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20 December 1998

Our current howler: Overrule of law

Synopsis: As Republicans praised the rule of law, a few scribes dealt in rank innuendo.

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Sally Quinn, Major Garrett
Hardball, CNBC, 12/18/98

Yep. A celebrity lynch mob had been runnin’ through town--just generally yellin’, and actin’ real crazy--ever since Clinton’s grand jury drop-in, way back on August 17 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/98, where we noted the lynch mob’s formation). And now, as sonorous speeches were being made about our love for the rule of law, the thin veneer of civilized conduct was peeling away in the capital:

MATTHEWS: And also I’m told today [impeachment eve] that one of the reasons Republicans are voting for impeachment is that they know more than we do. There’s more in this report that’s over at the Ford Building on Capitol Hill that contains dirty stuff about this president that for whatever reason wasn’t formally released but is apparently infecting the thinking of a lot of Republicans and a lot of the borderline guys are gonna vote for impeachment tomorrow because of what they’ve read.

Matthews soon made it clear that the material he described involved a rape allegation by “Jane Doe #5,” one of the unnamed Clinton accusers who had been interviewed in the Starr probe. Why hadn’t the material been “formally released?” Well, maybe because it wasn’t a part of any actual allegation? Maybe because the OIC and the House Repubs hadn’t based any charges on the material? The thought would occur to almost anyone on earth even dimly aware of the “rule of law,” but it didn’t seem to occur to Matthews, or to U.S. News eager-scribe Major Garrett. In fact, the eager Garrett now confirmed it--Republicans were being urged to review this material, which had nothing to do with the charges:

GARRETT: About 15 or 20 Republicans I know went over to the Ford Building today at the suggestion of the those in leadership, who said, “Look, is there any information you’re not aware of? You may want to go over there and look at the redacted information not available for public consumption.” This has become an issue in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives tonight. Democrats think this is dirty tactics. But really, it’s available to any member who is curious about it.

And so again we see this celebrity press corps’ impressive, instinctual grasp of due process. What was the Republican leadership doing? Urging members to review material on which no actual charges had been made. And why does Garrett think this is OK? Because Democrats could read the stuff also!

Again: we told you in August that this had begun--that a celebrity lynch mob was runnin’ through town. Now, one of the ring-leaders--rope burns on his hands--questioned this latest disclosure:

MATTHEWS: Help me out here. Why are members of the Republican caucus willing to read material that accuses the president of things like rape and make decisions based on that information but are not willing to disclose it after they learned it?

Matthews missed the obvious problem with the “additional material”--the fact that the material wasn’t part of the actual charges, and so the White House hadn’t been given a chance to respond to the charge it (apparently) contained. Matthews focused instead on another troubling fact--the fact that House members weren’t allowed to describe the Doe charges in public. But again, the unconcerned Garrett said this was OK. It was really just part of the rules:

GARRETT: The governing rule of the House right now is this information cannot be released.

Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-FL, offered a remarkable explanation of that:

FOWLER: Well, I think there’s some rules right now about that. It’s not supposed to be disclosed because this is part of what’s going to be used I believe in the trial.

The material was unrelated to the actual charges, but Fowler thought it was going to be used in the trial. None of the journalists lounging about passed comment on her odd presentation.

One final exchange showed the veneer stripped away--showed how CelebCorps had become just a lynch mob. Garrett and the carefully-coiffed Sally Quinn seemed to marvel at Democrat scruples:

GARRETT: They have always had access to this information. That Democrats are not availing themselves of it is their decision...

QUINN: I don’t understand why Democrats are not taking advantage of this material.

GARRETT: I don’t either. You’d have to ask them.

Quinn and Garrett just couldn’t imagine why Democrats didn’t want to “take advantage” of this stuff--why they didn’t rush to read discarded material, on which no charges were based. Yep. All over town, one heard sonorous voices, singing praise to the rule of law. But deep inside this celebrity press corps, the real thinking was a good deal less lofty.

Rare praise: We do compliment Matthews for reporting this news, which we have read about in no major paper. The fact that GOP leaders were promoting this material should have been a page-one story. While Henry Hyde declaimed on “the rule of law,” members were directed to irrelevant claims. Properly understood, this was as large a story as any that appeared in the celebrity press all this week.

But no, this major story was not reported in the papers that are published by CelebCorps. CelebCorps’ inability to see this as news was personified by Garrett and Quinn. CelebCorps newspapers gave us happy-talk tales, in which Republicans agonized over their vote. And nowhere would readers be told the truth: that while the GOP praised the rule of law, its actual conduct, when push came to shove, seemed to reflect a much older tradition.

Read on: This celebrity press published happy-talk tales about that agonizing GOP vote. See tomorrow’s DAILY HOWLER for details.