MediaWatch: October 1995

Vol. Nine No. 10

Watching the Detectives?

Wallace's Whitewash

The official determination of suicide in the 1993 death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster led to much controversy. Some homicide detectives raised questions about inconsistencies with suicide in the park. Former FBI Director William Sessions called the investigation "compromised" from the beginning.

So when 60 Minutes decided to take a look you'd expect a serious examination of all the evidence. Instead, on October 8, Mike Wallace tried to debunk any notion of mysterious circumstances by taking potshots at a few of the less important questions. Wallace laid out the official story: "Vince Foster's family, the U.S. Park Police, the FBI, the Senate Banking Committee, and independent counsel Robert Fiske have all concluded that Vince Foster killed himself. But according to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans still are not sure. The question is: Why? In large part, because of the work of this man, investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy."

Wallace grilled Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, portraying him as part of a right-wing conspiracy: "Ruddy's paper is owned by a prominent conservative, Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife also supports a tiny conservative outfit that calls itself the Western Journalism Center (WJC) and they've turned Ruddy's stories into full page newspaper ads across the country. The ads ask for contributions to keep Ruddy investigating and Ruddy's reporting is the basis for two videotapes."

Wallace focused on two issues: A disputed quote from a medical examiner, Dr. Donald Haut, and Ruddy's initial mistaken reporting that Foster was left-handed. In a statement after the show, WJC wrote: "Wallace never mentions that it was the Boston Globe which first reported Foster was left-handed," and that Ruddy had been first to report the correct information.

Wallace talked to medical examiner Haut, who contradicted Ruddy about the amount of blood around the body. He told Wallace it was consistent with suicide. But that's not what Haut initially told Ruddy and the FBI. The WJC pointed out several major discrepancies raised by forensic scientists that Wallace never mentioned: powder burns on Foster's hand inconsistent with suicide, eyeglasses 19 feet from his body, missing car keys, and the lack of soil on his shoes.