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11 June 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Where making sense is no longer required...

Synopsis: Curtis Wilkie, on Hardball,made no sense at all. But then: when peddling tales to this celebrity press corps, making sense is no longer required.

Commentary by Curtis Wilkie
Hardball, CNBC, 5/29/98

It’s important to realize that Curtis Wilkie’s new story didn’t make any sense at all the other night--the exciting new story he told in his appearance on the inventive cable TV show, Hardball. You know the story--the one about how Jim McDougal paid Governor Clinton $2000 a month cash, then substituted a $2000 monthly retainer to Hillary? Wilkie was reciting one of Jim McDougal’s tales--an exciting new tale from the book Arkansas Mischief--and a former journalist-turned-TV-tabloid-talker led him through the new tale for rapt viewers:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about what the Clintons got out of this deal because it has become a big part of the Clinton story. $2000 a month in cash--tell us about that.

Wilkie launched into his exciting new tale, explicitly attributing his recitation to McDougal:

WILKIE: According to Jim, he began passing $2000 a month to Bill Clinton when he was governor in 1984 under the table in order to insure that his friends would be put in regulatory agencies. Jim had planned to expand his savings-and-loan operation...That then became, over the table, two thousand a month that Jim McDougal paid to Mrs. Clinton and to the Rose Law Firm. Jim preferred to handle it that way because that way it was legal, even if it was for what he called, quote, a “no-show job,” closed quote...

And, by the way, yes, for the record, it’s true--we doenjoy a public raconteur who punctuates aloud as he narrates his fables.

It’s important to realize that this tale makes no sense to appreciate the corruption of this celebrity press corps; it’s important to see that we shouldn’t simply distrustthis story because it comes from a well-known confecter. Needless to say, a tabloid talker raised no questions at all concerning the credibility of the tale’s source, McDougal; a Hardball viewer would never hear that Jim McDougal had howling credibility problems. Never mentioned in the course of Wilkie’s Hardball appearance were McDougal’s long-standing problems with telling the truth--the kinds of problems that Don Imus rightly challenged when he interviewed Wilkie on his program last week. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/98.)

But the greatest problem with Curtis Wilkie’s new tale is not the fact that Jujitsu Jim told it. The greatestproblem with Wilkie’s tale is: Wilkie’s story makes no sense at all! The groaning problem with McDougal’s “legal retainer” tale has been spelled out on the record for several years now (as anyone with a professional interest in this matter must know now). That a tabloid talker and a proud co-author chose not to mention this howling problem--well, it just shows the extent to which this press corps will go to feed the public an exciting new slander.

What’s wrong with the second part of Curtis Wilkie’s new story? We discussed this in THE DAILY HOWLER on May 19. Wilkie says that McDougal began paying Clinton $2000 monthly in cash, then paid him with a $2000 monthly retainer instead. But, as Gene Lyons spelled out in his book Fools for Scandal, and as the Pillsbury Report had officially explained before that, Mrs. Clinton did not receive the $2000 from the monthly retainer that McDougal did pay. As a partner in the Rose Law Firm, she gained at most $20 a month from the McDougal retainer, the Pillsbury Report explicitly noted. But the whole thrust of an exciting and thrilling new tale would go right up in smoke if this fact were ever mentioned. Maybe that’s why a tabloid talker didn’t ask Slick Wilkie to explain this strange part of his puzzling new story--a story which makes absolutely no sense at all if one understands the way law partners get paid. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/19/98, for the text of the Pillsbury Report’s statement.)

In sum, then: did Jim McDougal pay Clinton $2000 per month in cash? The only “evidence” we have is the word of McDougal. Did he then replace the cash money with an equivalent retainer? That part of the story makes no sense at all.

But making sense is no longer required when one tells thrilling tales to this celebrity press corps. See tomorrow’s DAILY HOWLER to enjoy a new tale a tabloid talker made up all by himself.