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Jewish World Review /Feb. 3, 1999 /17 Shevat 5759


Mugger Rich Is Back in the Tank

IíVE LAID OFF THE TIMESí FRANK RICH in recent weeks for a couple of reasons. First, the wretched columnist has either made some sense, like championing C-SPANís Brian Lambís call for complete television access to the Senate impeachment trial, or written about some entertainment nonsense that I find uninteresting but not dangerous.

Then, last week, I felt kind of bad for him when our own Taki made sport of Richís girth. I donít care if heís 300 pounds or anorectic; it has no bearing on what atrocities he commits to the printed page.

But Rich was back in rare form last week, first with a column on Wednesday called "The Crybaby Party" that attacked a satiric piece by P.J. OíRourke in the Feb. 1 Weekly Standard. OíRourke, whoís often grating with his repetition of one-liners, was dead-on this time around, joyfully advocating an impeachment trial that would last for months, all because itís so damn amusing. Read the following and tell me, especially you earnest Upper West Siders, that itís not funny: "Senators, donít! Please fall into vicious partisan bickering instead.
Mix drain cleaner into the coatroom jar of toupee glue if thatís what it takes to bring tempers to a boil. Make the bar at the Palm restaurant a state and elect James Carville to your chamber. Hide Sen. Thurmondís Viagra. Force Sen. Kennedy to skip lunch. Give Sen. Byrdís history of the Senate to Michiko Kakutani for a snide review in the New York Times. Call witnesses, call an endless list of witnesses. Call Mick Jagger, heís slept with everybody. Call Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She knows Billís type... The Clinton impeachment is a thing of manifold splendor, and whatís most bright and shining is that it has no downside."

Rich, confident that the Republicansí fight to convict Clinton is near conclusion, wrote that the Presidentís opponents are blaming everybody else for their failure to make headway. He castigates the usual bunch of villains: Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, Newt Gingrich, the House managers, Bill Kristol and Ken Starr. (Starrís a gimme on any Democratic list: To Rich, heís responsible for collecting "unexpurgated porn" and releasing it to the public, as if what was contained in his report wasnít tame by even a teenagerís standards.) Why, Rich thundered, soon the GOP would start complaining about the biased, liberal media again!

But Rich has particular contempt for OíRourke, who dared to lampoon the American people by describing them, rather accurately, as "masses waddling into airports, business offices, and churches dressed in drooping sweats or fuchsia warm-up suits or mainsail-sized Bermuda shorts, each with a mobile phone in one ear and a Walkman in the other and sucking Diet Pepsi through a straw." Imagine that! Rich, New York City populist, harrumphs. What is galling about his pomposity is that Iíll bet that a majority of the punditocracy, the mostly liberal journalists who enjoy affluent lifestyles, send their kids to private schools, have summer homes and are members of an elite class in this country, howled when they read OíRourkeís words.

They believe them, too, but donít have the balls to say so. And Rich, whoís as elitist as they come, just used the passage to buttress his flimsy argument that Republicans in the House and Senate are Neanderthals who shouldnít be allowed in public meeting places. Itís this kind of hypocrisy, so prevalent in the Washington-Boston power center, thatís made this entire case so maddening. If Clinton were a Republican, you can bet that the media would be demanding his scalp.

(Michael Wolff, in his Feb. 8 New York "Media" column, rivaled Rich for repulsive writing. Wolff spent a few days at the hearings, sitting next to novelist Dominick Dunne, heís quick to point out, and was struck by just how stupid the House managers are. "The Republican managers certainly do not have the advantages of education, experience, or I.Q. to compete with the White House legal team. This is another thing that the television has flattened: the class differences between the House members and the presidentís legal team." Wolff also makes the preposterous leap that senators are of a different breed from mere representatives, ignoring the basic fact that 45 of the current senators started out in the House. Does he think these politicians transform from caterpillars to golden butterflies once they enter the Senate chambers? Wolff continues: "Itís Yale Law School versus the bumpkins." Translated: the Ivy League vs. them dirty Southerners in overalls who guzzle moonshine whiskey and hang out with Goober and Gomer Pyle. Donít know about you, but I think South Carolinaís Lindsey Graham was far more impressive than Clintonís personal lawyer David Kendall. As was Arkansasí Asa Hutchinson.)

Last Saturday, Rich was even more disingenuous, ridiculing the GOP for "p.c." behavior in calling its three witnesses for the trial. Whereís Betty Currie, Rich wants to know; is it because sheís a small, black woman that Henry Hyde passed her over, even though her complicity in the scandal is central to the case against the President? Of course Currieís testimony is crucial and everyone knows that: Her conversations with Clinton and his coaching could nail him. But as Rich is obviously aware, with only three witnesses allowed, the House managers arenít going to take the risk of a hostile media showing images of a cowering Currie as sheís led to the Senate chamber. The demagoguery, led by Clintonís prayer and Super Bowl buddy Jesse Jackson, would be insufferable. It would be reminiscent of last year when she testified before the grand jury and, huddled against the masses of cameramen, looked so defenseless.

In fact, Currie is not a witless waif whoís deserving of such condescending treatment by partisans like Rich. Sheís a savvy woman whoís been at the center of Clintonís White Houseóthe gatekeeper, in a senseóand would make an extremely helpful witness. But her appearance would backfire for the Republicans and thatís why they settled on Vernon Jordan, Sidney Blumenthal and Monica (whoís now dropped her last name).

As for Blumenthal, itís no surprise that journalists are enraged that heís been called as one of the three witnesses: Despite his loathsome reputation, heís a former member of the press and thereís a residue of twisted loyalty. Timothy Noah, writing in Slate, asks why Blumenthal (whoís a neighbor of his) and not Betty Currie? The Baltimore Sunís Jack Germond and Jules Witcover called the choice of Blumenthal "astonishing." Thatís a bunch of hooey, as any Beltway insider knows: Blumenthalís been at the center of Clintonís dirty-tricks operation and, despite the self-righteous bluster heís bound to display on videotape, might fork over information to save his own skin. Besides, it was Blumenthal Clinton entrusted with the whopper that Monica was a stalker who might be out to blackmail him. The ex-New Yorker apologist for the First Family then disseminated that lie to the media.

The Wall Street Journalís Paul Gigot, in his "Potomac Watch" column last Friday, was one of the few pundits who applauded Blumenthalís summons. He wrote: "Mr. Blumenthalís [grand jury] testimony reveals a president doing much more than hiding an affair. He was using the powers of his office to create a false story that would destroy Ms. Lewinsky... Mr. Clinton was telling his most fervent supporter that his president was the victim of lies and a gross injustice. Wouldnít Mr. Blumenthal want to tell everyone in the White House and around the world why his hero was innocent? If Mr. Clinton didnít want his chief political communicator to broadcast this phony tale, he could have said so.

Thereís no record he did... In her interview with House managers on Sunday, Ms. Lewinsky seemed surprised when they asked her about Mr. Blumenthalís testimony and the Ďstalkerí line. Maybe this explains the furious Democratic opposition even to videotaping her testimony." Itís hilarious listening to Clintonís lawyers and shills shed crocodile tears for Monica, asking why subject the poor girl to another round of hostile questions.

Margery Eagan, a columnist for the Boston Herald, was bursting with sympathy for Monica on Jan. 26, lamenting that the poor lass would be forced to testify once again. She shreds the House managers: "Thereís something so prurient about it all, so creepy, as if a bunch of dirty old men with soft fingers and sweaty upper lips keep pressing a pretty, embarrassed young thing for details of her impure thoughts." It bothers Eagan that Monica was questioned by men, and Southern white men at that. Incredibly, she continues: "Too bad for the Republicans that they donít have a woman inquisitor who comes across like Clinton defender Cheryl Millsóhoney-voiced, passionate, high-minded."

As I wrote last week, This Is Not America.

And Walter Shapiro, the USA Today columnist who moonlights for Slate, wrote these absurd remarks in the online journal last Friday: "Monica is an ordinary young woman, who blundered badly when she was exposed to extraordinary temptation. Like Helen of Troy, sheís caused a helluva messóbut that doesnít mean sheís responsible for it."

Helen of Troy? Iím getting sick of all these lazy pundits invoking Greek tragedy, when in reality the sleazy scandal simply resembles a 90s sitcom or nighttime soap. Monica, with just a year of on-and-off servicing of Clinton, which she presumably enjoyed, is now famous and will become rich from a book deal and television appearances. Sheís the toast of Hollywood and will probably not want for a steady stream of income, at least for the next five years, until the shallow entertainment moguls decide sheís too fat or boring to consume their precious attention. She made out like a princess in this deal.

Lanny Davisí Paper of Record

THERE WAS AN EDITORIAL PRINTED last Friday by the Democratic National Committee, I mean The Clinton Times... No, wait, let me start over. There was an editorial printed last Friday by The New York Times that demonstrates just how buffaloed the countryís "paper of record" is by the White Houseís spin. It began: "Senate Republicans acted unwisely yesterday by exercising their majority power to impose an open-ended and ill-defined set of procedures for the remainder of the impeachment trial. They are now perilously close to turning the trial into a purely Republican spectacle that poorly serves the nation and demeans the Senate itself."

Iím not alone in suggesting that every time the Senate meets it "demeans" itself, but letís leave that alone for now. Just what does the editorial board of the Times expect the Senate to do? Roll over for the White House and ignore the Houseís impeachment charges against Bill Clinton?
Theyíve been pushing their "censure" proposal for months now; itís going nowhere and I suppose Howell Raines and Arthur Sulzberger are POed that their opinion wasnít immediately adopted by the GOP. Itís ironic that the very next day, last Saturday, the Times condemned Attorney General Janet Reno for not appointing an independent counsel to investigate Clinton lieutenant Harold Ickesí involvement in campaign finance irregularities for the í96 presidential campaign.

And on Saturday, The Washington Postís Susan Schmidt recounted ABCís scoop that Nathan Landow, a wealthy Democratic fundraiser, hired a private investigator, Jarrett Stern, "for an unspecified project." Kathleen Willey, who has accused Clinton of groping and fondling her, maintains that she was harassed by a man two days before her testimony in the Paula Jones case.

Also last week, the Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Kenneth Starrís indictments of Webster and Susan Hubbell on tax evasion charges. Dick Morris, Clintonís former guru (he may be still: who knows?) wrote a column in the New York Post a week ago that ridiculed the notion that the impeachment trial will end as scheduled on Feb. 12. He correctly noted that no one, last year, expected that Starr would recommend impeachment, that the House would actually impeach Clinton, that the Senate wouldnít immediately dismiss the charges or that theyíd call witnesses.

Not long after Clintonís infamous pep rally on the day he was impeached, when former Presidents Carter and Ford, along with former Sens. Cohen and Dole, tried to broker a censure (translated: a pardon), it appeared the trial would be a sham, with a spineless Trent Lott caving in to the Democratic minority. It hasnít turned out that way. As Iíve written before, every day that this trial continues, the worse it will become for Clinton. Since itís a guarantee that the Senate will dawdle, thereís plenty of time for further evidenceólike the Landow revelationsóto influence the senators.

Thatís why the White House is considering calling witnesses of their own; thatís why the War Room is gearing up for action again. There was, it turns out, a false sense of security when Sen. Byrd called for a quick up or down vote. Thatís long forgotten now, even as GOP senators claimed on the Sunday talk shows that the perjury count might not attract even 50 votes for conviction. But, failing a sudden burst of courage from the Senate, it does appear that eventually Clinton will get off the hook.

Iím firmly against the "finding of fact" gambit that some Republicans are pushing to provide cover for their reelection efforts. Sure, itíll be thoroughly disgusting when Clinton celebrates upon his eventual acquittal, but the Senate shouldnít fudge with the Constitution. Leave it to future historians, preferably not the progeny of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. or Sean Wilentz, to describe just what exactly happened during Clintonís criminal administration.

Itís Morrisí theory that Susan Hubbell will crack and then her husband will too. Then: "If Lewinsky asked Currie to pick up the gifts, she might have done so on her own. But if Currie was the one who called Lewinsky, it is very, very, very unlikely that she did so on her own. If Starr uses Lewinskyís testimony to threaten Curry, she might have more to say about what Clinton did or did not tell her to do about the gifts." Thatís why the length of the trial is so important: Ken Starr might not be in the Senate chamber, but heís still working on the case. Clinton mustíve dirtied his briefs upon reading Don Van Natta Jr.ís report in Sundayís New York Times that Starr is considering an indictment of him while heís still in office.

If Morris is correct, and the trial snowballs, thereís no guarantee that Currie wonít still be called as a witness. National Journal editor Michael Kelly wrote in The Washington Post on Jan. 27: "The import of Currieís [grand jury] testimony is clear: Knowing that he was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, and knowing that Currie must be called to testify in this investigation, Clinton called Currie in and ran her through the cover-up story one more time. At the time, whether Clinton knew it or not, Currie was in fact a subpoenaed witness. Bill Clinton tampered with a witness in a federal criminal proceeding." And thatís called obstruction of justice.

The Times editorial board knows that Clinton is corrupt and that his criminal activity is not "just about sex." Why the paper is rolling over for Clinton is a mystery that I suppose only historians will uncover. If the minority party in the Senate won every procedural vote, would it then be a Democratic "spectacle that poorly serves the nation and demeans the Senate itself"? Probably not.

On the same day, Jan. 29, that the Times issued its 53rd call for Clintonís censure, its former executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, wrote a blistering column, saying, "A guilty verdict would repair the Presidency and country." Admitting that he voted for Clinton twice, the second time with grave reservations, Rosenthal derides those who complain that the proceedings havenít been "bipartisan," explaining that of course that would never be expected. He also lays out the case against Clinton for those senators who refuse to muster the courage to do it themselves: "Remember who got us here, who forced the trial, who put the country brain-deep in his own muck. Forgetting that is like forgetting that Judge Ito did not kill O.J. Simpsonís former wife. Bill Clinton gambled the moral, political and historic reputation of the Presidencyóshowing what he thought of the office and himself. He lied. He lied in private and in public, with or without oath. He lied to friends, enemies, subordinates... If perjury aggravated by repetition is not enough, examine damage to government. He captured and tied up the entire White House in his lies. He lied directly to some of his government employees, used others as shields, and kept some theoretically ignorant so they could say sorry, we cannot inform the public."

Rosenthal, at one time, was a powerful and feared man at the Times. In his dotage, heís been granted a column, the equivalent of a gold watch, and is largely ignored by a young publisher who prefers the schoolgirl whimsy of Maureen Dowd and anti-Christian, entertainment-laden prose of Frank Rich. Dowd was riding on her high horse last Sunday, railing against Starr and the report that he may indict Clinton while still in office. "This is all about ego, vengefulness and arrogance. The public is begging for release from Monica madness, but all Ken Starr and the Republican House managers want is to save their own heartless faces." Stuff it, Mo, and keep those "vengeful" rants between you and Michael Douglas. If Starr is such a vindictive prosecutor, why do the judges keep ruling in his favor? Maybe itís because heís obeying the letter and the spirit of the law.

It makes you wonder: If Rosenthal were still a force at the Times, would the paperís stance toward the countryís felonious president be more severe?

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clintonís Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of í98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irvingís the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starrís Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabarís: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith