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One Lawyer Does The Media's Job

One Lawyer Does The Media's Job
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 2, 1997

Throughout the Clinton years, the national media have often turned up their noses at amassing evidence in the multitudinous Clinton scandals. Usually the only way reporters get dragged kicking and screaming into scandal stories is by someone taking Clintonites to court. One lawyer has made it his job to do the work untouched by a battalion of supposed reporters. He is Larry Klayman, and he runs a group called Judicial Watch.

The media run hot and cold on Klayman, and neither temperature is comfortable. When the media run cold, he and his evidence are ignored completely. When he's making a scandal sink in to the political culture despite the media's censorious ways, they're hot to take after him with cudgels. A typical Klayman profile can be found in a recent edition of Time magazine, where Richard Lacayo began: "Even in the fang-baring world of Bill Clinton's most dedicated pursuers, Larry Klayman is in a class by himself."

The scandal Klayman spurred Time finally to cover is Pentagon public affairs boss Kenneth Bacon's drive to leak Linda Tripp's personnel file to his former Wall Street Journal colleague Jane Mayer. The media had jumped all over the Mayer story that Tripp failed to disclose to the Defense Department an arrest on her public record - a trumped-up teenage prank charge of theft that police quickly dropped. Through depositions, Klayman first got Pentagon aide Clifford Bernath to testify that Bacon ordered the leaking of the Tripp file. Then on May 21, Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon reported Klayman got Bacon to admit he orchestrated the Tripp release - a violation of the Privacy Act. But Sammon had another bombshell, recounting that Bill Clinton promised in 1992, when the Bush State Department investigated Clinton's passport file, that "If I catch anyone using the State Department like that when I'm President, I'll fire them the next day."

National media coverage? A CNN mention, and then a month later, Time's Klayman article, neither of which used Sammon's unflattering clip of Clinton-speak.

Klayman is digging into the Pentagon's Linda Tripp-bashing as part of a lawsuit into the FBI files scandal, which the media buried quickly within a month in 1996. It's funny how the media used to care about the privacy of government employees. They still care about Clinton loyalists who they think have gotten the shaft - look at how they wave their hankies at Webster Hubbell, a liar and a thief. But government employees who don't love Clinton apparently have no rights, don't deserve a defense.

Take as Exhibit A none other than Jane Mayer herself. In a passionate letter to the editor of The Washington Post in April, Mayer announced that Tripp's supposed police record is of great public import: "Ms. Tripp and her lawyers have managed to make the issue of her failure to disclose the full truth about her past into a question of her privacy rights. Was it unfair of the Pentagon to have confirmed to me that as far as it knew, Ms. Tripp had no arrest record? Clearly, such an answer was seen as harmless, even exculpatory. Was it unfair for me to write - accurately - about Ms. Tripp's clouded legal past? I'd argue that when an unknown individual steps forward to accuse the highest elected official in the country of criminal behavior, the public has every right to know as much as it can, not just about the charge, but also about who the accuser is and what sort of credibility she might have."

But that's not how Mayer saw it in her 1994 Clarence Thomas-bashing book "Strange Justice," written with New York Times reporter Jill Abramson. On page 282, they protested the harried October 1991 search for information about Thomas's unconvincing accuser, Anita Hill: "While Danforth hunted for more information that could discredit Hill in the harried days leading up to the hearings, the White House counsel's office became a virtual war room overseeing a parallel effort. The propriety of the White House counsel - the lawyer to the institution of the presidency - engaging in a campaign against a private citizen was not addressed." Imagine them applying that standard to Bruce Lindsey, Craig Livingstone, or Kenneth Bacon. Or Bill Clinton.

This Pentagon leak on Tripp implicates not only Bacon, but Defense Secretary William Cohen, who lied on "Fox News Sunday" when he said Bernath released Tripp's file on his own, when Bacon personally told Cohen he'd authorized the release, and Cohen's chief of staff called to scold him for it. None of the networks followed up on Bacon's leak (or who in the White House may have ordered it). It's sure isn't because of unavailability: Cohen appeared in the last month on ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "Face the Nation," NBC's "Today," and PBS's "NewsHour."

Improper government leaks? Steve Brill, call your office.