Saturday, May 10, 2003

I'm Surprised They Didn't Get Lucianne to Review It

Continuing in the media tradition of having an interested party review any books having to do with the Clenis, former Times editor Joseph Lelyveld reviews Sid's new book. He spends a big chunk of the review defending Jeff Gerth and wondering why the Clintons didn't simply hand over Chelsea Clinton's underwear drawer to the Times staff, rather than waiting for a subpoena to be issued so that one of Starr's panty sniffers could go through it (well, he doesn't put it like that obviously).

I'm sure after all these years Lelyveld still hasn't bothered to read Gene Lyons' evisceration of Gerth and the rest of the Times's reporting on this subject.

Make the whores mad - buy Sid's book.

Gene reminds us:

"From its dimmest origins in Times reporter Jeff Gerth's March 8, 1992, article about the Clintons' ill-fated land deal," I wrote in the book, "the Whitewater 'scandal' has worked as follows: Tipped off by an interested party, a reporter, editorial writer, columnist or Republican politician conceives a theory of what must have happened in a given set of circumstances -- most often circumstances altered by ignorance or suppression of inconvenient facts. The theory gets stated as a rhetorical question: Did the Clintons do X, Y, or Z? Next, it is an insinuation: it sure looks as if they must have done it. Then, a conclusion: of course they did it, the cunning rascals. Eventually, theory metamorphoses into pseudo-fact: they did it. All without anything remotely resembling proof having been offered. When evidence to the contrary comes along, it's shoved aside, minimized or suppressed, a whole new theory is created, and the entire press pack goes whooping off down yet another trail. If they were rabbit dogs, you'd have them gelded as house pets.

"To the practiced eye, the Times coverage of Whitewater has followed this pattern with almost comic regularity."

One example each of the Gerth and Labaton method should suffice. The implied misdeed in Gerth's original 1992 Whitewater story was that Gov. Clinton had schemed with his handpicked state securities commissioner, a woman named Beverly Bassett Schaffer, to keep his crooked business partner James McDougal's Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan from being shut down by regulators despite its insolvency, thus resulting in millions of dollars in losses to taxpayers. "In interviews," Gerth wrote in the Times, "Mrs. Schaffer, now a Fayetteville lawyer, said she did not remember the Federal examination of Madison ... 'I never gave anybody special treatment,' she said."

About as guilty-sounding a non-denial denial as one could hope to find, wouldn't you say? The trouble is, Gerth's characterization of Bassett Schaffer's faulty memory couldn't have been more misleading. Far from forgetting, Bassett Schaffer had in fact written Gerth a series of highly detailed memos, 20 pages in all, informing him of the following facts: The state of Arkansas had no plenary authority to shut the S&L down without the permission of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, which it never got. Second, on Dec. 10, 1987, more than a year after joining with federal regulators in ousting McDougal from control of the Madison Guaranty, Bassett Schaffer had sent a registered letter to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the FSLIC strenuously urging that the institution be closed immediately. Fifteen months later, the Bush administration finally got around to shutting Madison Guaranty down.

Bassett Schaffer not only hadn't dragged her feet, she had goaded reluctant federal regulators to take action. Testimony at subsequent Senate Whitewater hearings would ultimately show that of all 746 institutions that went belly up during the S&L crisis of the 1980s, not a single one anywhere in the United States was shut down by state regulators alone -- a fact the New York Times has never, to my knowledge, reported.

Stunned by Gerth's selective account, Bassett Schaffer considered filing a libel suit against the Times, but eventually decided it was a no-win situation. Meanwhile she had amassed considerable legal fees and given up her own law practice to deal with Whitewater full time. She has never been charged with wrongdoing of any kind.

One wonders how Mr. Gerth still has a job while Jayson Blair does not.