse of power here are on nothing like the scale that they have reached in Latin America or in parts of Asia and Africa.
But, if we start accepting corruption and abuses of power, it will not be long before everybody does do it, because there will no longer be any political penalty, and legal penalties can be evaded by paying off witnesses and scaring off informers.
When the FBI turns over hundreds of confidential dossiers on private individuals to political leaders, that may be what national police forces do in corrupt countries, but it is an outrage in the American legal system. Yet there has been remarkably little outrage in a media where many now seem to be upset over the taping of one individual during a criminal investigation.
Honesty and laws applying to all are not simply legal or moral matters, they are major
factors in the economic development and political stability of nations. All we need are a
couple of more presidents following in Bill Clinton's footsteps and we will be well on our
way to becoming the world's largest banana
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric