Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Lelyveld Again

It´s really wonderful that the former and new chief at the New York Times still appears to have no concern for facts.

When I read this exchange between him and Sid in the NYRB one thing came to my mind - that it reads as if it were written by Jeff Gerth. The writing style is quite different from Lelyveld´s previous forays into the Clinton Wars. Gene Lyons seems to wonder the same thing.

The corrected date was July 16, 1995. Headlined "Documents Show Clintons Got Vast Benefit From Partner," the article soft-pedaled the Resolution Trust Corp. ’s findings that the Clintons had told the truth about Whitewater. Confusing a corporation with a partnership, it suggested they ought to have lost more than the $43,192 they did lose. No hint of how poor Jim McDougal, mentally ill and hurtling toward bankruptcy, mismanaged the company for his own purposes and deceived them about it. What the Timesnever did report, Blumenthal notes, was prosecutor Ray Jahn’s closing argument at McDougal’s trial saying essentially the same thing.

As to Schaffer, Lelyveld dismisses her as an inconsequential figure, then launches a shameful attack upon her motives and actions. It’s tempting to wonder whether Gerth wrote it. Lelyveld asserts that she represented Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association as a private attorney before becoming a state regulator. That’s false. She informed Gerth in writing that the S&L was never her client and that she’d never met McDougal. (Schaffer’s memos are reprinted in my 1996 book, "Fools for Scandal. ")

So why didn’t the Times ever report Schaffer’s 1987 effort to persuade federal regulators to close Madison’s doors? Because, Lelyveld writes, she’d done nothing until after the feds kicked McDougal out on July 11, 1986:" From 1984 to 1986, Ms. Schaffer had the power to suspend McDougal herself and didn’t use it while Madison Guaranty flirted with insolvency. "

This is doubly false. Schaffer took office in 1985, months after federal and state regulators settled a disputed 1984 audit with Madison. After the next audit in 1986, her office helped give Mc-Dougal the heave-ho.

" At the [July 11, 1986] meeting, "she wrote Gerth," we jointly confronted the Board with the findings of self-dealing and insider abuse.... It was a long and confrontational meeting. The Madison Guaranty Board members appeared stunned. "

I confirmed Schaffer’s account with Federal Home Loan Bank Board officials quoted in" Fools for Scandal. "Oddly, the Times apparently never did. Almost everything Lelyveld writes partakes of similar question-begging. Did Schaffer, for example, approve" two novel proposals to help the savings and loan that were offered by Hillary Clinton"? His argument rests upon an ironically Clintonian ambiguity about the meaning of "approve." Schaffer confronted Madison with a regulatory Catch-22. She agreed it would be legal for the S&L to sell preferred stock, but mandated duediligence requirements that it could not meet; hence, Mrs. Clinton’s "novel" ideas, suggested by federal regulators to begin with, died aborning. "If anything," the Pillsbury Report concluded, "Arkansas regulators took a more aggressive position toward Madison Guaranty than did the [Federal Home Loan Bank Board]." Instead of launching scorched-earth attacks on the Times ’ critics, Lelyveld, recently reappointed to edit the nation’s most indispensable newspaper, needs to put his own house in order.

But, these are the Clinton rules of journalism.

As Molly Ivins says:

The Clinton wars reflect no credit on anyone, but I still think it was journalism, or what passes for journalism these days, that most disgraced itself. We should all be required to read this book.