Kenneth Starr's decision to subpoena White House spin artist Sidney Blumenthal drew hoots from the networks. ABC's Jackie Judd concluded: "Even some current and former federal prosecutors say that Starr is out of bounds and he should get on with the issues that really matter in the Lewinsky case." CNN's Bernard Shaw asked: "By calling before the grand jury people such as Sidney Blumenthal, is Ken Starr acting illegally?" On NBC, Tom Brokaw suggested: "That will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment, won't it?"
But what the networks didn't tell you is that Blumenthal has spent the last six years telling reporters to put down their notebooks and ignore any story that might put the Clintons in a bad light. He's not the victim of a chilling effect. Blumenthal is Mr. Chilling Effect:
In 1992, departing New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Howell Raines told the Columbia Journalism Review "he made it a main job to warn against and protect his younger campaign reporters from the 'Conformity Cops,' specifically Blumenthal and Joe Klein....When reporters go around campaign planes criticizing reporters who refuse to cheerlead, that's unhealthy."
Last June, Howard Kurtz relayed additional censor sightings in a Washington Post profile. In 1992, "says Julia Reed, a Vogue magazine reporter, Blumenthal urged her at a party not to write a piece questioning Clinton's character. But what, she shot back, if it were true? 'It doesn't matter...This is too important.'"
Kurtz also wrote "Peter Boyer, a New Yorker writer, says Blumenthal tried to sabotage his story about the Travelgate affair last year. Boyer says he mentioned the piece to his colleague after learning that Blumenthal had lunched with Clinton's friend Harry Thomason on the day the Hollywood producer pushed for the firing of the White House travel office employees....Boyer says he was later told.... Blumenthal had warned them Boyer was anti-Clinton and planned to smear them."
Not only has Blumenthal sued Internet gossip Matt Drudge and America Online for $30 million over a false rumor, Blumenthal's attorney wrote Tim Russert and NBC President Andy Lack asking if they would be pro-Drudge witnesses after Drudge appeared on Meet the Press.
On February 14, Kurtz reported that Blumenthal talked the First Lady into ordering White House lawyers to prepare a critical analysis of Washington Post Whitewater reporter Susan Schmidt to present to Post editors. (After the entire national press corps dropped the Whitewater story at the end of March 1992, the Halloween 1993 Post story reviving it was written by... Susan Schmidt.) With the exception of one CBS Evening News brief on the Schmidt report, the networks have done nothing to tell any of these press-squashing stories.
Blumenthal's toadying tactics for Hillary Clinton look strange after a rereading of an essay titled "The Courtier: George Will" in Blumenthal's book The Long National Daydream: "Will has privately boasted of his association with the President's wife to distinguished journalists, who were taken aback by what they felt was crass status-seeking. Perhaps he believed the personal connection to Nancy Reagan was a measure of his standing at the apex of the Washington pecking order. Whatever his motivation, his tete-a-tetes with Mrs.Reagan...do not certify him as a Lippman." And Blumenthal's alliance with Hillary Clinton doesn't exactly make him a field marshal for free expression. - Tim Graham