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Jewish World Review March 3, 1999 /15 Adar 5759


Mugger This Must Be the New World:
The Mainstream Is Left Behind

FINALLY, THE BATTLE LINES are clearly drawn.

The attacks against The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, WSJ’s Dorothy Rabinowitz and Matt Drudge, both direct and implied, in the past 10 days, demonstrate who comprehends, and who doesn’t, the current media world.

I’ll leave the gnats alone for now, and focus first on The New York Times, the pedigreed institution that displayed such cowardice in the Juanita Broaddrick story that its reputation is unmistakably tarnished.

Danny Hellman
A brief recap: The ruckus began weeks ago when Drudge posted the news that Lisa Myers’ NBC "Dateline" interview with Broaddrick, in which the affluent Arkansan alleged that Bill Clinton raped her back in ’78, had been put on ice by the network’s brass—perhaps due to White House pressure—and wouldn’t air as scheduled on Jan. 29, during the Senate impeachment trial. Had it not been for Drudge and the avalanche of protests to NBC through the Internet and talk radio devotees, it’s entirely possible the story, which did run on Feb. 24, never would’ve been seen by Americans.

This is the kind of self-censorship that was routine in the days before the proliferation of cable TVand thousands upon thousands of websites. NBC News' president, Andrew Lack, was forced to explain that no, there was no trouble with the Myers report, it was just that producers were taking every precaution to make sure her reporting was exhaustive and thorough—the typical malarkey of a besieged executive caught in a squeeze.

When the Journal’s Rabinowitz published her own article about Broaddrick on Feb. 19, a fine piece of work that shocked the mainstream press, The Washington Post quickly followed with a front-page report the next day. While Lois Romano and Peter Baker, assisted by seven staff writers and two researchers, were slightly more skeptical than Rabinowitz, Broaddrick’s allegations were given the treatment they deserved; after all, she wasn’t accusing the President of giving her a hickey 21 years ago.

It’s true that the Post and Times are rivals and both papers compete for scoops. And the Times hasn’t been completely in the tank for Clinton: In ’92 it was Jeff Gerth who first reported about Whitewater. If his prose had been clearer, perhaps the explosive story, which more than just hinted at the rampant corruption of Arkansas politics, would have prevented Clinton’s election. Most greeted Gerth’s groundbreaking work with a yawn; it was too arcane, too confusing for the public, and other media, to grasp. So when Jerry Brown, who fully understood the implications, brought up Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater involvement in debates that spring, the future president threatened to punch him out.

Journalists Joe Klein and Sidney Blumenthal cheered Clinton’s manliness. But the Times, apparently pissed that they’d missed out on breaking Broaddrick’s chilling charges in the "respectable" press, didn’t even mention the story until the following Wednesday, Feb. 24, the day NBC would finally air Myers’ story. Buried inside, Felicity Barringer and David Firestone’s piece, headlined "On Tortuous Route, Sexual Assault Accusation Against Clinton Resurfaces," was a disgraceful, distorted article that could’ve been dictated by the White House War Room.

In fact, David Kendall, Clinton’s personal lawyer, is given top billing in the story, with his blanket denial, "Any allegation that the President assaulted Mrs. Broaddrick more than 20 years ago is absolutely false."

Maybe it is, but how can Kendall be sure?

Because Bill Clinton, an admitted liar who was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, told him so? Kendall didn’t even know Clinton in 1978; so he’s just passing along the President’s word, which, as most Americans know, is not his bond. The first half of Barringer and Firestone’s article emphasizes the "problems" with Broaddrick’s accusations, dismissing them as "fodder for Mr. Clinton’s legal and political opponents."

It’s not until nearly the end of their story that the reporters even mention Rabinowitz’s piece, and there she’s merely described as one of Journal editor Robert Bartley’s "columnists." In fact, Rabinowitz is on the Journal’s editorial board and is one of the most respected journalists in the country.

Because of Rabinowitz’s arduous investigative reporting on false child-abuse charges, a number of people have been released from jail: the Amiraults in Massachusetts; a slew of people in the Wenatchee, WA, "modern witch" trials; and Grant Snowden in Florida. In a piece for Harper’s, she wrote about Kelly Michaels in New Jersey, and she was exonerated. In all of these cases, Rabinowitz was up against powerful local prosecutors who had a stake in her failure. In this context, calling Rabinowitz a "columnist," is dismissive, relegating her to the status of say, the Times’ own Anthony Lewis, a slur that’s unforgivable.

Incredibly, Times managing editor Bill Keller gives this reason for why his paper was so lackadaisical, to be charitable, in reporting Broaddrick’s accusations. "[W]e talked long and hard about whether to publish anything," Keller said. "The merits of the allegations are probably unknowable. Legally, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Congress isn’t going to impeach [Clinton] again. And frankly, we’ve all got a bit of scandal fatigue." Scandal fatigue. Hmm, I’ll bet if a 20-year-old rape charge against House Speaker Dennis Hastert were alleged, that "scandal fatigue" would disappear. Keller, given his lame excuse for his paper’s laziness, deserves to be fired.

In a tepid editorial last Saturday, Feb. 27, the Times urged Clinton to be more forthcoming, saying that by speaking through Kendall he "seems increasingly a stranger." The writer correctly complains that Clinton’s press conferences have been few, and when they have occurred he’s been shielded by foreign dignitaries. But amazingly, the editorial concludes with praise for NOW’s Patricia Ireland, silent for so long during Oralgate—as opposed to the Clarence Thomas hearings and Bob Packwood investigation—for urging Clinton shill James Carville to lay off Broaddrick. "Ms. Ireland’s statement suggests that the feminist establishment may be recovering its ability to speak to the question of Bill Clinton’s conduct." Right. I’d say Gloria Steinem and Barbra Streisand have still to be heard from. And where’s the millionaire feminist and populist Michael Moore, the media fraud who thinks Hillary Clinton’s "a real babe"?

Already, the delay of NBC’s "Dateline" report on Broaddrick has shown its consequences. Last weekend, Tom Harkin—Tom Harkin!—told an Iowa newspaper that had he known about the rape allegations during the Senate trial he might’ve voted for conviction. And James Jeffords, the Vermont Republican in name only, landed in hot water when he told WKDR radio in Burlington, "If something that happened 21 years ago with a woman who invited, at least under her story, the President to her hotel room and she was not happy with what happened, I don’t know why that’s not a private matter." In other words, she wanted that attorney general bone. Jeffords later apologized.

As for Drudge, according to what slow-learners still refer to as "the paper of record," he’s just a scummy "Internet gossip." If it weren’t for Drudge’s continual reporting of NBC’s reticence in airing Myers’ interview with Broaddrick, the mainstream press would never have published stories of their own. Drudge isn’t a "gossip." He’s a journalistic pioneer who’s had an inestimable influence on the process of news-gathering and reporting.

Yes, he’s made mistakes—publishing rumors that Sidney Blumenthal beat his wife, which he quickly retracted, is the most famous—but visionaries always do. Drudge’s work is far more solid than it was even 18 months ago; his influence in the media grows exponentially.

A journalist who doesn’t check "The Drudge Report" on the Internet each morning isn’t doing his or her job.

Last Thursday, Drudge reported the spat that’s broken out between the news bureaus of the Washington Post and New York Times. According to Drudge, a "senior Times staffer" said that Post reporters have "turned sloppy" and are "cutting corners" in order to beat their paper. An anonymous Post staffer told Drudge: "Don Van Natta and James Bennett, and all of the other ‘great’ New York Times reporters, should stop kissing Clinton’s [behind] and get back on the news beat. And they should stop criticizing our work!"

In addition, on Feb. 22, Drudge accused Time of making up a quote in its glancing report about Broaddrick. The magazine said that Broaddrick called Lucianne Goldberg "crazy," a charge the nursing home owner disputes.

"That is a terrible lie," she told Drudge. "I would never say that. That is such a lie." Time’s managing editor, Walter Isaacson, said, "I double-checked the quote with the correspondent, who had it in his notes and in his file on the record. I didn’t think it was the worst thing in the world. I like to think we’re all a bit crazy!" Goldberg shot back: "The only thing crazy is putting insults into a rape victim’s mouth!"

I imagine that like Bill Keller, most of the mainstream press has "scandal fatigue" and as a result the Broaddrick story will disappear rather quickly, at least in the short term. (In the 2000 elections, when people refer to Clinton as a "rapist," how will Al Gore respond? After all, says the Veep, his boss is one of the "greatest American presidents.")

But the droppings of some pundits have dribbled out. Take Bill Press, the Crossfire cohost who also writes a mind-numbing column for the Los Angeles Times.

On Feb. 26 he wrote: "This woman’s story is different. I believed all the rest. I believed Gennifer Flowers, Paula Corbin Jones, Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey. I don’t believe Juanita Broaddrick." Fine, I find Broaddrick entirely credible, but if Press doesn’t that’s his business. What I want to know is why, if he believes that Clinton dropped trou in front of Jones and asked her to "kiss it," and fondled Willey in the White House, how on Earth could he argue vociferously, day after day, for Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate?

Press, who’s a never-say-die liberal, and therefore an honorary feminist, is willing to have a man who sexually harasses women as president? That’s pretty quirky thinking.

JWR columnist Don Feder, in the Boston Herald last Friday, had a different take: "Instead, Broaddrick says, the feminist icon threw her on a bed, bit her lip and raped her. As he was leaving the room, Broaddrick relates, Clinton adjusted his sunglasses and told her to put ice on her lip before it swelled. He felt her pain... How proud Senate Democrats and Hollywood donors must be for helping this president cling to office in the face of clearly impeachable offenses (perjury and obstruction of justice)."

Michael Kelly, writing in The Washington Post on Feb. 25, citing NBC’s Lack as saying their report was "rock solid," reminds readers that Broaddrick’s story is believable simply because of Clinton’s highly public reputation as a practitioner of sexual harassment. At this point, no one would argue with that, certainly not the thousands of men who’ve been dismissed from their jobs for lesser crimes. Kelly focuses on David Kendall’s quick dismissal of the story. He writes: "But Kendall of course doesn’t really care whether Broaddrick’s story is true or not. He doesn’t really care whether the president is a rapist or not. He doesn’t really care, because he figures you don’t really care either—at least not enough to do anything about it."

In an editorial on Feb. 22 The Wall Street Journal belittled its timid competitors and wondered why Broaddrick’s relevant story—about the President of the United States!—wasn’t followed with the same dog-eat-dog tenacity of say, Newt Gingrich’s bogus IRS violations. The Journal asks: "Why would any red-blooded journalist not want to get the story?" They left unsaid that most Beltway reporters are comfortable in their jobs, bored with Clinton’s crimes, sexual and otherwise, and are looking for something else to attack. Like the GOP wanting to screw the middle class with their tax-cut plan.

The editorialist continues, getting to the crux of the problem that mainstream reporters and editors face: "Journalists today worry a lot.

They worry about the political damage that might be done by their most volatile stories. And now they worry that the Internet is eroding their professional judgment. But more than anything, the Internet is proving the public voracious in its desire for information, whether about airline fares, stock quotes or general news... What the public most needs now are journalists whose first instinct is to find reasons why they should publish real news, even Juanita Broaddrick’s, rather than spend their hours convincing themselves that no one else should know about it."

Now back to the gnats. Microsoft’s Slate, the once-again-free online magazine that doubles as a receptacle for out-of-work journalists, has been particularly critical of the Journal’s editorial page in general and Rabinowitz in particular. Timothy Noah, who I noted last week once worked for the Journal, continued last week to badger Rabinowitz, this time for encouraging Broaddrick to speak to The New York Times. He allowed that that advice wasn’t necessarily unethical, just "puzzling," considering the competition between the two papers. He applauds his former boss, Alan Murray, for keeping the Journal’s news pages clean of the Broaddrick rape accusations. Murray told Noah, "I don’t really have any comment on what the edit page did. They do their thing, we do ours." Noah follows with this smug statement, which is typical of his ilk: "Which is what Journal news employees are instructed to say whenever the editorial page causes them cringing embarrassment."

I wonder what Slate employees are "instructed to say" when Noah’s writing, not to mention Jacob Weisberg’s, causes them "cringing embarrassment."

Michael Hirschorn, contributing to Slate’s "Breakfast Table" last Thursday, told his correspondent Mim Udovitch, "While I join [Noah] in his contempt for the Wall Street Journal’s reliably ridiculous Op-Ed page, I don’t think the WSJ’s coverage of Juanita Broaddrick is quite as risible as he’d like us to think." How charitable of Hirschorn, who’s temporarily taken up quarters in New York’s Slate offices. I, for one, don’t think Hirschorn’s tenure at Spin, where under his editorship notables like Hole and Korn were given presidential treatment, was quite as "risible" as my colleague John Strausbaugh thinks. What I do find offensive is this pearl of Hirschornian wisdom: "I’m thrilled the Republicans are looking like idiots right now, but I would find it truly depressing if Clinton’s deviancy is defined down to the point of irrelevance."

Tell me, Michael, in the wake of the Broaddrick story, which you said "would take tortured logic and some very Byzantine reasoning to concoct a scenario, at least, in which the charges could be shown to be false," who are the real idiots now? Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Joseph Lieberman, Bob Kerrey, not to mention liberal stalwarts like Teddy Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski, all of whom voted for Clinton’s acquittal, or the Republicans who voted for the President’s removal? Look in the mirror, pretend you’re not a member of the media elite and honestly say that you can countenance that the president of the United States is a rapist.

Slate’s reptilian editor Michael Kinsley attempts a wry, British view at all this nahsty business. Taking a cue from Clinton’s moronic press spokesman, Joe Lockhart, Kinsley writes, "When you’ve heard the president preposterously accused of murder so often, you just yawn when he’s accused of rape." Now, unlike Lockhart, who irresponsibly accused the Journal’s editorial page of calling Clinton a murderer, Kinsley refers to the far-right fringe fanatics, the men and women who go far beyond what most opponents of the President say. Really, does Kinsley really think that The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol or The New York Times’ William Safire, charter members of the Hillary Clinton/Sidney Blumenthal "vast right-wing conspiracy," has ever indulged in such hyperbole? But when it comes to aiding his president, Kinsley will apparently distort basic facts.

What an awful man.

(Kinsley, by the way, was the object of ridicule in Seattle’s Feb. 28 Stranger, in a feature about the powerless in that city. "Kinsley is distinguished in the field of powerlessness for editing a magazine that nobody reads. Oh wait—his mom reads it. Michael and his mom are very close.")

But now let’s really get in the gutter. Eric Alterman, an entirely dishonorable journalist, took the space granted him in the March 15 Nation to join the Broaddrick fray. His piece is filled with the predictable invective against any writer or news organization to the right of—surprise!—himself, and is littered with inaccuracies as well. His opening sentence will surely rank in the Top 5 Inanities written in connection with Oralgate over the past year. Buckle your seatbelt: "Now that the Constitution has been rescued and sexual McCarthyism discredited, perhaps the most durable legacy of the Lewinsky mess is the central location of the right-wing slime machine on the American political landscape."

Hey, now that Sidney’s been muzzled, somebody had to pick up the slack in the Clinton propaganda machine, right? Drudge takes his licks for using anonymous sources, as if that practice isn’t used by every single daily and weekly in the country.

Here’s an example of Drudge’s slipshod journalism: "‘It is not clear,’ Drudge wrote, ‘if White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart has been in personal contact with NBC News President [Andrew] Lack, or to what lengths Lockhart has gone to keep the story bottled up.’ In other words, ‘I make this stuff up as I go along.’"

I guess Alterman thought it was fair that Lockhart fabricated the charge that The Wall Street Journal said that President Clinton was a murderer. He also ignores Drudge’s probably accurate hypothesis that Lack did intentionally suppress the airing of "Dateline" until after the Senate trial. And when it was televised, it was paired against the Grammys on CBS. Like the Times, Alterman neglects to mention that the Post front-paged the Broaddrick story the day after Rabinowitz’s piece was printed, in addition to a media story by Howard Kurtz. Instead, it was Alterman’s personal demon, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, that "flogged" the story over the weekend.

Alterman is a despicable man, one whose "journalism" is every bit as biased, hysterical and without merit as what he attacks. When he was asked by Salon’s Susan Lehman for a comment on the Christopher Hitchens flap, Alterman responded: "I profoundly disagree with my friend Christopher’s decision to do this, as I disagree with virtually everything he has said and done since the Lewinsky matter began.

However, I don’t believe in attacking my friends through the media. That’s all I have to say." That must have caused quite a chuckle in the left-wing coffeehouses and bars: It’s well-known that Alterman doesn’t have any friends.

Celia McGee reported the unwelcome news in the Jan. 19 Daily News that Alterman is currently working on a book about Bruce Springsteen called Reason to Believe. McGee writes, "The Scarsdale native said he’s been obsessed with the Boss since he was 15. He finally met him in the greenroom of Charlie Rose’s show last year, when Springsteen manager Jon Landau introduced them. ‘I’m hoping to get cooperation from Bruce’s people.’"

It’s reassuring to know that Alterman is on a first-name basis with Springsteen. I wonder how he’ll square the rocker’s millionaire lifestyle with his own radical politics? But wait, silly me: Alterman’s already crossed the Michael Moore line of hypocrisy, enjoying the affluent lifestyle of a pundit while championing the downtrodden. A generation ago there was a phrase for frauds like Moore and Alterman: limousine liberal.

After this dreadful discussion of Alterman, it’s time for a newsprint shower. From The Wall Street Journal’s editorial of Feb. 26: "This Presidency, it seems to us, is increasingly bereft. It can show up in a San Francisco or Los Angeles and beat yet more money out of the party’s financial robots. It can send its Secretary of State somewhere to talk about Kosovo. But with every dreadful shoe that drops—and of course there will be more—the President’s political capital expires.

"Now, with Juanita Broaddrick standing among them, the Washington political community appears to be averting its eyes. More than anything, the city looks like one of those small towns in a Western movie where something quite awful is happening out in the street, and one house after another draws the curtains to shut out the sight. Mrs. Broaddrick’s account may fade from the news, but it is going to stay with us for quite awhile."

JWR contributing columnist Russ Smith --- AKA "MUGGER --- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s 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 ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s 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 Zabar’s: 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