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Caveat lector

4 March 1999

Minor mishaps: And Richard makes three

Synopsis: Richard Cohen joined yesterday’s pair of scribes in throwing off an historical howler.

Who Is This Guy?
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, 3/2/99

The analysts are off on special assignment, here at the sprawling campus of DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, carefully prepping our talking points for an O’Reilly appearance tomorrow night. But one of the analysts flagged this column for the way it echoed yesterday’s HOWLER, in which a pair of major scribes typed up groaning spin about Bill (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/99).

Richard Cohen was trying to figure what President Clinton is really like. After some comments about Gennifer Flowers, Cohen was flagged by our team of analysts for making this remark:

COHEN: Then came Paula Jones. I don’t know what happened in that hotel room, but I do know from the testimony of others (an Arkansas state trooper) that Jones was summoned to see Clinton--and it was not to take dictation. What happened next remains a mystery. I only know what I believe. I tend to believe Jones. [Our emphasis]

And it’s true--pundit Cohen doesn’t know what happened in that hotel room. But he also doesn’t seem to know what the trooper said in court. The trooper in question is Danny Ferguson, Clinton’s co-defendant in the Paula Jones lawsuit, and here is what the good officer swore in his answer to Jones’ complaint:

FERGUSON BRIEF: [A]fter the speech given by Governor Clinton, Paula Corbin Jones did make several comments to defendant Danny Ferguson about how she found Governor Clinton to be “good looking” and about how she thought his hair was sexy, which comments she then asked defendant Ferguson to relay to the Governor.

It is, of course, Paula Jones’ account that she was “summoned” to the hotel room that day. The trooper testified that she asked to go there; that he showed Jones the room; that he did not see her enter the room; and that she later said she’d like to be Clinton’s girl friend.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea whether Ferguson’s statements are accurate. Like Richard Cohen, we have no idea what happened at the hotel that day. But, thanks to the miracle of the printed transcript, we are able to read what Ferguson said, and can thereby avoid taking Jones’ story and reporting that it’s Fergy’s account.

Cohen’s error is a minor point--except for what it shows about CelebCorps. Over and over, we find major pundits reporting standard false spin. Which brings us back to Cohen’s comments about the luscious chanteuse, Gennifer Flowers. Here is what Cohen had said right before his remarks about Jones:

COHEN: I have been consistently wrong about Clinton. In his infidelities, I thought he would favor like-minded women--an occasional affair with some assistant professor of government. Gennifer Flowers proved me wrong. I confess to having been surprised. She wasn’t what I expected.

And indeed, to judge by all appearances, she wasn’t even telling the truth. Cohen doesn’t bother defining what he thinks is the truth about Flowers. But as we have told you again and again, Flowers is someone who presented the press with a doctored tape; handed out a phony resumé; made embarrassing errors in her piece in the Star; and wrote a book about a twelve-year affair without mentioning one date when she and Clinton were alone together. Does it surprise you that scribes who accept her tale don’t bother reading transcripts on Paula?

Indeed, Cohen’s comments on Jones pretty much sum up what is wrong with so much of the press corps:

COHEN: I only know what I believe. I tend to believe Jones.

And that’s cute. But what we “tend to believe” is not something we “know,” a distinction that seems foreign to much of the press corps. Read this passage from Cohen’s column in which he limns out his concept of proof:

COHEN: And yet, I cannot get [Broaddrick’s] accusation out of my head. On television, and in interviews with newspaper reporters, Broaddrick appeared credible. The White House denies the charge, but so what? I would expect nothing else. Anyway, we’re not talking about George Washington here. With Clinton, if there’s a cherry tree down, we know who did it. [Our emphasis]

And among pundits, that counts as cute style. But we are talking about an accusation of rape, and no, Cohen does not know that Clinton did it. This amazingly casual approach to the truth is the stink that suffuses the press corps.

Over the past few days, we’ve seen several writers who think they know the truth about Mrs. Broaddrick’s charge. But Mrs. Broaddrick’s charge is a serious charge. Especially for folks who are so frequently wrong, we think they should be more careful.

Tomorrow: Smile-a-while! When Tony Blankley appeared on “Geraldo” and Hardball, he answered the same question two different ways.

Know thyself: Yes. We did get a chuckle when Cohen wrote (see above): “I have been consistently wrong about Clinton.”