It would be naïve to hope that the appearance of bogus new “Clinton scandals” might somehow spare us the reappearance of their equally phony precursors. Instead, all the old garbage will soon be recycled into the negative media spin about Hillary Rodham Clinton.
That’s exactly what happened on the March 15 edition of Media Buzz, the Sunday Fox News Channel broadcast hosted by former Washington Post and CNN media critic Howard Kurtz. At the show’s conclusion, Kurtz told his viewers:
On last week’s program The Daily Beast‘s Michael Tomasky criticized the New York Times story back in 1992 that broke the Watergate scandal — excuse me, the Whitewater scandal — saying it had been documented to most people’s satisfaction that many of the details in the story didn’t hold up. Well, the [story’s] author, investigative reporter Jeff Gerth, got in touch to say the article, which said that the Clintons bought land in Arkansas with the owner of a state-regulated S&L that failed and Hillary Clinton and her firm represented the S&L, was 100 percent accurate and the Clintons never asked for a correction. Gerth is right. It is hardly his fault that Whitewater came to stand for so many spinoff allegations.
Actually, Gerth (who has long since left the Times) was emphatically not “right” and neither is Kurtz. Gerth was wrong in 1992, when his first Whitewater article appeared on the paper of record’s front page, and he is still wrong. Indeed, the gross errors in Gerth’s scoop — which resulted in lengthy congressional and independent counsel investigations at a cost of $70 million plus, not to mention vast amounts of wasted newsprint and airtime – started with the headline: “Clintons Joined S&L Operator In an Ozark Real Estate Venture.”
The man who owned that savings-and-loan institution, known as Madison Guaranty, was the Clintons’ former friend and partner in the Whitewater Development Corporation, the late James McDougal. But the problem with the Times headline, Gerth’s story, and Kurtz’s defense of it, is that McDougal did not own the Madison S&L back when the Clintons invested in that ill-fated Ozark land deal. McDougal, a mentally ill con man who was Gerth’s main source, didn’t buy Madison until four years later. Nor was Bill Clinton governor when he and Hillary invested in the Whitewater property.
Yet more than 20 years after Gerth got Whitewater wrong, with such dismal consequences for the nation, he still seems unable to comprehend a basic concept like the passage of time.
As for Kurtz, it is puzzling that he would lend his name to Gerth’s brand of scandal journalism. Or maybe not, now that he works for Roger Ailes. A decade ago, he seemed to know better. That was when he gave a brief but pungent interview, filmed in the Washington Post’s old newsroom, for the movie based on The Hunting of the President, the book that Gene Lyons and I wrote about the Clinton “scandals.”
As we filmed him, the Post media critic mocked the tendency of the Beltway press herd to confuse Whitewater with Watergate (as he did himself last Sunday). He went on to denounce the major networks and newspapers, including his own, for burying the truth about the Clintons’ exoneration by the Resolution Trust Corporation, which conducted the first truly independent investigation of Whitewater.
Gerth’s latest attempt to rehabilitate his Whitewater reporting is especially farcical because he admitted years ago, in a 2007 book he co-authored about Hillary Clinton, that “mistakes” marred the original March 1992 story. Always classy, he blamed those errors on editors at the Times, where by then he no longer worked.
Photo: World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr