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Caveat lector

DISMEMBER MS. MAINES! The Dixie Chicks troubled poor Diane Sawyer. But where was this scribe in the past?

MONDAY, APRIL 28, 2003

SAWYER’S MILL: Diane Sawyer’s performance on Thursday’s Primetime painted the portrait of a corrupt age. As you know, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines had recently criticized the president of the United States. Maines had said this, on a London stage: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” Result? For a good solid hour on Thursday’s show, the troubled Sawyer pursued a retraction. Sawyer’s clucking, mother-hen performance has been critiqued by Jim Lewis at Slate.

Sawyer was troubled by Maines’ vexing comment. But where was Sawyer a few years ago, when a much more influential public figure was saying much rougher things about the president? That person, of course, was Jerry Falwell. Falwell, a well-known “religious” figure, regularly peddled a tape on his Old Time Gospel Hour which—among many other things—accused the president of the United States of murder.

Did Sawyer ever complain about that? Very few of our “journalists” did. And why was it OK to call the president a murderer—but not OK to say what Maines did? Easy! Falwell was slandering President Clinton—and Maines was mildly hammering President Bush. When it came to Clinton, it was all systems go—you could even accuse him of murder! But when it comes to Bush, new rules obtain. Fakers like Sawyer come out of the shadows, clucking their way toward the light.

Fakers like Sawyer hid behind chairs while the previous POTUS was actively slandered. Now she serves as Thought Police when singers diss the current prez. Cowards, fakers, phonies and frauds—“journalists” like Sawyer define a vile age. Remember her session the next time you hear aggrieved parties rail about “liberal bias.”

CHURCH MUSIC: George Church described Falwell’s grievous misconduct in the 8/1/94 Time magazine:

CHURCH: Creepy, menacing music sounds in the background as a picture of the White House flashes on the screen. Footage of Bill Clinton talking about his religious convictions is interspersed with head-shot stills of the President sneering or laughing uproariously. When Paula Jones appears to tell her story about sexual harassment by the Governor of Arkansas, she is dressed in a little-girl costume and speaks in a high-pitched voice, both presumably to suggest chaste innocence.

Such ham-handed tricks might make the widely publicized videotape called The Clinton Chronicles laughable—if it were not so vicious. It repeats, with little or no evidence, virtually every accusation ever made against Bill or Hillary Rodham Clinton and adds some new ones. At one point, a narrator declares flatly that as Governor, “Clinton was hooked on cocaine.” That’s all: no further details, no evidence, no corroboration. Worse still, an Arkansan named Gary Parks comes onscreen to voice suspicion that Clinton ordered the murder of Parks’ father, without pointing to any proof.

Even so, not many people might have noticed the videotape—let alone bought it for $20 a copy—if it had not been for its high-profile endorser or an earlier, shorter and rougher version called Bill Clinton’s Circle of Power. Both were produced by a California organization calling itself Citizens for Honest Government. The Rev. Jerry Falwell duplicated the earlier Circle tape, and in May offered it to viewers of his cable-TV program Old Time Gospel Hour. (No one will give any figures on sales of either video.) Illinois Congressman Philip Crane, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, wrote a complimentary covering letter for copies of the longer Chronicles tape, distributed by the California group to his G.O.P. colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Both tapes heavily feature Larry Nichols, a former Arkansas state employee who was fired and filed a lawsuit against Clinton and others that was dismissed from both Arkansas and federal courts. Since then he has been telling anti-Clinton stories to anyone who will listen. In March he asserted that “it’s scandal-of-the-week time.” Nichols on both tapes charges that Governor Clinton, through a state agency, provided money-laundering services for a cocaine-smuggling ring that operated out of an airstrip in the little town of Mena, Arkansas.

TIME in 1992 investigated these allegations about Clinton and concluded that they were simply untrue. Even Nichols was unsure then; he told TIME in an interview the same year, “I have no knowledge about Mena.” On the videotapes, however, he asserts that he went to Mena to look around and saw drugs being loaded and unloaded openly—at a time that he does not specify, but that must have been earlier than his “no knowledge” statement to this magazine.

All of which seems to embarrass even Falwell and Crane. They now stress that they are not saying that all or any of the allegations made on the tapes are true—merely that, in Crane’s words, they form “the basis of an investigation.” So why was Falwell actually selling a tape making accusations that he cannot vouch for? Bill Clinton, who is fond of quoting the Bible, might be tempted to remind Falwell of the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

That was Church music. But can anyone recall when Jerry Falwell was grilled by Diane Sawyer?

The Daily update

HOWLER HUSTLE: We at THE HOWLER are back at work on our book about coverage of Campaign 2000 (closing chapters). For that reason, we may soon adjust our HOWLER schedule. Information will follow.