Hyman selectively quoted, distorted NYT editorials on Clinton FBI files scandal

››› ››› JOE BROWN

Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman selectively quoted Clinton-era editorials from The New York Times to support his false claim that the Times dismissed as "a simple mistake" the acquisition by a Clinton administration official of the FBI background reports of Republican former White House officials, an incident that became known as "Filegate." In fact, the Times editorial board stated that "[i]t remains hard to believe that these Democratic Party operatives accidentally stumbled onto" the FBI background documents. Hyman made his false claim in support of his assertion that the Times editors "had a different opinion" of domestic spying when it came to Filegate compared with their opinion of President Bush's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, which they have criticized.

Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman, on the February 20 edition of "The Point," distorted the meaning of editorials from The New York Times. By selectively quoting Clinton-era Times editorials, Hyman falsely claimed that the Times dismissed as "a simple mistake" the acquisition by a Clinton administration official of the FBI background reports of Republican former White House officials, an incident that became known as "Filegate." In fact, in one of the editorials addressing Filegate, the Times editorial board stated that "[i]t remains hard to believe that these Democratic Party operatives accidentally stumbled onto" the FBI background documents. The Times was also highly critical of the Clinton administration over Filegate, arguing that although "[a] final judgment on this matter cannot yet be made ... it is already abundantly clear that neither the White House nor the F.B.I. acted with the kind of care and restraint Americans expect of their Government." Hyman made his false claim in support of his assertion that the Times editors "had a different opinion" of domestic spying when it came to Filegate, compared with their opinion of President Bush's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, which they have criticized.

Also, by purporting to contrast the Times' editors' reactions to Filegate and the current controversy surrounding the warrantless surveillance program, Hyman suggested that the scandals should, in fact, be regarded as comparable.

Further, Hyman misrepresented the limits of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the Bush domestic spying program appears to violate. FISA requires the government to obtain a warrant to intercept electronic communications of American citizens and other "U.S. persons" but allows the government to conduct surveillance for up to 72 hours before retroactively obtaining that warrant. Hyman, however, falsely asserted that "Uncle Sam could be listening in when an Al Qaeda leader calls his fellow terrorists. But when he dials up a sleeper cell in America, the National Security Agency must hang up."

From the February 20 edition of "The Point:"

HYMAN: Uncle Sam could be listening in when an Al Qaeda leader calls his fellow terrorists. But when he dials up a sleeper cell in America, the National Security Agency must hang-up. That's the gist of the NSA spying controversy.

The cultural elitists at The New York Times have had their knickers all bunched up over this. But they had a different opinion when Americans were caught actually spying on innocent Americans. Ten years ago, the Clintons' hand-picked White House security chief, Craig Livingstone, was caught with about 900 FBI background files belonging to top Republicans such as James Baker, Marlin Fitzwater, and Brent Scowcroft. Bill Clinton called it a simple snafu. It's laughable that Livingstone, who worked on three Democratic presidential campaigns, would mistake well-known Republicans as Clinton staffers. Yet, The New York Times editorialized that Clinton's "explanation has not been discredited" and suggested that, in the worst case, it was simply "motiveless incompetence."

The Times argues that NSA staffers listening in on suspected Al Qaeda affiliates is a violation of privacy. But the Clintons collecting hundreds of FBI files on American politicians they don't like is a simple mistake.

And that's "The Point."

But Hyman distorted the meaning of the editorials he quoted. He selectively quoted a June 17, 1996, editorial stating that Clinton's "explanation" of how his administration acquired the FBI files "has not been discredited," leaving out the second portion of the sentence, which argued that the explanation "is looking shakier." From the June 17, 1996, editorial:

President Clinton and his aides have apologized for the incident and attributed it to inexperience and inept management. They said that an outdated list of White House pass holders was mistakenly used in a 1993 effort to accelerate the clearance process for new staff members and that there was no intention to compile damaging information on political opponents.

That explanation has not been discredited, but it is looking shakier. It turns out that the two men primarily responsible for the White House document request were longtime Democratic Party political operatives. Anthony Marceca, on loan to the White House from the Pentagon in 1993, was not just a neutral civil servant but a veteran of four Democratic Presidential campaigns. Mr. Marceca was responsible for reviewing the F.B.I. files. He reported to Craig Livingstone, who acted as White House liaison to the F.B.I. and Secret Service. Mr. Livingstone worked in the last three Democratic Presidential campaigns.

Hyman's assertion that the Times "suggested that, in the worst case, it [the acquisition of the FBI files] was simply 'motiveless incompetence' " is also a distortion; the Times' argument in its July 2, 1996, editorial was the opposite of what Hyman claimed. In that editorial, the Times editors questioned the credibility of Clinton's explanation for the acquisition of the files, rhetorically asking if "our belief in motiveless incompetence [is] expansive enough to account for the most egregious tampering with the F.B.I. in 20 years." From the July 2, 1996, editorial:

It remains hard to believe that these Democratic Party operatives accidentally stumbled onto a lode of sensitive information about such senior Republican officials as James Baker, Marlin Fitzwater, Kenneth Duberstein and Brent Scowcroft.

Is our belief in motiveless incompetence expansive enough to account for the most egregious tampering with the F.B.I. in 20 years? In advancing his bureaucratic snafu theory, President Clinton does have the advantage of being able to point to a long line of managerial pratfalls carried out in his name by appointees who say he was in the dark while they were doing their worst.

But the welcome resignation of Mr. Livingstone poses a question that exists entirely apart from the conspiracy angle. What does it take to get fired in this White House?

Hyman's conclusion -- that the Times editors dismissed Filegate as "a simple mistake" -- is simply false. As noted above, the Times editors wrote that "[i]t remains hard to believe that these Democratic Party operatives accidentally stumbled onto" the FBI background documents. Moreover, the Times was highly critical of the Clinton administration over Filegate. Its June 17, 1996, editorial began:

With each new disclosure, the Clinton Administration's handling of sensitive F.B.I. files seems more maladroit and disheartening. While it remains unclear whether White House aides were pursuing a political agenda in rummaging through the files, it is now apparent that there was great potential for mischief. Both the White House and the F.B.I. showed remarkably little regard for the privacy rights of Americans in their cavalier treatment of background files on more than 400 men and women who worked in recent Republican Administrations, including former Secretary of State and Bush campaign manager James Baker.

In concluding that editorial, the Times editors stated: "A final judgment on this matter cannot yet be made, but it is already abundantly clear that neither the White House nor the F.B.I. acted with the kind of care and restraint Americans expect of their Government."

Additionally, the July 2, 1996, editorial argued that "[t]he case of the mishandled F.B.I. files does not look any better with the passage of time," taking the administration to task for "suggest[ing] the whole affair started with a hiring decision by Vincent Foster, the White House counsel who killed himself in 1993." The Times editors asserted that "[i]t is too easy to place responsibility for this sorry episode on a man who cannot defend himself," and argued that Clinton should "sack" high officials in his administration, because the resignations of Livingstone, the White House director of personnel security, and Marceca, the White House aide who acquired the FBI files, were insufficient. From the July 2, 1996, editorial:

[T]he welcome resignation of Mr. Livingstone poses a question that exists entirely apart from the conspiracy angle. What does it take to get fired in this White House? We supported the dismissal of Jocelyn Elders as Surgeon General for politically indiscreet speech, but we have to admit that there seems to be a double standard when it comes to accountability at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Bernard Nussbaum, the former White House counsel, and his deputy, William Kennedy 3d, were eased out on a billow of Presidential thanks when their documented failings far outweighed Dr. Elders's words. We are reluctant to advise Mr. Clinton on exactly who to sack in this matter, but surely he must know that the serial-snafu buck stops at fancier addresses than Mr. Livingstone's basement office or Mr. Marceca's vault. Mr. Foster's office is not the answer either.

Further, Hyman's purported contrast of the Times' editors' reaction to Filegate with their reaction to the NSA spying scandal implied that the two scandals were of comparable magnitude, and that the Times' opinions on both should have been the same. In fact, independent counsel Robert W. Ray's report on Filegate determined that there was "no evidence of the involvement of any senior White House official or First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the request for the background reports of hundreds of former White House staff" by Marceca. In contrast, Bush himself repeatedly authorized the interception of communications without a warrant, in apparent violation of FISA.

Finally, Hyman falsely asserted that "Uncle Sam could be listening in when an Al Qaeda leader calls his fellow terrorists. But when he dials up a sleeper cell in America, the National Security Agency must hang up." As Media Matters for America previously noted, a December 20 New York Times article explained that FISA allows the NSA "to tap international communications of people in the United States and then go to a secret court up to 72 hours later for retroactive permission."

"The Point" is a one-minute "news and commentary" segment aired daily by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest single owner/operator of TV stations in the United States. Media Matters leads SinclairAction.com, a coalition of groups and individuals protesting Sinclair's continued misuse of public airwaves to broadcast one-sided, politically charged programming without a counterpoint.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
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Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
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Mark Hyman
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