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Caveat lector

PROFILE IN COWARDICE! Dallek says that Blumenthal’s right. He just won’t explain what he said:

MONDAY, MAY 19, 2003

ROBERT’S DALLIANCE: What a remarkable sentence! At present, Robert Dallek is appearing all over cable, revealing key facts about Kennedy’s girl friend. But forget all that. Here’s how he starts paragraph 10 (of 15) in his review of Sidney Blumenthal’s book about the Clinton era:

DALLEK (pgh 10): The book offers a powerful and generally persuasive defense of Bill, Hillary and Blumenthal.
You’ll have to look past Dallek’s rudeness; in a standard display of pundit hauteur, he pretends to be on a first-name basis with the former president and first lady. But don’t let his manners throw you off; Dallek’s assessment is perfectly clear. According to Dallek, Blumenthal’s book, The Clinton Wars, “offers a powerful and generally persuasive defense” of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In other words, according to Dallek, Sidney Blumenthal is basically right.

But Dallek pens more than a mere review; he offers a profile in cowardice. Having said that Blumenthal is right, Dallek spends the rest of his time failing to say what Blumenthal actually said. We aren’t told what the author was right about. Here’s paragraph 4, for example:

DALLEK: Domestic and foreign policy issues form a part of Blumenthal’s discussion, particularly Clinton’s efforts during his second four years to keep the focus on the economic and social problems at home and international strife in Africa, the Balkans, Latin America and the Middle East. But public controversies erupting out of private actions—above all the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment and Senate trial—dwarfed the country’s and the world’s business and turn “The Clinton Wars” into a kind of lawyer’s brief for the accused.
But long before he gets to Lewinsky and impeachment, Blumenthal discusses other great “controversies”—controversies erupting out of “private actions” which, he says, simply never occurred. Most specifically, he says that the Whitewater “scandal” was a hoax, and he explains why we never found out; we never found out because mainstream press organs, like the New York Times, persistently chose not to tell us. (He also notes that Gotham’s Times ginned up this phony “scandal” in the first place.) Specifically, Blumenthal describes the way the Times and other news orgs concealed the fact that the RTC’s “Pillsbury report” exonerated the Clintons in 1995 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/03). And then he describes another key moment. Taking us to the McDougal trial, he tells us what Starr prosecutor Ray Jahn said in open court on May 15, 1996:
RAY JAHN (quoted by Blumenthal, page 177): 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 like Jim and Susan McDougal did by falsely claiming their use…The President didn’t backdate any leases. He didn’t backdate any documents. He didn’t lie to any examiners, he didn’t lie to any investigators…
That’s what Starr’s office said about the Clintons! But for most HOWLER readers, this will be the first time they ever saw this quote by Jahn. And Blumenthal explains that strange fact, too. According to Blumenthal, most Americans don’t know that Jahn—Ken Starr’s agent—exonerated Clinton in open court because news orgs like the New York Times actively suppressed the information:
BLUMENTHAL (page 178): Once again, the reportage on this verdict was colored by the omission of essential information. Not a single major news outlet reported Jahn’s words to the jury exonerating Clinton. Instead, the verdict was greeted routinely as “a blow to the White House,” a “setback” that “portends trouble for Clinton,” as Time put it.
In a rational world, this would be a shocking assertion of shocking misconduct. But none of this—nothing like it—is mentioned in Dallek’s review. Blumenthal is basically right, Dallek says. But he doesn’t explain what he said.

According to Dallek, Blumenthal gets even with a few easy targets. “The book is partly an exercise in score settling,” Dallek writes. “Kenneth Starr, Dick Morris, Christopher Hitchens are just a few of the tormentors who get the back of his hand.” But Hitchens and Morris are minor players. Nowhere does Dallek say that Blumenthal savages other major targets; nowhere does a reader learn that Blumenthal savages the New York Times, the Washington Post and the other major news orgs who conspired in the wars against Clinton. At one point, Dallek gives himself cover, noting that Blumenthal knocks “the modern news media.” But look how vague and uninformative he keeps it:

DALLEK (pgh 11): Blumenthal sees the modern news media, with their affinity for scandal-mongering, as principally responsible for recent political bashing. But personal attacks on public officials are as old as the Republic. Newspapers, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835, “disregard principles to seize on people, following them into their private lives and laying bare their weaknesses and their vices.”
Believe it or not, that highlighted sentence is the only hint of Blumenthal’s attack on the mainstream press. And instantly, Dallek changes the subject; he quotes de Toqueville from 1835, not Blumenthal from 2003. In The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal says that the mainstream press corps—the New York Times chief among it—gimmicked a set of phony scandals, then refused to report the facts when the Clintons were officially exonerated. But Dallek knows not to mention these charges. Weird, aint it? On the one hand, his readers are told that Blumenthal is right. On the other hand, they aren’t told what he said.

The New York Times has now published two reviews of The Clinton Wars. They make a comical pairing. Last Thursday, Janet Maslin did explain what Blumenthal said (the Whitewater story was “empty”) but pretended that his statements were nutty (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/03). By contrast, Dallek says that Blumenthal is right, but is careful to hide what he actually said! And so it continues, the disturbing decade which Blumenthal describes in his crucial book. Reading the Times is like reading Pravda. A skillful reader of Maslin and Dallek might begin to get the idea that something was wrong with the Whitewater “scandal.” But this reader gets only a glimpse. This reader will have to go elsewhere to find out what happened. More specifically, this reader will have to buy Blumenthal’s book to find out what he has said.

Dallek’s husbanding of the truth keeps him thoroughly safe for cable. He’ll go on those nets and sell plenty of books, giving us detail about Kennedy’s conduct forty years in the past. Meanwhile, readers of his Times review will remain in the dark about the present. Like Pravda, Dallek tells the truth very slowly. Blumenthal was right, he bravely says. Perhaps at some time in the mid-2040s, we’ll be told what he actually said.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The Times has played this game for years—when it reviewed Lyons and Conason’s The Hunting of the President, for example. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/00, 4/14/00 and 4/17/00. Neil Lewis was careful not to reveal what these authors actually said.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Dallek is expert at changing the subject when news of what Blumenthal said draws too near. Here’s his entire paragraph 10, in which he says that Blumenthal is basically on the money:

DALLEK (pgh 10): The book offers a powerful and generally persuasive defense of Bill, Hillary and Blumenthal. But this will hardly be the last word on “the Clinton wars.” The Clinton presidency will underscore the proposition that history is argument without end. It will also challenge historians to explain why the political combat of the 90’s was so fierce. American politics, of course, has never been a vocation for the thin-skinned. Every president has been the object of scathing attacks, including the country’s three greatest chiefs: Washington complained of “ ‘unmerited censures’ of the vilest kind”; Lincoln was ridiculed as the “original gorilla”; and Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked as a demented “cripple.”
Blumenthal was basically right—but instantly, Dallek changes the subject. At the finish, he once again dances away from particulars:
DALLEK (pgh 15): Blumenthal’s book may do more to stir old controversies than settle them. But participants in the Clinton wars would do well to understand that re-fighting 90’s battles will be of less benefit to the country than detached analysis explaining how we can avoid future unproductive quarrels over the personal weaknesses of our presidents. Still, for anyone who wants to revisit the political acrimony of the Clinton years, Blumenthal's book is the place to begin. [end of review]
Dallek’s advice? It’s time to move on! It’s time for “detached analysis” which looks to the future. In this way, the thoroughly corrupted insider press corps keeps you from knowing about what it’s done. They don’t want people to “re-fight old battles”—to say what occurred in the “Clinton wars.” Instead, Dallek is coming to cable near you. He’ll be discussing Jack Kennedy’s girl friends.

The Daily update

SEEING NO EVIL: Why do we hear so much about Jayson Blair? Because his disturbed inventions were basically trivial, and because his story feeds conservative spin-points. But the legion of scribes who are flogging Blair know not to mention Jeff Gerth, who wrote the NYT’s Whitewater stories and then bungled the paper’s Wen Ho Lee work. Jeff Gerth’s strange work did mountains of harm—but insider pundits know not to notice. The rest of the press corps bought into Gerth’s hoaxing, and therefore know that re-fighting 90’s battles will be of less benefit to the country than detached analysis explaining how we can avoid future unproductive quarrels.

Two weeks ago, Michael Kinsley pretended that we’ve just now learned that William Bennett has a vice (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/03). During the 90s, Kinsley knew not to notice Bennett’s real vice—his endless dissembling about Clinton and Gore. And Kinsley and friends know not to discuss the real harm the New York Times has done. They cluck and fuss over Jayson Blair because Blair’s cracked pottery makes no real difference. But they all went along with the corps’ “Clinton wars.” They don’t plan to revisit them now.