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Daily Howler: Frank Rich still won't tell his readers that Whitewater was a fake scandal
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SMIRKING RICH! Frank Rich still won’t tell his readers that Whitewater was a fake scandal: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2005

THROW THE BUMILLER OUT: It’s the journalistic car wreck that just keeps on happening! In this morning’s New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller pens her weekly “White House Letter”—and this time, it’s Dear Leader’s love of baseball that provides the setting for the soft-soap sponge-bath she hands George Bush every week.

Bumiller’s vacuous method is on full display this morning. As usual, she picks a fatuous, feel-good topic: Bush’s great love for the national pastime. Then she quotes a string of Bush admirers about the fabulous personal qualities we can see from his history with the sport. A former deputy baseball commissioner says that Bush was “the ideal baseball owner.” Bush’s Number One Shill, long-time friend Roland Betts, is rolled out to describe the skillful way his buddy promoted the Texas Rangers. (Betts is IDed as a business associate.) Meanwhile, completely unremarkable facts are hyped. (“To this day, I can still recite the starting lineup of the 1954 Giants,” Bush is quoted saying.) And a warm sponge-bath of feel-good imagery takes us right back to the cradle:

BUMILLER (1/18/05): Mr. Bush's first exposure to baseball was as an infant in the lap of his mother...
This is propaganda so stupid and crude that it would have embarrassed the Chinese Commies. To date, Bumiller hasn’t portrayed Dear Leader swimming rivers under enemy fire, but she does grind out the feel-good reports every Monday morning. (And most likely Betts is working up a story along those inspiring lines.) And yes, the Times kept presenting this clownish feature all through the 2004 campaign. And no—the paper provided no corresponding feature about the wonders of Candidate Kerry. Anyone would have thought of that—except the great minds at the Times.

Of course, like any competent flack for Mao, Bumiller airbrushes every episode which might distract from Dear Leader’s goodness. What can we learn about Bush from a review of his baseball career? She doesn’t mention the land-grab he engineered in Texas, in which working-class citizens were bullied into giving him and his partners free land and a shiny new stadium (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/02). For the record, complaints about this episode are hardly a left-wing fever dream; in June 1999, conservative Byron York wrote a cover story for the conservative American Spectator in which he went into great detail about the unseemliness of this matter. York said that “the record of Bush’s rise to wealth” was “topped off by a taxpayer-subsidized baseball bonanza that may leave some Republicans feeling queasy about how their candidate got rich.” But because it might bother even Republicans, Bumiller knows it must be disappeared. After all, Bumiller isn’t fair-and-balanced; Bumiller writes about a Dear Leader. Result? If dogs like York need re-education, they can get it in the Times every week.

Bumiller’s “Letter” is surely one the most clownish features in modern journalistic history. But she sends her epistle week after week, without a single word of comment from others in the mainstream press. Good boys and girls in that cohort keep quiet; there’s nothing so clownish that it won’t be accepted. “Throw the bum out?” That’s an old baseball term. But Bumiller tells us, every week, that every pitch Bush throws is a strike. If she were an ump, she’d be fired for this. But you live in a time of Millionaire Pundit Values, when a “right-leaning dinner-party centrism” prevails among the press corps’ elite. There’s nothing so dumb that this crowd throws you out, as Bumiller proves every week.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Of course, when it comes to asking Bush real questions, Bumiller says that she finds that too “frightening.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/04, and try to believe what you read there. How Zeus’ great halls must rock with laughter when Bumiller sits down to type.

SMIRKING RICH: As we’ve long told you: Once they invent a pleasing tale, they simply never abandon it. That explains a talker’s remark on Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS (4/17/05): Before we go to break, Al Gore may have been the Thomas Edison of the Internet, but George W. Bush is the first president with an iPod. Here now is a sampling of the presidential playlist.
Matthews never stops reciting! (For the record, he’s referring to Bumiller’s fatuous “Letter” from last week. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/05). But let’s give Chris the credit he’s due. Normally, scripted pundits inaccurately say that Gore claimed to be “the father of the Internet.” Chris improved on this standard old tripe. He bumped it up to involve Thomas Edison.

Yes, once they’ve invented their phony, hack tales, they never stop their public recitals. Which explains a second weekend sighting, from the start of Frank Rich’s column in Sunday’s New York Times. We know, we know—you just luvv Rich, a scripted “liberal” on most social issues. But go ahead, readers. Test your skill. Try to believe that he wrote it:

RICH (4/17/05; paragraph 1): A scandal is like any other melodrama: It can't be a crowd pleaser unless the audience can follow the plot. That's why Monica Lewinsky trumped Whitewater, and that's why of all the story lines ensnaring Tom DeLay, the one with legs is the one with the craps tables. It's not just easy to follow, but it also has a combustive cultural element that makes it as representative of its political era as Monicagate was of the Clinton years. As the lies and subterfuge of the go-go 1990's coalesced around sex, so the scandal of our new "moral values" decade comes cloaked in religion. The hair shirt is the new thong.
Good grief! Actually, Monica Lewinsky “trumped Whitewater” because the Lewinsky incident actually happened and the Whitewater “scandal” didn’t—because “the lies and subterfuge of the go-go 1990's” really didn’t exist in the Whitewater matter! But people like Rich will never say that. They invented Whitewater at the Times, and they liked its feel for some bizarre reason; for whatever reason, they felt that the appealing story was “representative of its political era.” Result? At the Times, they keep pretending it really occurred, long after the tale fell apart. And Rich—as big a hack as there is in the business—keeps flacking Whitewater, even this weekend. He keeps implying that Whitewater happened—that it really did involve “lies and subterfuge,” of the type the Monica matter “coalesced.” That doesn’t seem to be true, but so what? It’s a story this smirking Rich likes—and he just keeps on reciting it, like Matthews with his tale of the Net.

Yes, Gotham’s Times invented Whitewater, then clammed up when the tale fell apart. As Gene Lyons first reported in Fools for Scandal (in 1996!), the New York Times buried various exonerations of the Clintons, as Rich keeps doing to this very day. That’s why the following story, by Stephen Labaton, was held until Christmas Eve, 1995, when good elves were all busy elsewhere:

LABATON (12/24/95): In one of its final acts, the Resolution Trust Corporation has decided not to sue President Clinton or his wife for losses that the Whitewater land venture caused an Arkansas savings and loan association that collapsed six years ago.

The agency's decision was included in a report made public on Wednesday during debate by the full Senate over subpoenas issued by the Senate Whitewater committee. The report followed an investigation of nearly two years into the relationship between the failure of the savings and loan, Madison Guaranty, run by James B. McDougal, and the Whitewater venture, whose principals were Mr. McDougal, Mr. Clinton and their wives....

The report was prepared by the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, retained by the Resolution Trust Corporation.

Yes, the exhaustive report by the Pillsbury law firm had massively found in the Clintons’ favor. (The report was prepared by the firm’s Jay Stephens, a former prosecutor—and a partisan Republican.) So Rich’s Times knew what to do—they knew to keep quiet about the report. And the Times was hardly alone in this approach. Indeed, two days before the Times’ Christmas Eve dispatch, Howard Kurtz noted the way a string of news orgs were burying news of the Clintons’ exoneration:
KURTZ (12/22/95): “This should have been a great week for the Clintons on the subject of Whitewater,” Ted Koppel declared on "Nightline."

The reason, the program explained, was that a former Republican prosecutor, in a report to federal authorities, concluded that President Clinton and his wife knew little about the failed Arkansas land venture that has spawned the lengthy Whitewater investigations.

Yet Koppel's own show kissed off the report in a couple of sentences Tuesday, devoting the broadcast to more suspicious Whitewater currents. The New York Times and USA Today have not run a word about the final report. The Washington Post mentioned the findings Saturday [December 17] in the 11th paragraph of a front-page story about a Whitewater subpoena battle, and ran a short Associated Press account Tuesday on Page 4. The Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and Chicago Tribune ran 400 or fewer words of the AP story on inside pages.

Those news orgs had slimed the Clintons for years—and now they kept quiet about their exoneration. Indeed, writing in the lordly Times, Labaton crossed his fingers and held out hope for the future:
LABATON (12/24/95): While the report was hailed by both the Clintons and Democrats in Congress as a complete exoneration of the First Family, it is not expected to have any effect on the significantly broader investigation of the President, Mrs. Clinton and Madison Guaranty being conducted by the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.

Mr. Starr has indicated that he will not complete his investigation until well into the 1996 Presidential campaign at the earliest. Trial of a criminal fraud case against Mr. McDougal is set to begin in March.

At the Times, the hacks were still hoping! But uh-oh! When the McDougal trial actually occurred (in May 1996), “Mr. Starr” exonerated the Clintons again! Indeed, here’s part of the closing statement to the jury by Ray Jahn, Starr’s lead prosecutor:
JAHN (5/15/96): The President of the United States is not on trial. Why isn't the President of the United States on trial? Why isn't he on trial? Because he didn't set up any phony corporations to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless. He didn't get $300,000 from Capital Management Services like Jim and Susan McDougal did by falsely claiming their use.
Uh-oh! The Clintons had been semi-exonerated again! Lyons and co-author Joe Conason describe Jahn’s statement in their book, The Hunting of the President: "In a stunning reversal of more than four years of accusations, Jahn took the jury step by step through the Whitewater maze, showing that Jim McDougal had abused the Clinton's trust." But you didn’t read that in the great New York Times, which didn’t seem to care for that story. Indeed, news orgs generally avoided reporting what Jahn had said. Few orgs were as fair as the Roanoke Times, which wrote this in an editorial several weeks after Jahn’s striking statement:
ROANOKE TIMES (5/30/95): Tuesday's convictions [of the McDougals] do not implicate the president in any way. Lead prosecutor W. Ray Jahn himself stressed that Clinton and his wife weren't involved. "Why isn't the president of the United States on trial?" Jahn asked in his closing argument. "Because he didn't set up any phony corporations...didn't backdate any documents... He didn't lie to any examiners, he didn't lie to any investigators."
Yes, the Roanoke newspaper stated the obvious—but few news orgs reported what Jahn said. (Jahn’s statement didn’t make the Washington Post or the New York Times. Nexis records provide no sign that the statement was ever mentioned on TV.) Big news orgs luvved the Whitewater tale. And so, as with the case of the Pillsbury report, they largely deep-sixed what Jahn said.

And that’s why brilliant fellows like Rich can still pimp this phony “scandal.” The Times has never explained its own apparent misconduct in the Whitewater matter—misconduct detailed in Lyons’ Fools for Scandal. And the paper’s big hacks—big fakes like Frank Rich—still luv to pimp the term “Whitewater.” But then, your beloved Rich is the big, steaming hack who invented Love Story in 1997. It’s hard to find a bigger hack. But many HOWLER readers just luvvv him.

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And Bill Clinton misbehaved in Whitewater! Big steaming hacks just luvv these fake stories. And by the way—which of your fiery “liberal spokesmen” do you see speaking up about this?