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Press ignores Whitewater act of God

I don’t think there’s anyone in the United States who pays closer attention to what the national and international press is reporting on a daily basis than me. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

You would think after about 20 years of this work, nothing would surprise me anymore. But as jaded as I have become about the lack of sound news judgment, the political bias, the inclination to play toady to government flacks and the general herd instinct of my colleagues, I was still shocked over the last several days to see the way yet another blockbuster Clinton scandal story was quite literally “spiked” by virtually the entire national press corps.

Now, it would be easy to rationalize how many of the Whitewater-related developments would escape the attention span of the average ADD-afflicted American newsman. Most of the stories have been a little arcane. They’re difficult to understand without the equivalent of, say, a ninth-grade education. They’re even harder to explain in a 60-second news clip. They’re not often visually compelling, like, say, a natural disaster.

But then came last Thursday. And the Associated Press carried the amazing story of how a tornado last March wrecked a car that had been used to transport 15-year-old Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan documents. The automobile ended up in a Little Rock repair shop where the papers were discovered. Among the documents was a cashier’s check payable to Bill Clinton for at least $20,000.

Talk about your “smoking guns”! As the London Telegraph reported the next day: “Its discovery suggests the president lied in testimony taken under oath from him in a legal cross-examination at the White House” when he said he “never borrowed any money” from his partner Jim McDougal’s failing S&L.

Mind you, no one at the White House is denying the existence of the check. Instead the spinmeisters were busy coming up with more implausible explanations for it.

The revelation about the check came a day after 18 members of Congress called for the impeachment of the president on a variety of charges. So the case against Clinton was pretty strong to begin with. U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, listed among the charges he believes warrant an inquiry of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee the following: Obstruction of justice, foreign influence, bribery, fraud and corruption, campaign law violations and a clear pattern of abuse of office.

Given the timing of this latest Whitewater development — not to mention the bizarre nature of its discovery — it’s beyond belief that the press would not cover it with blaring front-page headlines. The car itself had been purchased by McDougal’s mother and given to Madison employee Henry Floyd. He was told to deliver the papers to a warehouse in 1988, but first took the car to a repair shop. Then he supposedly lost interest in the car and left it there for nine years. It took a tornado ravaging the automobile earlier this year for the papers to be discovered by a curious repair shop owner.

“There were cashier’s checks just lying there,” he said. “I come to one that has Bill Clinton’s name on it; I saw McDougal’s name, Jim Guy Tucker’s name and I thought this might be something they are looking for.” So he called the FBI. Good thing he didn’t call The New York Times.

I guess I, of all people, should know better by now than to have anything but the lowest expectations of the establishment press. I have long suggested that if someone confessed to the murder of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster the press would simply dismiss him as a liar or a kook. Likewise, Strategic Investment Editor James Dale Davidson wrote recently and without exaggeration that if a witness had seen his body being carried into Fort Marcy Park there would be no official investigatory agency interested in or trustworthy enough to accept, let alone probe, such a report.

Do I trust Kenneth Starr to handle this new evidence properly? I no more trust Kenneth Starr than I do Bill Clinton. Without a watchdog press and a vigilant Congress asking questions, probing deeper and turning up the pressure, politician Starr will cut the easiest and best deal he can for himself. He can’t wait to get out of that office, take up his new duties as a law school dean and continue raking in millions of dollars from his politically connected law firm. That’s the lesson of the Whitewater independent counsel probe so far.

I was beginning to think it would take an act of God to get to the bottom of this scandal. Now it appears even that might not be enough.