"Media Matters," week ending June 3, 2005; by Jamison Foser


Quote of the week: "I don't bash Hillary because I think she's weak. I don't bash her because I think she is strong. I bash her because I like to." -- Robert Novak

Week ending June 3, 2005

This week:

Watergate, Whitewater comparisons ring hollow

Media mindlessly echo claim that Hillary Clinton is "moving to the center"

When overly literal right-wing writers attack

Farewell, Judy Woodruff

Quote of the Week:

"I don't bash Hillary because I think she's weak. I don't bash her because I think she is strong. I bash her because I like to."

-- Robert Novak

Watergate, Whitewater comparisons ring hollow

Displaying an impressive message discipline, several conservative media figures have reacted to the revelation that former FBI official W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat to criticize supposed legal and ethical lapses in ... the Clinton administration.

Proving once again that there are few topics to which The Wall Street Journal will not respond with an editorial attacking Bill Clinton, the paper equated the Nixon administration's crimes with untold Clinton administration misdeeds that seem to exist only in the fevered imaginations of Journal editorial writers, Dan Burton and Richard Mellon Scaife.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass offered this comparison of the Nixon and Clinton administrations:

Felt is the former senior FBI official whose information brought down Nixon, a Republican, and forced Nixon to resign.

Tripp is the Pentagon employee who secretly taped conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who also abused power but did not resign.

Both presidents abused their power, lied and connived, and used the hammer of government to smash opponents. One had an unpopular war and inflation. The other was in office when people had fat wallets, as Americans were encouraged to not let foreign policy bother them too much.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, best known as an occasional presidential candidate, former Crossfire co-host, and former Nixon aide who argued that Martin Luther King "is one of the most divisive men in contemporary history," compares Felt and Linda Tripp:

Why did Felt lie? Because he knew he had disgraced himself and dishonored everything an FBI agent should stand for. He didn't want his old comrades to know what a snake he had been. Linda Tripp, savaged by the same press lionizing Felt, at least had the moral courage to go public and take the heat when she blew the whistle on Bill Clinton.

That's right: To Buchanan, the man who helped expose massive corruption in the administration that employed Buchanan was a "snake," while Linda Tripp, who secretly tape-recorded her "friend" in order to expose a presidential affair, exhibited great "moral courage."

Then again, moral clarity has never been Buchanan's strong suit; he once famously called Adolf Hitler "an individual of great courage." More recently, apparently not having learned his lesson, Buchanan wrote a column questioning whether World War II was "worth it" and wondered, "why destroy Hitler?"

The Washington Times got in on the act on June 2, running an article headlined "Tripp, Felt treatment a contrast" suggesting that Tripp and Felt are comparable - which, of course, would mean that Watergate and Whitewater are comparable.

While trashing Felt in an interview with the Associated Press, Buchanan made his motivation clear, declaring: "This is basically a battle over history and a battle over truth."

We agree. In the interest of history, and of the truth, we present this handy chart comparing the Watergate and Whitewater investigations:

Nixon Clinton
Offenses Presiding over most corrupt administration in history; bugging opponents' offices; breaking into opposition headquarters; breaking into psychiatrist's office; forgery; using the IRS and the Justice Department to harass political opponents and reporters, and much more. Lying about inappropriate personal relationship; losing $48,000 in land deal.
Result Nixon resigned in disgrace, accepted a blanket pardon "for all offenses against the United States" he committed while president. Countless investigations of everything from a 15-year-old land deal to the suicide of a White House employee to allegations of drug running to White House personnel decisions to campaign fund-raising to Arlington Cemetery burial procedures revealed no criminal wrongdoing by Clintons.
Cooperation with investigations Approved plan to illegally use CIA to thwart FBI investigation of Democratic National Committee break-in; attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned after being ordered by Nixon to fire special prosecutor. Ordered Justice Department to appoint special prosecutor to avoid appearance of conflict of interest; never fired or tried to fire special prosecutors or independent counsels.
Dealings with media Investigated, wiretapped, and audited journalists; created "enemies list" that included more than 50 reporters; Nixon allegedly ordered an aide to falsely smear syndicated columnist Jack Anderson as a homosexual; White House plotted ways to poison Anderson. Produced -- but didn't distribute -- a critique of Whitewater coverage by Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt
Approach to idealogical opponents Contemplated firebombing Brookings Institution. (In fairness to Nixon, this plan was never actually carried out.) Once allegedly made Newt Gingrich sit at the back of a plane; wife warned of "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Top aides who went to jail Campaign manager/Attorney General John Mitchell convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury for his role in Watergate break-in and cover-up; chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice; White House counsel John W. Dean III convicted of obstruction of justice; special counsel Charles W. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Associate attorney general Webster Hubbell, whose conviction for stealing money from Rose Law Firm colleagues, including Hillary Clinton, related to crimes he committed long before working in the Clinton administration.

Media mindlessly echo claim that Hillary Clinton is "moving to the center"

This week, Media Matters unveiled a new feature, "Following the Herd," through which we will periodically examine the ideas, preconceptions, and assumptions underlying the news media's conventional wisdom. The first installment details the emerging (false) media consensus that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) is "moving to the center" in preparation for a presidential campaign.

When overly literal right-wing writers attack

In the same editorial that baseless compared Watergate and Whitewater, The Wall Street Journal complained: "In their zeal to be the next Woodstein, many in the press have developed a 'gotcha' model of reporting that always assumes the worst about public officials."

We can't help but assume that, in denouncing "gotcha" journalism, the Journal's editorial writers were thinking of the Journal's own James Taranto.

The day before the Journal editorial ran, Taranto -- grasping at straws in an effort to find fault with John Kerry -- wrote:

The Associated Press dispatch in which we found the original Kerry quote also includes this one:

"The fact is, 10 million more Americans voted for our idea of what we wanted to do than voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 when he was the sitting president of the United States," Kerry said. "The fact is, a million people volunteered. The fact is, across America we created an energy."

"We created an energy"? But the first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So much for the Democrats' claim to be the party of science.

Taranto's pedantic attention to Kerry's word choice left us wondering if the Journal scribe could survive similar scrutiny.

So we were interested to note that in the very same column, Taranto wrote that John O'Connor, the author of the Vanity Fair article that named W. Mark Felt as Deep Throat, "unsurprisingly paints an entirely favorable picture of Felt."

"Paints an entirely favorable picture"? But O'Connor didn't paint a picture at all; he wrote an article. So much for Taranto being the guardian of precise language.

Farewell, Judy Woodruff

Today marks Judy Woodruff's final appearance as host of CNN's Inside Politics. We bid her farewell with a look back at Media Matters' coverage of her work:

    Woodruff repeated false Republican spin that "nuclear option" is a Democratic term. Woodruff -- praised in today's edition of the National Journal's Hotline for "enter[ing] every interview with tough questions" -- asked CNN commentator Bob Novak about legislation that would restrict the ability of federal courts to compel journalists to reveal confidential sources -- but she failed to mention Novak's link to that legislation. The bill was a response to subpoenas of Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time by a special counsel investigating government leaks that led to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame -- by Novak. Woodruff repeated Republican spin that Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle is a partisan prosecutor out to get House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- without noting that Earle has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans. Woodruff repeatedly touted polls that showed favorable results for George W. Bush while ignoring more recent polls that were more favorable for John Kerry. Woodruff misquoted Kerry, then used that misquote to suggest he was being inconsistent. Woodruff's Inside Politics offered shockingly imbalanced coverage of Bush's National Guard record. Woodruff falsely suggested that Bush's honorable discharge from the National Guard indicates that he fulfilled his service requirements. Woodruff blamed Kerry for the misleadingly named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's smear campaign against him. Woodruff repeated the false Republican spin that John Kerry has "the most liberal record in the U.S. Senate."

With Woodruff moving on, Wolf Blitzer takes over the bulk of CNN's afternoon hosting duties. We'll look back at some recent examples of Blitzer peddling conservative misinformation next week. For now, we'll just offer a quick comparison of coverage of some recent stories on Wolf Blitzer Reports -- which, remember, Blitzer opens every afternoon by boasting of his show's seriousness with the intonation, "Stand by for hard news":

Shows since May 1 that have covered the "Runaway Bride": 7

Shows since May 1 that have covered Michael Jackson: 9

Shows since May 1 that have covered the Downing Street Memo: 1

We hope that Blitzer's additional airtime is filled with more substance and fewer stories about Vegas vacations.

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