MediaWatch: June 15, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 9

Smaltz vs. Clinton Justice

Donald Smaltz, who indicted ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy last year and will try him this fall, emerged from network TV oblivion when the PBS series Frontline presented "The Secrets of an Independent Counsel" on May 19. Correspondent Peter Boyer, a co-writer of two other recent Frontline films on the Whitewater and fundraising scandals, began by noting the creation of the independent counsel law in the 1970s, and the Clintons' changing positions: "Now, two decades later, the nation is having second thoughts, real doubts about whether there should be any more. The political generation now in power, which once exalted the independent counsel, now seems determined to destroy it."

Boyer told Smaltz's story of having his investigation frustrated and constrained by the Clinton Justice Department, but also gave plenty of time to Smaltz's adversaries at Justice and lawyers for the men and companies he convicted. He noted that the Justice Department declared Smaltz could not pursue the allegations of Joe Henrickson, the Tyson Foods pilot who claimed he flew envelopes of cash from Tyson to then-Gov. Bill Clinton. The Justice Department claimed it would investigate, but Boyer noted Henrickson has never been contacted by them.

Frontline not only told the story the other networks have failed to report, but corrected the program's own record: Frontline's only signficant mention of a Clinton scandal in the first term was an investigation of the Agriculture Department called "Is This Any Way to Run a Government?" which portrayed Espy as a force for reinventing government who "sees himself as a victim of his own reforms."