After 'My Life,' A Payback Backlash
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 5, 2004; Page C01
In his monster best-seller, Bill Clinton takes his share of whacks at media types who criticized his presidency -- and some are punching back.
Washington Times Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden, for example, accuses Clinton of "a little bit of McCarthyism."
Writing about the Whitewater investigation in "My Life," the former president blames in part the "avowedly right-wing" Washington Times, "financed by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and edited by Wes Pruden Jr., whose father, the Reverend Wesley Pruden, had been chaplain of the White Citizens' Council in Arkansas and an ally of Justice Jim Johnson's in their lost crusade against civil rights for blacks."
"Typical Clinton," says Pruden, who grew up in Arkansas. "That was my father, who's been dead 25 years. It has nothing to do with me. No one has ever accused me of being a racist. . . . There's certainly a strong implication that I don't like blacks because my father didn't like blacks." Clinton "has a perfect right" to criticize the paper's coverage, he says, but "I don't know why he'd accuse me or the Washington Times of being racist."
Asked for comment, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson says: "Perhaps the paragraph should have read, 'Wes Pruden, a man who called Jesse Helms his hero and asked God to pray for the Confederacy.' "
The 42nd president also lambastes Rush Limbaugh, one of his most vociferous critics. In 1993, writes Clinton, the radio host claimed that White House aide Vince Foster "had been murdered in an apartment Hillary owned, and that his body had been moved to Fort Marcy Park. I could not imagine how that made Vince's wife and kids feel. Later, Limbaugh falsely charged that 'journalists and others working on or involved in Whitewatergate have been beaten and harassed in Little Rock. Some have died.' "
What Limbaugh actually said was that he'd been told a corporate newsletter would claim that Foster had been murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Rodham Clinton. He later said that some "disbelieve" the newsletter, which never appeared. Limbaugh also recited a series of deaths but said the links to Clinton were based on "rumors."
Limbaugh told listeners last week that he had repeated information about Foster, whose death was ruled a suicide, from a fax or e-mail. "I never said, I never reported that there was a murder," he declared. "I never reported Foster had been murdered. . . . I played up what was being said by others and what was going around and I played up the climate because it all fit in."
Clinton's book, Limbaugh said, should be called "My Lie."
Wolfson says Limbaugh is welcome to say that Foster committed suicide, "but until he does, he doesn't have a lot of credibility to discuss the issue."
The heart of Clinton's argument (which has gotten far less attention than his thoughts on Monica Lewinsky) is that major news outlets, including The Washington Post, went way overboard in covering the Whitewater land deal investigation, which led to 14 convictions (including that of a former Arkansas governor) but found no wrongdoing by the president and his wife. "What I couldn't believe was that the New York Times, The Washington Post and others in the media I had always respected and trusted had been sucker punched" by anti-Clinton activists, he writes.
Clinton says Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. "had achieved his spurs with Watergate and had convinced himself we were covering something up."
Downie says that was not true, but that he had personally urged Hillary Clinton and White House aides to "clear things up" by giving the paper confidential Whitewater records. "The coverage I think was justified," he says, because of Clinton's prominence, the "large financial investment" for the family and the role of state officials in a savings and loan that went broke. Indictments or not, Downie says, "lots of things that are perfectly legal are newsworthy in terms of how people handle themselves."
The former president also takes a swipe at "a longtime Republican operative," Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, then the president of CNBC, for having "accused the administration of a cover up 'that includes . . . land fraud, illegal contributions, abuse of power . . . suicide cover up -- possible murder.' " And he calls Times columnist William Safire "a speechwriter for Nixon and Agnew" who "seemed determined to prove that all their successors were just as bad as they were."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Phone control needed? Former Howard Dean adviser Joe Trippi, shown in 2003, says that for a political operative, the phone is as dangerous as a gun.
(Evan Vucci -- AP)
_____More Media Notes_____
Phoneless Reporters Can't Make the Call (The Washington Post, Jun 29, 2004)
Hear No Lichtblau, See No Lichtblau (The Washington Post, Jun 28, 2004)
Post Editor Explains Decision to Publish Expletive (The Washington Post, Jun 26, 2004)
Bill Clinton's Aura: Still at the Cleaners (The Washington Post, Jun 21, 2004)
New Republic Editors 'Regret' Their Support of Iraq War (The Washington Post, Jun 19, 2004)