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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2001/ 28 Shevat, 5761


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A knife in the back -- ANOTHER DAY, another New York Times editorial or news story dumping on the Clinton administration. The millionaire's Socialist Newspaper of Record has been relentless in its ostracism: whether it's Hillary's fishy cash-up-front book deal; the installation of sleazebag Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Al Gore's closed-door lecture at a journalism school; or presidential counsel Jack Quinn's interesting choice of legal clients. Bill Clinton is Public Enemy Number One, with most of the ink slamming him for the pardon of Marc Rich.

Last Sunday, on its op-ed pages, the Times tricked the ex-president by giving him ample space to make a ludicrous defense of the controversial decision. It was a stiff piece, written by attorney David Kendall and touched up by John Podesta, and, as the Times' editors certainly anticipated, it simply exacerbated Clinton's credibility problems. On Monday, a Times editorial resumed fire on its guest author, concluding: "Sometimes, Mr. Clinton argues, a pardon may be granted based on undefined 'unique circumstances.' The story of this pardon begins and ends with money and the access afforded by money. That is the unique circumstance that will linger in the minds of Americans whenever they contemplate this gross misuse of a solemn presidential responsibility." So is the sky falling? On the surface, it does seem odd, when the Times and Wall Street Journal editorials-on this one issue-dovetail in their vehement condemnation of the 42nd president. I was skeptical at the rat-a-tat-tat blasts every day, but couldn't quite figure out the motive.

On Feb. 17, however, Chris Gacek, a reader from Alexandria, VA, offered an explanation that is sublimely obvious, but hasn't been published elsewhere. He e-mailed: "What is really behind the establishment press turning on Bill Clinton? I don't believe The New York Times is even remotely outraged by the Rich pardon. The Times never cared about Juanita Broaddrick, the transfer of rocket and satellite technology to China or the unprecedented attacks against Kenneth Starr."

Gacek's contention is that Clinton, in the last month, has sullied himself so thoroughly-with McAuliffe's coronation, the $800,000 57th St. offices disaster, his scuzzy White House departure and the unexplainable Rich pardon-that he's no longer of any use in the ongoing quest to defeat the GOP-controlled Congress in 2002 and then President Bush in 2004. So it's goodbye cruel world to the toad Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Tina Brown used to affectionately call Elvis, and hang him from a tree in Central Park. Such lovely views there, you see. To dip into Times columnist Maureen Dowd's scant repertoire, Clemenza would never betray Don Sulzberger; Clinton was always the smart one.

(A quick digression: Isn't it criminal how geeky pundits have besmirched Elvis Presley, one of the country's prized cultural icons, by associating him with Clinton?)

Richard Berke, the Times' "star" political correspondent whose articles in the 2000 campaign seemed vetted by the Gore campaign, had an astonishing front-page story on Feb. 16, headlined "Democrats See a Party Adrift as Presidential Loss Sinks In." It's part of the plan: If the Times weren't intent on forcing Clinton (and Gore) off the national stage, and exiling him to a life of golf at restricted country clubs, Berke would never have included the following comments from prominent liberals.

Bill Daley, Gore's campaign chairman: "It's terrible, devastating, and it's rather appalling. Bush ran on bringing dignity back and I think the actions by Clinton of the last couple of weeks are giving him a pretty good platform."

Dick Gephardt: "In retrospect, if we had a little wind at the top of the ticket, it would have helped in some of those close [House] races. I'm not blaming it on the Gore campaign, but that is a fact of life." Carter Eskew, a Gore-Lieberman lieutenant: "People in the fund-raising community who are ideologically driven are very disappointed. They think the Democrats have essentially rolled over and are letting Bush have his way. They don't believe Democrats have a real strategy for taking the guy on."

Even McAuliffe wouldn't comment on the record about his buddy Clinton, telling Berke, "I'm talking about the future."

But what's your future, Terry? Maybe one-to-three in a minimum-security prison camp?

Jill Abramson, another Times numbers-runner for Sulzberger and Howell Raines, contradicted Clinton's formal "explanation" for the Rich pardon on the very same day it appeared in the paper. The disgraced Arkansan wrote, after a brief history lesson about the Constitution: "The case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys: Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; William Bradford Reynolds, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan Justice Department; and Lewis Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff."

Abramson collected the following comments from the "distinguished" Republicans Clinton cited.

Garment: "It is absolutely false that I knew about and endorsed the idea of a pardon."

Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, spoke on behalf of Libby: "While Mr. Libby was involved in the original case concerning Mr. Rich, he was in no way, shape, manner or form involved in the pardon."

Reynolds: "I never reviewed nor advocated the pardon. I first learned of it when everyone else did and I was as astonished as everybody else was."

William Safire's Times column was a one-man party on Monday, as he reveled in tweaking his media elite colleagues for having been snookered by Clinton the past eight years. Safire, whose idiosyncratic conservatism has no place for the Bush family, adopted the mock-role of the "contrarian," offering advice to the Comeback Kid. He wrote: "Say this: I stonewalled and intimidated witnesses and gave false testimony under oath and copped a plea, didn't I? So why are you kicking about my denials now? I got huge contributions from my Asian connection, then reversed my China policy and got away with it, didn't I? So why are you whining about bribery now?

"That last defense is Clinton's clincher. Having applauded his shamelessness through eight years, only hypocrites among his steadfast supporters can complain about his shaming the presidency on the way out."

Adding to the bizarre series of Clinton miscues was that the Times treatise wasn't his first avenue of explanation for his latest political jam. Last Thursday, the ex-president chose Geraldo Rivera, a CNBC clown who, as Al Gore once did, considers Clinton one of the country's foremost heroes. "There's not a single, solitary shred of evidence that I did anything wrong, or that [Rich's] money changed hands. And there's certainly no evidence that I took any of it. I was blindsided by this. I just wanted to go out there and do what past presidents have done, but the Republicans had other ideas for me. It's terrible! I mean [Rich] had three big-time Republican lawyers, including Dick Cheney's chief of staff."

Clinton also complained that he was at a disadvantage because he no longer has an "infrastructure" at his disposal, people who can spin a once-fawning Fourth Estate into submission after their boss has screwed up. So, Clinton, supposedly the "brainy" and "shrewd" pol-especially compared to the "moron" from Texas who succeeded him-picks a hack's talk show as his place to let off steam. (The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, appearing on Rivera Live Thursday night, was typically astute in refuting Clinton's complaint of no "infrastructure." Fund said: "Well, that's not true. He has your program.")

I particularly relished Clinton's hastily chosen words that there's no "evidence" of wrongdoing on his part, and that "Republicans had other ideas for me." This really stretches the imagination. Of course there's no "evidence." If the Rich pardon was bought, if the fugitive who renounced his U.S. citizenship really did funnel money to his ex-wife, Clinton wouldn't leave a paper trail. That's one of his tricks of the trade. Or, as Fund told Geraldo: "After 26 days, we've gotten a four-paragraph explanation from the president. I'm happy for that. [The Pinocchio shtick wasn't really necessary there, John.] But deconstructing this statement is absolutely hilarious. It's complete Clintonism. 'There's not a single, solitary shred of evidence'-yes, I'm sure all of the evidence has been shredded."

As for the Republicans piling on, while it's true that the oft-derided Dan Burton is conducting congressional hearings, not a single prominent Democrat has offered any support for Clinton's lunatic actions. Geraldo bought his buddy's temper tantrum without question, but when it comes to Clinton he's just a notch above bonebrains like Joe Conason, Gene Lyons and Paul Begala in credibility.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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