WASHINGTON — Establishment media scrutiny of the recently released report of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr on the death of Vincent Foster was even more shallow than the treatment afforded his predecessor’s conclusions.

Completely overlooked, for instance, is the fundamental question of how Foster’s body got to the park. It is clear that all four eyewitnesses in the Fort Marcy parking lot between 4:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. on July 20, 1993, agree that Foster’s 1989 light gray Honda Accord was not there. This at the very time Foster, according to the report, is supposed to be lying dead in the park.

The strongest and most vociferous witness on this point is Patrick Knowlton, who, at 4:30 p.m., parked next to a car with Arkansas license plates occupying the very space Foster’s car was discovered in by Park Police officers one hour and 45 minutes later. The car Knowlton saw there, though, was a rust brown Honda, older and smaller than Foster’s car.

A couple referred to in Starr’s report as witnesses C3 and C4 drove into the park between 5 p.m. and 5:30. They reported seeing the same car Knowlton described. At around 5:30, the confidential witness who discovered Foster’s body, referred to as C5 in Starr’s report, reported seeing the same car Knowlton described — not Foster’s.

The first witness to see a car that looked like Foster’s in that spot was Jeanne Slade, who walked up to the parking lot minutes before 6 p.m. She saw the light gray Honda and a blue car next to it. When paramedics arrived 10 minutes later, they saw Foster’s car but the unidentified blue car was gone. A unoccupied brown car was still in the lot. Its motor was running and its hazard lights were flashing. A few minutes later, it was gone.

Police officers also reported that Foster’s car engine was still warm.

What’s the significance of all this? Pretty simple. Starr’s report expects the American people to believe that Foster killed himself in the park before his car ever got to the scene. The fact that his car keys were not found on his body, despite a thorough search on the scene, is further confirmation that he did not drive his vehicle to the park.

Only an investigation hell-bent on determining that Foster killed himself in the park in spite of all evidence to the contrary could so brazenly disregard these key facts. It’s no wonder Knowlton, who has steadfastly stuck by his story, was intimidated and harassed prior to his grand jury testimony.

Starr must be embarrassed by his multimillion failure to answer such basic questions. Unlike Special Counsel Robert Fiske, who proudly labeled his report on the death of Vincent Foster “The Fiske Report,” Starr’s name is conspicuously absent from the report by the office of independent counsel.

He also fought inclusion in the report of an appendix by Knowlton and his attorney John Clarke. It was up to the court’s discretion as to whether the witness’ response would be attached to the report. The court found in favor of Knowlton.

So the nation’s reporters had every opportunity to learn of this basic challenge to Starr’s conclusions. Yet not a single major news agency even noted the presence of the persuasive 20-page dissent.

Perhaps the most striking example of the ineptitude (or is it something more sinister?) of the establishment press in covering the latest chapter of this story is an Oct. 14 editorial in the Detroit Free Press.

“Mr. Starr, independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, released a report a few days ago concluding beyond doubt that White House aide Vincent Foster committed suicide in 1993 in his car in a Washington, D.C., park,” the editorial asserted. “That is, it has taken Mr. Starr three years and several million dollars to reach the same conclusion that the park police reached a few hours after Mr. Foster’s death, and that everybody but the farthest fringe of conspiracy theorists had accepted a long time ago.”

In his car? A Washington, D.C., park? What can you say about such absurd pronouncements from the know-nothing pundit class? They have chosen to accept on blind faith whatever explanation the government hands them. Worse yet, they get genuinely angry at those who, having actually examined the facts, don’t share their zeal to rubber-stamp even the most incredible official declarations.

It reminds me of a discussion I had with investigative reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, quoted in his new book, “The Secret Life of Bill Clinton.”

“I have to wonder now,” I said. “What will it take to make the press look at this thing? If somebody confessed to the crime, would that do it?”

“Probably not,” he replied.

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