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Steven Brill (File)

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Lewinsky Coverage Critic Says Gift Needed Mention

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 16, 1998; Page A08

Steven Brill, publisher of a new magazine on the media, said yesterday that he should have disclosed in an article criticizing the coverage of the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal that he made campaign contributions to President Clinton and other Democratic candidates.

According to federal records, Brill and his wife donated $2,000 to the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign and $4,000 to three Democratic congressional candidates.

"I should have disclosed it," Brill said. He said he made the donations when he was "a business guy and a journalist" and stopped making political donations after deciding to launch Brill's Content, his new magazine that debuts this week.

Brill noted that when he ran American Lawyer magazine, he published a piece arguing that Paula Jones had a strong case against the president. "It's hard to come to a conclusion that I'm ideologically tainted," he said.

But Brill's 24,000-word article assailing coverage of the Lewinsky scandal continued to be a source of controversy. Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who granted Brill an interview, said some of his comments were taken "out of context" -- a charge that Brill denied. And five other people have disputed information attributed to them in the article, while Newsweek issued a statement denying what it said was Brill's implication that the magazine had "covered up some quotes" from a tape recording of a conversation between Lewinsky and Linda R. Tripp that was "exculpatory of the president."

Newsweek said the exchange between Lewinksy and Tripp wasn't included in an online version of its story because a transcript being prepared from reporters' notes wasn't ready, but that the exchange was quoted in full in the next issue of the magazine. Brill said he "factually" described Newsweek's online report.

Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who was interviewed by Brill, called the article "utterly garbage," "fundamentally dishonest" and "slimy."

Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson said he was "mischaracterized" when Brill quoted him as saying his magazine could not press Starr's office about leaks "because we are out there getting those leaks ourselves from them."

"I was not talking about people who were leaking specific things to us," he said yesterday. "I don't know if he misunderstood them [Isaacson's words] or was twisting them."

Brill said Isaacson acknowledged making the remarks in a follow-up conversation last Friday.

In a letter to Brill yesterday, Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt asked for a retraction of a quote attributed to her saying that days before breaking the Lewinsky story she "heard from sources in Starr's office something about Vernon Jordan and coaching a witness."

Schmidt denied making the statement to Brill and said she did not receive that information from Starr's office. "By claiming I have disclosed my sources to you, you have defamed me and damaged my reputation," said Schmidt, who has also denied another comment attributed to her -- that she called the president a liar. Brill maintains he had the comments in his notes.

Post Managing Editor Robert G. Kaiser said it was "silly" for Brill to suggest that Schmidt, who often collaborates with other reporters, is pursuing a personal agenda. "The stories that have her name on them are Washington Post stories and we stand behind every one of them," he said.

The founder of Brill's Content (to which this reporter is to be an occasional contributor) could not be reached for comment on Schmidt's letter.

NBC reporter David Bloom, described by Brill as one who does "lapdog-like work" about Starr, yesterday called an MSNBC program to take issue with Brill. Brill said on the air that Starr's deputy had briefed Bloom when the Lewinsky story broke. But Bloom told the Post that was "complete and total hogwash."

Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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