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."
Says Safire: "He's entitled to a few pops. As I see it, every knock is a boost."
Is That Loaded?
Joe Trippi, the charismatic and headstrong strategist who managed Howard Dean's campaign, knows something about wrestling with the media beast. In a forthcoming book called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," he describes the press this way:
"The telephone is a .357 magnum and every time you answer it and there's a reporter on the other end, what you're really doing is putting that gun to your head. Sure, most of the chambers are empty, but there's always at least one hollow-point in there, sometimes more. Every time you talk to a reporter, there is the potential that you'll blow your brains out. The higher your guy is in the polls, the more live rounds in the gun. . . .
"In our case . . . Howard's once-charming insistence on speaking his mind . . . became the very bullets that we had to duck every day."
Trippi also examines the candidate's reluctance to have his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, actively campaign: "Here was the most loving, real family I'd ever seen in politics -- behaving the way people should behave -- and the press wanted to know what was wrong with them. Reporters were so used to candidates' Stepford families and that packaged, posed campaign domesticity that they missed the real thing when it was right in front of them."
Another reason Trippi liked Dean's physician wife: She diagnosed his diabetes, which he was keeping hidden from the campaign, and apparently never told her husband.
For three straight days last week, the lead story in the Early Bird, the Pentagon's compilation of the day's news, was journalistic screw-ups.
Defense reporters say the press office, which has been accused of politicizing the Early Bird, was trying to stick it to them by dramatically highlighting corrections in USA Today, the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times. Friday's lead item: Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita's letter of complaint to USA Today.
"Many times people in the department see the story that was wrong but don't get a chance to see the correction," DiRita says. "We've tried to pay close attention to the accuracy of reporting, and when news organizations make a correction we think it's important for readers of the Early Bird to have an opportunity to see the corrected information."
Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler fired critic Octavio Roca last week for plagiarizing more than a half-dozen stories from the San Francisco Chronicle.
The twist: Roca wrote the earlier features himself when he was at the Chronicle.
Fiedler says Roca rationalized this "self-plagiarism," first disclosed by Miami New Times, by saying "he looked at this as his work. He said he saw recycling as no different from a college professor who delivers the same lectures to different classes repeatedly." A better analogy, says Fiedler, would be a student who flunks for passing off the same term paper in different classes. Roca could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Macon, Ga., Telegraph last week accepted the resignation of entertainment reporter Greg Fields over a story on the circus. Turns out part of the report came from a Ringling Bros. Web site and was falsely attributed to a circus spokesman. Fields has said his "mistake" was not plagiarism.
The Fields embarrassment, which included three other questionable stories, comes four months after a Telegraph reporter was fired for plagiarizing more than 20 stories.
Swing and a Whiff
While Peter Jennings and Dan Rather were showing pictures of Saddam Hussein in court Thursday morning, NBC's "Today" showed Katie Couric playing badminton with a U.S. Olympic athlete, in advance of the network's coverage of the Summer Games.