Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Don’t Go There, Peter

Eric Boehlert in Salon.com has the backstory on former President Clinton’s terse response to Peter Jennings question about “moral authority” during last week’s ABC News interview.

In truth, Clinton’s criticism of the media’s overheated and often conspiratorial scandal coverage could be applied to a host of mainstream news operations. But it was fitting that the comment was directed at ABC, which occupied a unique role amid the seven-year, $70 million media feeding frenzy surrounding Starr’s probes. At times ABC, led by reporter Jackie Judd and producer Chris Vlasto, seemed to act as the broadcast counterparts to the print reporters relying on news from the Office of the Independent Counsel — making an early investment in the Whitewater story and determined to see it pay off.

“Jackie Judd and I are proud of the work we did,” Vlasto told Salon in an interview. “It’s unfortunate [Clinton] feels that way, and I don’t want to relive the history. But we did a lot of [scandal] stories over a lot of years and our stories speak for themselves. They have stood the test of time.”

But a number of independent observers judge those stories to have failed journalistic standards. Some have even suggested that Vlasto took on a unique role as a kind of unofficial advisor to the Starr legal team as he worked behind the scenes and confronted fellow journalists who did not hew to Starr’s line. In 1998 Salon’s Joe Conason wrote, “After Murray Waas and I published an article in the Nation about Starr’s conflicts of interest … [a]mong the most hostile responses was a telephone call from ABC producer Chris Vlasto, who has worked the Clinton scandal beat at the network for several years. After swiftly dismissing our story, Vlasto proceeded to berate me for criticizing Starr, and condescended to inform me that the corrupt liars were in the White House, not the independent counsel’s office. The possibility that Clinton and Starr both might need skeptical interrogation evidently didn’t occur to Vlasto, who works closely with ABC White House correspondent Jackie Judd. Two years later … it was Judd who became one of the most eager purveyors of Starr-inspired leaks and anti-Clinton rumors.”

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History will show that the Clintons were exonerated of all the Whitewater accusations and that the president was acquitted of all charges in the impeachment trial. For refusing to testify before the grand jury to implicate the Clintons in crimes as Starr had demanded, McDougal was held in prison for 18 months, sometimes in solitary confinement. And when she finally did testify, she said she knew of no wrongdoing by them; she was acquitted of all charges in the case.

No wonder Clinton’s still mad at ABC.

And it puts things into perspective; all the stories about the Clinton administration’s alleged misdeeds pale in comparison to what it going on now. A little illicit nooky seems positively irrelevant compared to global dysfunction and imperialistic warmaking. Actually, illicit nooky is irrelevant compared to anything – unless you’re an uptight Republican mob.