The Consortium

Big Media & The Slush Fund Mysteries

By Robert Parry

The biggest threat to Bill Clinton's Presidency now may be coming from The New York Times and The Washington Post, more than from Republicans in Congress, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr or the conservative movement.

The nation's two dominant newspapers -- and the scores of smaller news outlets which follow the leaders -- seem to have accepted the "Clinton scandals" as a constitutionally serious matter. The papers appear ready to push this issue toward impeachment, in line with conservative strategies, regardless of public opinion.

The Post underscored this institutional judgment by lavishing nearly uncritical multi-page coverage on the newly released Paula Jones case documents -- seven pages of coverage on March 14 and four more pages on March 15, space usually reserved for historic or cataclysmic events. Simultaneously, the Post virtually ignored new evidence that raised fresh doubts about the anti-Clinton charges and the credibility of Jones's principal witnesses.

The New York Times was slightly less generous in granting space to the Jones court documents over the March 14-15 weekend, but joined the Post in down-playing or ignoring the deepening credibility problems of key anti-Clinton witnesses and evidence that a number of them had been paid by Clinton enemies.

Brock's Apology

An example of the big papers' tilt was on display, four days earlier when both the Post and Times gave short shrift to a statement by conservative journalist David Brock, who admitted that a right-wing vendetta had targeted Clinton for destruction and that money was being exchanged for anti-Clinton testimony. On March 9, the former American Spectator writer renounced his own ground-breaking work on the scandals as unsound journalism.

"I conspired to damage you and your presidency," Brock wrote in an open letter of apology to Clinton, whose election had angered Brock and other conservatives because it ended 12 years of Republican control of the White House. "I wanted to pop you right between the eyes."

At the heart of Brock's apology was his belated recognition that Arkansas state troopers who had supplied salacious stories about Clinton's sex life were either lying or exaggerating their accounts for money. One might have expected Brock's recantation to be big news. But it wasn't at the Post and Times.

The Post dropped the Brock story from its national front section altogether, relegating it to the gossipy Style section. There, an article by media critic Howard Kurtz lampooned Brock's change of heart as insincere and self-serving. According to Kurtz, Brock was going "the mea culpa route in trying to shed his old image as right-wing hit man and position himself as a respected mainstream writer. ... This approach has yielded a publicity bonanza." [WP, March 10, 1998]

The New York Times was, if anything, even more dismissive of Brock's apology. It gave Brock's admission a scant two paragraphs midway through a round-up article, which focused on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's demand that Clinton tell "the whole truth" about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. [NYT, March 10, 1998]

Brock had better luck explaining his views on television than he did in the major newspapers. On the evening of March 10, Brock appeared on CNN's Crossfire to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton was right to see a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her husband.

"There is a right-wing [apparatus] and I know what it is," Brock said. "I've been there, I was part of it and, yes, they were trying to bring down Bill Clinton by damaging him personally ... by any means necessary." Brock admitted that right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife had helped finance the Troopergate dirt-digging through the American Spectator magazine.

Brock added that "an ally" of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (whom Brock would not identify) and longtime Clinton enemy, Cliff Jackson, "brought me into the process in the same way they brought in other reporters. ... They were behind the management of the story."

Brock said he also had learned that the Arkansas state troopers were "offered money" in exchange for their tales. The money and the clear falsity of some of the troopers' claims caused Brock to back away from his American Spectator story.

"I'm telling you that I don't know that that story was true and I don't know that the pattern of behavior [Clinton's supposed philandering] that was described in that piece actually happened. ... I don't believe that what they said happened in the way it was described in that article."

The Falwell Money

A day later, on March 11, more details about the conservative payoffs to anti-Clinton witnesses appeared in an investigative article written by reporter Murray Waas and published in the Internet magazine, Salon. Waas had obtained the confidential accounting ledgers and other records from the Citizens for Honest Government, which has worked closely with Rev. Jerry Falwell and other Clinton enemies to promote the "Clinton scandals."

Waas reported that the group "covertly paid more than $200,000 to individuals who made damaging allegations about President Clinton's personal conduct." Some of these anti-Clinton allegations "were either fabricated or grossly exaggerated [and] were part of a covert and sophisticated political propaganda effort to influence public opinion against President Clinton," Waas reported.

According to Waas's article, the paid witnesses supplied bogus evidence to the Wall Street Journal, the American Spectator and other publications. Many of the tainted witnesses also appeared in "The Clinton Chronicles," a slick anti-Clinton propaganda video produced by the Citizens for Honest Government in 1994 and hawked on Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour." The video sold an estimated 150,000 copies and made millions of dollars.

Regarding the troopers' deals, Waas reported that Larry Nichols, the Arkansas representative for the Citizens for Honest Government, signed a contract with two troopers, Roger Perry and Larry Patterson, in March 1995. The contract agreed to pay them to make statements challenging official findings that White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park in Virginia on July 20, 1993.

As part of the Foster investigation, Perry and Patterson submitted affidavits and gave testimony declaring that a White House aide, Helen Dickey, called the Arkansas governor's office during the late afternoon of July 20, 1993, to pass on word of Foster's death. She supposedly said that Foster had died in the White House parking lot.

But the Dickey phone call would have come hours before the White House officially learned of Foster's death. Fort Marcy Park is also across the Potomac River and a half dozen miles away from the White House.

Clinton enemies cited the troopers' testimony as evidence disproving official reports which concluded that Foster had died at Fort Marcy Park from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The dark suspicion was that Clinton somehow had a hand in eliminating Foster.

The troopers' story collapsed, however, when Dickey testified that she had not learned about Foster's death until after senior White House officials were notified at about 10 p.m. that evening. Dickey said she called her father and then Little Rock to notify Foster's friends. White House phone records supported Dickey's timing.

As part of another exhaustive review of Foster's death, special prosecutor Starr concluded that Dickey was telling the truth and that the troopers weren't. Starr also reaffirmed the earlier findings that Foster indeed had killed himself at Fort Marcy Park. Waas wrote that he discovered the existence of the troopers' video contract when Perry complained that Nichols never delivered the promised money.

The Mena Money

Right-wing money also sloshed around other anti-Clinton allegations, including those connecting Gov. Clinton to drug smuggling at a small airport near Mena, Ark., in the mid-1980s. Those allegations were featured in "The Clinton Chronicles" as well as in anti-Clinton articles by the Wall Street Journal and the American Spectator.

The Journal articles reportedly caught the attention of House Speaker Gingrich who authorized a Mena investigation by the Republican-controlled House Banking Committee. After an expensive two-year probe, however, the committee finally acknowledged that it uncovered no evidence connecting Clinton to any wrongdoing at Mena.

In his investigation, Waas found that money from the Citizens for Honest Government was present in the Mena allegations, too. According to the group's accounting records, former Saline County, Ark., deputy sheriff John Brown received more than $28,000 in 1994 and 1995. Brown wrote about the Clinton-Mena allegations for the Wall Street Journal and appeared in a Citizens-produced video on the Mena allegations.

In an interview with Waas, Patrick Matrisciana, president of Citizens for Honest Government, acknowledged the payments to anti-Clinton witnesses. But Matrisciana insisted that "we did not pay people to tell lies. ... We paid people so that they would no longer have to be afraid to tell the truth."

Deception, however, appears to have been a big part of the package. Not only have GOP-run investigations failed to corroborate the central suspicions raised by "The Clinton Chronicles" and other anti-Clinton videos, but Falwell and Matrisciana apparently engaged in a false-advertising scam to help sell their products.

During one infomercial, Falwell interviewed a silhouetted individual whom he identified only as an "investigative reporter," according to Waas's article.

"Could you please tell me and the American people why you think that your life and the lives of others on this video are in danger?" Falwell asked the mystery man.

"Jerry, two weeks ago, we had an interview with a man who was an insider," the silhouetted man replied. "His plane crashed and he was killed an hour before the interview. You may say this is just a coincidence, but there was another fellow that we were also going to interview, and he was killed in a plane crash. Jerry, are these coincidences? I don't think so."

In the interview with Waas, however, Matrisciana admitted that he was the silhouetted man. "Obviously, I'm not an investigative reporter," Matrisciana said, "and I doubt our lives were actually in any real danger. That was Jerry's idea to do that. ... He thought that would be dramatic."

In another article in Salon, Waas and co-writer Jonathan Broder disclosed that David Hale, the key witness against President Clinton in the Whitewater affair, also received clandestine payments from Clinton's political enemies. This article quoted two eyewitnesses in Arkansas describing numerous cash deliveries to Hale between 1994 and 1996, after Hale became a cooperating federal witness for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

Hale's payments came from representatives of the so-called Arkansas Project, a $2.4 million campaign to investigate Clinton. The project was financed by right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the money was funnelled through the American Spectator to attorney Stephen Boynton, according to the article. "A portion of the funds went to Parker Dozhier, a 56-year-old sportsman and fur trapper who then made the cash payments to Hale, according to Caryn Mann, Dohzier's former live-in girlfriend, and her 17-year-old son, Joshua Rand," the article stated.

Big Media Black Hole

Despite the eyewitness and documentary evidence of paid witnesses, Waas's stories had even less bounce than Brock's apology. Waas's stories received no mention in The Washington Post, The New York Times or most other major national media outlets.

On March 13, however, when Paula Jones's lawyers released 700 pages of documents, the major media reversed field, treating the event as a news story of extraordinary importance. The depositions and other documents contained little new, effectively reprising the well-known sex allegations against Clinton. But that didn't matter.

Amid the media frenzy that followed, the troopers were back front and center as reputable stand-up guys. There was almost no journalistic skepticism about their credibility problems or those of other key sources.

In another case, the Post and the Times recounted, again, the claim of one witness, Kathleen Willey, a 51-year-old former White House volunteer. In her deposition, Willey claimed that Clinton groped her and placed her hand on his crotch during a Nov. 29, 1993, meeting in the Oval Office.

But the Post and Times glossed over Willey's credibility problems. Willey did not go public with her story until 1997, at a time when she was facing severe financial problems and her friend, Linda Tripp, was planning to write a tell-all-fast-money book about the Clinton White House.

Initially another friend, Julie Steele, corroborated Willey's claim that Willey had talked about the Clinton incident right after it happened in 1993. But Steele later admitted that Willey had persuaded her to lie. Steele submitted a sworn affidavit that Willey had not mentioned the Clinton story until 1997 when Willey was trying to manufacture corroboration for her story.

Nevertheless, the Post and the Times treated Willey's account with great respect, an acceptance that caught on with other news organizations. Willey granted CBS "60 Minutes" an exclusive interview and the popular news magazine show aired it in prime time on March 15.

Though the CBS broadcast added nothing new, the Post led its front page the next morning with the fact that Willey had appeared on "60 Minutes." The Times also fronted Willey's TV debut, but did include a sidebar on page A22 by Jill Abramson that noted some inconsistencies about Willey's story. The sidebar disclosed a closer relationship between Willey and Tripp. It turned out that the pair had teamed up in 1994 in a bid to convince incoming White House counsel Lloyd Cutler to let them manage his transition, a proposal he rejected out of hand.

[Tripp later gained famed by secretly tape-recording phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky about her alleged sexual relationship with Clinton. In the days after Willey's TV appearance, it was disclosed that Willey, too, was pursuing a book deal for a reported $300,000 advance.]

The 'Liberal' Label

There appear to be two primary explanations for why the Post, Times and other major media have been so eager to trumpet the anti-Clinton charges. First, the "scandals" have been profitable, boosting ratings and newsstand sales. But a second motive could be even stronger: the major media outlets appear determined to "prove" they are not "liberal" -- the long-standing Republican charge against them dating back to the Vietnam War, Watergate and President Nixon's resignation.

Ironically, David Brock, in his earlier incarnation as a right-wing "hit man," might have explained the media's expected reversal of roles best. On Feb. 12, 1994, Brock addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and declared:

Though Clinton has been cheered by his high opinion polls, he might heed Brock's four-year-old warning. With the Washington press corps out to shed the "liberal" label, the drumbeat of anti-Clinton allegations thumping through TV, the newsmagazines and the daily newspapers will likely pull down the president's poll numbers.

Then, Bill Clinton could face a very different political reality. ~

(c) Copyright 1998 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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