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18 February 1999

A Daily Howler big picture report: On alternate weeks, the truth matters

Synopsis: Does it matter if Willey is telling the truth? Only if you think the truth matters.

Commentary by Linda Tripp
Larry King Live, CNN, 2/15/99

Commentary by Geraldo Rivera
Rivera Live, CNBC, 2/18/99

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Susan Molinari
Hardball, CNBC, 2/17/99

Testimony by Linda Tripp
Supplemental Materials, The Starr Report, 9/28/98

Does it matter if Kathleen Willey is telling the truth? Only if you think the truth matters. And remember how important The Truth was last week, when it was Clinton who appeared to be lying?

But now it’s an accuser, beloved Faire Willey, who seems to be telling a stretcher or three, and you can’t get the press to report the news with a rubber hose and permission to spank. Yes, the public plainly ought to be told about Linda Tripp’s contradiction of Willey. Let’s go over a few major reasons why the press corps should cough up the facts.

Ongoing, related news stories: As we’ve noted, a substantial number of ongoing news stories turn on Kathleen Willey’s credibility. The press cannot report these stories fully without discussing the things Linda Tripp said.

Evaluation of Willey’s core charges: On Sixty Minutes, Kathleen Willey made extremely serious charges against a sitting president. Once such charges are widely aired, there is an obvious, unmistakable public interest in knowing if the charges are true. Tripp’s testimony makes it all too clear that Willey’s charges may involve major stretchers. It is simply astounding that the celebrity press corps has refused to report this fact.

Broadening of the public perspective: Reporting the things that Linda Tripp said would allow the public to consider a basic fact--sometimes, accusers fib also. And sometimes women chase presidents around, trying to get them to smooch! None of this erases the egregious bad judgment that President Clinton has shown in these matters. But it might restore a bit of healthy skepticism to the way we view accusers’ claims--a skepticism the press corps threw away long ago in its headlong pursuit of Big Scandal.

Indeed, there has rarely been a time when presidential accusers were so free to say whatever they please. Within the past week, Linda Tripp has appeared on several major shows (including Larry King Live), suggesting that President Clinton and the people around him may be inclined to commit murder. At THE HOWLER, we think that, when folks make such claims, they should be held to high standards of clarity and evidence. King made only modest efforts to question his guest on this topic. (Tripp said that people “in the president’s inner circle” might imaginably “do [her] physical harm.” For our report on Lindsey Graham’s Fox News Sunday murder-talk, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/99.)

Meanwhile, serious new charges by Kathleen Willey are currently all over the media. Geraldo Rivera, last night:

RIVERA: Starr’s also still investigating a couple of matters relative to Kathleen Willey, the former White House volunteer who claimed that the president groped her in 1993. The OIC prosecutors are checking out Ms. Willey’s claims of intimidation, specifically that two days before her testimony in the Paula Jones case, she was allegedly accosted by a jogger who asked about her kids, asked about her missing cat. The cat turns up dead, her car had nails hammered into the tires, Ms. Willey says that the man said, “Don’t you get the message?”

And surely viewers get the message, as this allegation is repeated, again and again, all over the nation’s airwaves:

MATTHEWS: Well what about the Terry Lenzner stuff of going around, and I’ve used the phrase, the reference to Lou Cabrazzi, the tough guy that goes around and says, “Your brains or your signature are going to be on that table,” all of these affadavits that were miraculously provided during the course of this guy’s presidency, the guy’s in the affadavit business, everyone’s signing affadavits because they want people to shut up because there’s been some kind of intimidation.

MOLINARI: And it has not been disputed that Kathleen Willey had a private investigator come after her.

Molinari bore a lachrymose look as he mouthed her mournful message. And no, it hasn’t been “disputed,” the things that Willey has said. But it also hasn’t been reported that Willey’s Sixty Minutes account may have been made up! Would that make a difference to the viewer, when he tries to evaluate other claims by Willey? How do we know someone said things to Willey? Would it affect the viewer’s confidence that these things did occur, if he knew she’d made other things up?

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing what may have been said to Kathleen Willey. But neither, of course, do Chris and Susan--they just don’t plan to admit it. Meanwhile, we have to decide if the truth really matters, the way we all said it did just last week. If it does, then Chris and Susan are obliged to report the startling things Linda Tripp said.

Tripping lightly: On LKL, Tripp said she feared being hit by a Mack truck that might be connected to “the president’s inner circle.” Moments later, she said this about White House adviser Bruce Lindsey:

KING: Have you ever had a direct threat?

TRIPP: I have. I believe I’ve had a direct threat.

KING: By phone or--

TRIPP: In July [1997], when the president had his Linda Tripp meeting with Monica, she carried what I believe to be threats from the president. And later in that month, when I spoke with Bruce Lindsey, I believe I received implied threats.

KING: You liked Bruce?

TRIPP: I loved Bruce. He was one of my favorites at the White House.

Note the grilling from King. Told that Tripp had received what she believed to be threats from Clinton, he doesn’t ask her what those perceived threats were. Told that Tripp had received implied threats from Lindsey, he asks her if she liked him. Life in this celebrity press corps simply never fails to amaze.

This exchange immediately followed Tripp’s remarks about “a fear of [her] life” and the big Mack truck. But a review of Tripp’s grand jury testimony gives some context to what Lindsey allegedly said:

TRIPP (7/16/98): At one point, [Lindsey] used the words, I believe, in my recollection at least, I had the feeling that he said, “The president wants you to know that there is no truth to this [charge by Willey].” Finally...I said at the end, “Whatever you say, Bruce.” I mean, this was very much a message to me and I got it. And I was scared. He asked me if I would agree to meet with Bob Bennett. I said yes. He said, “Do you want to bring a lawyer with you?” I said, “Well, what for?”

There’s no doubt, if Tripp’s account is accurate, she had reason to fear for her job and her legal standing. But people who plan to run folks down with trucks don’t normally have them bring lawyers to meetings, creating a third party who is aware of the dispute. In Tripp’s telling, Lindsey’s conduct does not seem attractive. But it seems a stretch to say that Tripp is being threatened with physical harm. An informed interviewer would have brought that out. But remember, readers, what we’ve told you before: this press corps doesn’t do transcripts.

Tomorrow: Smile-a-while! In a comical session, that Hardball gang sketched the rules for a drear double standard.

Monday: Back to those unexplored transcripts! The Nation spilled over with egregious howlers when Chris Hitchens “told all” about Sid.