The Idaho Shrink: Washington's Missing Link

The Weekly Standard's David Tell felt goaded. Geraldo Rivera on CNBC claimed "in our research - and it's been furious and in-depth - we've found scarce precedent for a federal prosecution of a sex lie in a civil case." On CNN's Crossfire, liberal co-host Bill Press asserted, "there's never been another case in the history of this nation where someone has been indicted for lying about sex in a civil case." Both Geraldo and Press's guest that night, Democratic lawyer Stanley Brand, offered bets that no one could find a precedent.

So the Standard found one, as Tell's weekly editorial offered in the June 22 issue: Dr. Barbara Battalino, a Boise-based Veterans Administration psychiatrist who'd lied in denying having oral sex with a patient, Vietnam veteran Edward Arthur, who'd sued her for medical malpractice and sexual abuse. Thanks to Arthur's 25 hours of taped phone calls (sound familiar?), Janet Reno's Justice Department prosecuted Battalino, who's now serving six months of home detention and was assessed a $3,500 fine. Battalino appeared Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee impeachment probe, but before that, the national media had avoided touching the case for months on end:

A search of the Nexis news data retrieval system found that Battalino has yet to be mentioned in Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report despite pundits from each magazine toeing the no-precedent line on TV.

The Washington Post was the first national outlet on the story, thanks to "In The Loop" columnist (and former Justice Department reporter) Al Kamen, who described the case on August 5. Kamen joked: "So two years' detention in the White House? Beats being homeless."

The Los Angeles Times arrived next, more than two months later on October 23. In a front page story, Richard A. Serrano featured Battalino and U.S. postal supervisor Diane Parker (serving 13 months in prison for lying about sex with a subordinate): "Parker and Battalino are but two of 115 people now serving time for committing perjury in federal court proceedings - the same charge that has brought President Clinton to the brink of impeachment."

The New York Times caught up in a November 17 story by Edward Glaberson, who reported: "A review of more than 100 perjury cases in state and federal courts and statistics on the number of perjury prosecutions brought around the country show that people are prosecuted in America for what might be called small lies more regularly than the Clinton defenders have suggested."

Associated Press and USA Today first noted Battalino on November 30, once the Judiciary Committee called her.

NBC reported on Battalino on the November 6 Dateline, the November 11 Today (including a Matt Lauer interview with Battalino), and the November 19 Nightly News. ABC covered Battalino and others on the November 11 20/20. But ABC's and CBS's evening shows didn't touch the story until last night, and CBS's Bob Schieffer ignored all of Battalino's parallels with Clinton, calling her simply "a woman under house arrest for lying under oath."

The media's self-criticism on Monicagate has focused overwhelmingly on stories published too quickly, and ignored those published way too slowly. - Tim Graham