10 January 1999
A Daily Howler outreach report: Too little. And howlingly late.
Synopsis: Margaret Carlson got the outrage wrong when she complained about Tripp-on-Willey.
Commentary by Margaret Carlson
Capital Gang, CNN, 1/9/99
Tripp Urgently Seeks Donations for Legal Defense Fund
George Lardner Jr., The Washington Post, 1/8/99
To Margaret Carlson, it was the Outrage of the Week, this matter of Tripp-on-Willey. We cite her presentation in full:
CARLSON: Linda Tripp, who makes $90,000 a year, has just sent out a fund-raising letter in which she claims that Kathleen Willey told her that the president sexually assaulted her. But before the grand jury, Linda Tripp said no such thing. Willey in fact was happy, flustered, and quote smiling from ear to ear after her visit. Tripp also testified that she wanted to be--not Linda, but Kathleen Willey wanted to be the presidents girl friend. Is Tripp lying in her fund-raising letter? Or was she lying under oath?
Carlsons presentation closely tracks reporting by the Posts George Lardner about Tripps fund-raising pitch. For the record, here is the segment of Lardners piece which Carlson so closely recycles; as we pick up, Lardner has already reported that Tripp is now claiming an assault by Clinton on Willey:
LARDNER [two paragraphs]: In testimony before a grand jury last June 30, however, Tripp said the episode came after a series of flirtatious approaches on Willeys part and that it just seemed to be as consenting adults.
Willey, Tripp testified, was very excited, very flustered as she told Tripp what happened and she smiled from ear to ear the entire time. She seemed almost shocked, but happy shocked.
The Lardner-Carlson account is a reasonably accurate, if understated, summation of Tripps grand jury testimony. But, for the record, Carlson does not tell viewers the most striking part of the Tripp-on-Willey testimony--Tripps detailed description of Willeys year-long efforts to arrange an affair with Clinton. And Lardner, like his colleague Susan Schmidt, takes Tripps seemed to be consenting adults quote out of time sequence (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/9/99); according to Tripps testimony, by the time of the actual Oval Office encounter, there was no doubt at all in Linda Tripps mind that Willey was seeking romance.
But, if Carlson slightly understates the facts, she vastly misdirects her outrage. Carlson is concerned with the fact that Tripp seems to be lying in one of her two presentations. But the greater outrage in this story is one that Carlson has missed. That outrage: the fact that the press corps has monolithically failed to inform the public about Tripps startling testimony. That is the greater outrage about which Carlson ought to complain, not the fact that Tripp may be bending the truth in an effort to pay off her lawyers.
As we have stated again and again: Kathleen Willeys original charge against Clinton received massive press coverage in March. A posse of pundits then immediately stampeded, swearing on Bibles they believed every word Faire Willey ever had said. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98. Prepare to be embarrassed.)
But, when evidence surfaced on October 2 suggesting that Willey may not have been truthful, this celebrity press corps, in love with accusers, chose not to tell viewers and readers. Except for limited Washington Post coverage on October 3, the reporting of the past few days is the first coverage of Tripps stunning testimony. And Carlson, in telling Capital Gang viewers about Tripps striking grand jury account, still does not see what is truly startling about this remarkable, long-suppressed story--still fails to see what an outrage it is that Tripps testimony has not been discussed.
And by the way, its not as if Carlson had no way of knowing about Linda Tripps startling account. THE DAILY HOWLER wrote Carlson on November 23, urging her to tell readers what Tripp had said. We described the obvious problem when a press corps is willing to report accusations, then fails to report when accuser are challenged. And we included print-outs of six past DAILY HOWLERS that dealt with the troubling Tripp black-out. (For text of redacted letter, click here.)
Margaret Carlson was hardly alone in receiving this HOWLER outreach. Steadfast in our role as citizens, and loyal always to the public interest, we have sent similar packets to a passel of pundits over the past several months. Weve mailed to Al Hunt; weve mailed to Charles Lane; weve mailed to the Times; weve mailed to the Post. Well heck--lets just give you the names and dates of those who were sent these HOWLER packets:
Mike Adams (Baltimore Sun) 11/24/98
Brills Content (12/2/98)
Margaret Carlson (11/23/98)
Matt Cooper (11/24/98)
David Corn (12/9/98)
Howard Fineman (11/24/98)
Al Hunt (11/13/98)
Bernard Kalb (12/3/98)
Howard Kurtz (11/23/98)
Charles Lane (12/9/98)
Anthony Lewis (11/15/98)
Geneva Overholser (12/4/98)
Charles Peters (12/10/98)
William Raspberry (12/5/98)
Frank Rich (11/18/98)
Robert Woodward (11/27/98)
And yes, we personally lobbied poor Walter Shapiro: 11/11/98.
No, we dont normally release such information about our internal patterns and practices. You know just how jealous these pundits can get, when they see who was sent packets first. But we think its important to show you how hard it can be to get the press to publish info--if the information tends to put the claims of accusers in doubt.
The refusal of the press corps to report What Tripp Said has been an ongoing press corps disgrace. No, Tripps testimony surely cant settle the matter of what happened between Clinton and Willey. But in March, the press corps gave massive coverage to Willeys original accusation, and, in one of the most embarrassing press corps displays of the year, pundits raced to swear they believed every word that Faire Willey had said (again, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/98). But on October 2, Tripps detailed, sworn testimony was released to the public, and shed contradicted every word that Willey had uttered. And what did the press corps do with that story? They pitched it down the memory hole they maintain for naughty stories like this.
On October 2, every major paper reviewed Starrs dump; they reported their findings on October 3. Agents for every major paper surely read the things Linda Tripp said.
Why did the press corps keep it quiet? We have our thoughts, and you have yours. But Margaret Carlson hasnt noticed the real outrage yet--and its one thats gone on for three months.