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8 December 1998

The Howler epilog: Just a suggestion

Synopsis: The pundit dean implied Gore’s guilt in a set of insinuative comments.

Fine-Tuned Lawyering
David Broder, The Washington Post, 12/1/98


A few of the analysts cried and complained about our comments on David Broder last week. They expressed distaste for our view that the dean was among those presuming folks’ guilt. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/98, for our general thoughts on this topic.)

But all throughout the celebrity press corps, we thought we’d seen the same strange pattern. Vile Clinton was repeatedly nailed to the wall for those miscreant 81 Answers. But no one seemed able to give an example of what was so awful about his replies. His answers were slammed in the harshest terms--were widely said to reveal his vile being. But specific critiques of his horrid replies? They faded away like the dew. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/30/98-12/7/98, as we conduct a fruitless search for specific, coherent complaints.)

And in the midst of the hubbub, the tumult and turmoil as the press corps scored Vile’s slippery language, we saw these remarks by Broder about the vice president (Al Gore). We thought they comprised a striking example of creeping presumption of guilt:

BRODER: [T]he habit of literal-mindedness is not confined to the Oval Office. It infected Vice President Gore, in his famous press conference assertion that “no controlling legal authority” prevented his making fund-raising phone calls from his White House desk.

Gore’s statement had meant that no case law showed there was anything illegal in his phone call conduct; and so you’d think simple fairness would have led the dean to mention another fact. Since the time that Gore made his much-mocked statement, it’s been determined that, in fact, he did nothing wrong--that no law or stricture actually kept him from making the phone calls in question.

But who could have made so outrageous a finding? Why, of course, it was Janet Reno. And here is what the pundit dean said next about Fair Reno’s ruling:

BRODER (continuing): And it [the habit of literal-mindedness] is running strong in the Justice Department, where Attorney General Janet Reno keeps finding reasons not to name an independent counsel to investigate the financing of the Clinton-Gore 1996 election campaign. [Our bold]

Of course, the “reason” she “found” in the latest Gore probe was the fact that Gore, again, had done nothing wrong--that no basis existed for thinking he’d lied in the course of last year’s investigations. But life in this celebrity lynch mob means never having to acknowledge that someone’s not guilty. Broder again, implying guilt, fails to say no wrong-doing was found.

And the pundit dean does it one more time--says Janet did Al a Big Favor:

BRODER: But, by being very literal-minded and lawyerly in her application of the [independent counsel] statute, Reno found reason to avoid that step for Gore, while postponing her decision on Harold Ickes, the White House overseer of the 1996 campaign.

Again we’re told that Reno “found reason,” wink wink wink, “to avoid” an IC for Br’er Gore.

Does Broder believe Gore did something wrong? A big boy would stand up and say so. But when you’re running with this celebrity lynch mob, it saves time to imply what you think. Don’t waste your time by making a charge; if you make a charge, you’ll have to defend it. Just suggest that Gore did something wrong, and imply he was favored corruptly.

It’s especially strange to see Broder’s approach because of the self-admiring intentions he discloses. Scoldingly contrasting himself with Vile Clinton, he says this at the start of his piece:

BRODER: Most of us try to find words that convey our thoughts and sentiments as clearly as possible.

Oh. And at the end of his piece, slamming Vile’s lingo, he wonders:

BRODER: What ever happened to plain talk?

But plain talk gets lost when major writers suggest vile things they won’t stand up and say. If Broder thinks that Gore has done something wrong, he should say so. And defend his plain charges.

We make one last note about Broder’s complaint that Reno’s decision was “literal-minded” and “lawyerly.” It takes a special mind to score an AG for having the nerve to behave like a lawyer. But when a celebrity lynch mob is runnin’ through town, just insinuatin’ guilt and actin’ real crazy, one starts to recall how the Rule of Law is maintained by strict lawyerly parsing.

Slammin’ Janet: Broder makes this point in slammin’ Janet:

BRODER: Reno cannot seem to see that the massive end run around the campaign finance laws engineered by the Clinton-Gore campaign may be a matter for scrutiny by an aggressive investigator whose motives cannot be challenged.

But where would we get an IC like that? Reno would have to ask the Sentelle three-judge panel to appoint a new IC. And it’s just like the corps, with its love of the chase, not to see the potential problems with that.

Reno has been asked if she is avoiding ICs because she’s concerned about the Judge Sentelle Posse. She has answered “No,” like a good AG should. The CelebCorps should not be so sanguine.