Practice makes perfect, they say. And Clinton administration officials have been practicing the art of deception now for more than five years. While they’re not yet perfect, they are good. In fact, some of them would make Josef Goebbels proud.

Take, for instance, White House press secretary Mike McCurry’s answer to the first (and, he says, last) question raised by the beltway media concerning the strange death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Here’s how the interchange went:

Question: “Does the administration give any credence to these allegations that Ron Brown might have been shot?”

McCurry: “Absolutely none. And credence is only given to those reports by entities associated with Richard Mellon Scaife (publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), and we are right back into another one of these chasing a story that’s been ginned up by people who no doubt, for whatever reason, hate the president of the United States. And the Pentagon, I think, has very thoroughly and in very gruesome detail, and no doubt in ways painful to the Brown family, addressed this issue. And it’s time to knock this stuff off. And I’m not going to talk about this further or take any further questions on the subject.”

First of all, I don’t know who asked the question, but it was framed improperly. There simply haven’t been any “allegations” that Ron Brown was shot. There have been two high-ranking military investigators who have courageously come forward to express their expert opinions about it. They both say that their examinations of the photographic and x-ray evidence suggest Brown has a bullet hole in his head. One of them even examined Brown’s wound and strongly recommended his body be autopsied to determine for certain what happened. Those are not “allegations.” They are facts. No one — not Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, Lt. Col. David Hause, investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy, nor newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife — has made any allegations concerning this case. What each has done is, simply and admirably, perform their jobs. The establishment press just doesn’t get it. And such careless, imprecise questioning illustrates that fact as clearly as all the questions that weren’t asked.

But then, let’s deal with spinmeister McCurry. When in doubt, resort to guilt by association. Weave a new conspiracy tale. McCurry would have you believe it is now irresponsible to report what top military forensics experts say about an official investigation into the death of a Cabinet official because it might reflect badly on the president.

Why? Why on earth would the president not want to get to the bottom of this story? If one of my top aides had died suspiciously, I wouldn’t assume those who questioned the cause of death were accusing me of foul play? Why does Clinton appear to have a guilty conscience?

And just how has this story been “ginned up”? Is McCurry suggesting Cogswell and Hause are involved in a conspiracy with Dick Scaife? He claims the Pentagon has cleared up all the questions about Ron Brown’s death, yet it is Pentagon personnel that is, after all, disputing that.

McCurry, too, expresses concern about the Brown family. Yet, the government never notified Mrs. Brown that her husband seemed to have a gunshot wound in his head. Were they just trying to protect her private grief? Or, more likely, were they trying to cover something up?

If there was no cover-up, then it shouldn’t be any problem for the government to produce the original x-rays and photos that officials claim disprove the gunshot theory. If they were that critical to the investigation, please don’t ask us to believe that they were simply lost.

As stacked as the deck is, in this case, against the government line, the Clinton administration has successfully controlled the press. The story may be discussed on some talk radio shows. It may be the top story on the Internet. And it may be the cause of buzz in the Black Congressional Caucus. But it has not appeared on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post. It is not getting any play on the major television networks.

While McCurry’s retort may seem transparently ludicrous to me, it’s obviously enough to assuage the inquiring minds of the media elite.

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