Will Taxpayers Eat $285,000 for Ira's Lies?

Many of the legal battles over the Clinton scandals have been dismissed by the network news as a) old news, or b) too complex for television. Judge Royce Lamberth's December decision to punish Clinton aide Ira Magaziner for lying to the court about the composition of the Clinton health care task force probably drew both excuses in the TV news rooms.

In a scathing opinion criticizing Magaziner and the draftees of his statements in the White House counsel's office [see box], Judge Lamberth fined the White House more than $285,000 to reimburse the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons for court costs in their lawsuit against the administra- tion, which claimed throughout the litigation the task force did not violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act since it had no non-federal employees on it.

In 1995, Judge Lamberth asked the U.S Attorney for D.C. to probe Magaziner for perjury, suggesting he must have known his declaration was false, since employees of his private consulting firm were working on the task force. (Network coverage? Zero.) Since the AAPS suit was first reported in the January 29, 1993 Washington Times, White House stonewalling and lies have rarely seen the light of media coverage.

The networks ignored the newest Lamberth opinion on December 18, as well as the call nine days later by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer for Magaziner to resign. The one exception came on the December 28 Meet the Press, where on his 13th question, NBC moderator Tim Russert asked White House aide Rahm Emanuel: "A federal judge has stated that Ira Magaziner, a senior adviser to President Clinton, misled the court, lied to the court. He has fined the Administration $285,000 because of this misinformation. One, will the President fire Mr. Magaziner, and two, will he force Mr. Magaziner to pay the penalty rather than having taxpayers' money pay a fine for a government official lying?" Russert did not use his powers as Washington Bureau Chief of NBC to place the story anywhere else on the network.

None of the news magazines touched the story until this week's January 12 editions, where a "Periscope" item in Newsweek described Lamberth's ruling as an "attack" and put the word "misleading" in quotes to describe Magaziner's statements.

Reporters have never felt White House lying about the health care task force was relevant. In a fulsome May 10, 1993 Time cover story devoted to Hillary Clinton, "the icon of American womanhood," then-Time White House reporter Margaret Carlson gave the suit one paragraph out of 40. As she told MediaWatch: "It's not exactly on point here. The purpose of the Act was to keep out lobbyists and special interests...we looked at that ruling several times in the magazine in different ways."

Actually, Time never looked at the ruling. The only mention of the Federal Advisory Commission Act came in a 1986 article on Ed Meese's pornography commission. In the May 24, 1993 issue, Time excerpted six questions from an interview with Magaziner without a word on the suit. The September 19, 1994 issue included a 574-word article on "White House documents made public last week," but never mentioned the suit that forced the task force documents into public view. - Tim Graham