What's the Frequency, Sidney?

October 7, 1998

Throughout the last ten months, the nation has become increasingly familiar with a small clutch of analysts in the national media whose embarrassingly unapologetic brand of advocacy for the Clinton Administration would make former employees of Pravda blush.

Noteworthy among their number are CNN's Greta Van Susteren, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift and Salon's David Talbot.

No matter how ridiculous the argument may be, if it's written on White House letter head, then you can count on this group of sell outs to parrot it ad nauseum.

In fact, if these guys witnessed President Clinton molesting a squirrel on the D.C. mall, they'd immediately gather his record on environmental issues and then try to beat deadline.

You'd like to think that journalists should draw the line somewhere short of ripping and reading their favorite political party's press releases. Unfortunately, the brazen independence of say, Sam Donaldson, Carl Bernstein, Norman Solomon or I.F. Stone, is in short supply in 1990's corporate journalism.


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You're far more likely to encounter David Gergens and Sidney Blumenthals, who have so little respect for their craft that they spend their careers in revolving doors between government and media employ.

We can only hope that Mr. Blumenthal, who has proven to be a particularly despicable participant in President Clinton's cover up, will forever retain the title, former journalist.

Any newspaper, magazine or television network that chooses to hire the likes of Sidney Blumenthal somewhere down the road, deserves every bit of credibility loss that will doubtlessly come its way.

If you haven't been keeping up with Sidney Blumenthal's recent handiwork, then here's a run down.

Salon Magazine's recent story on a past Henry Hyde extramarital affair was assumed by many to have been made possible by leaks from Mr. Blumenthal. This assumption proved wrong, however, with Salon's announcement that it had not communicated with "anyone in the White House or in Clinton's political or legal camps."

Sidney Blumenthal himself bristled at these accusations and released a statement saying that he "was not the source or in any way involved with this story on Henry Hyde." He went on to explain that he did not "urge or encourage any reporter to investigate the private life of any member of Congress."

The key to Mr. Blumenthal's statement is probably his definition of "private life." Since many Republicans, columnists and organizations such as NOW have argued that the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship was clearly not a part of the president's private life, it would follow that Mr. Blumenthal could have pitched the Hyde story to members of the media without personally considering it a part of the congressman's private life.

The Blumenthal camp is apparently extremely happy with its little play on words. In an appearance on ABC's "This Week", William McDaniel, Blumenthal's lawyer, could barely contain his giddiness -- nor could he conceal his confident smirk -- at every mention of Blumenthal in relation to the spreading of Henry Hyde rumors. Even when Sam Donaldson put the full "faith and credibility of ABCNEWS" behind his report that Blumenthal indeed discussed the Hyde story with certain reporters, McDaniel stuck by his guns challenging Donaldson's sources to come forward.

Of course, McDaniel knows full well that Blumenthal's conversations with these reporters were completely off the record and thus can't be repeated publicly without Blumenthal first giving the thumbs up.

ABCNEWS didn't stop here in its investigation of Sidney Blumenthal's ill-spirited public utterances.

Last summer, Blumenthal did everything but bloody his palms and feet in an effort to portray himself as being persecuted by the Starr legal team while before the grand jury. When Blumenthal emerged from the court house after his testimony, he lashed out at Starr, saying that Starr's "prosecutors demanded to know what [Blumenthal] had told reporters and what reporters had said to [him] about Ken Starr's prosecutors."

If true, then Blumenthal had just been unfairly harassed by prosecutors who seemingly didn't give a damn about the journalist-source privilege which most of us hold so dear.

But after the latest round of Ken Starr document releases, ABC's "Nightline" decided to look into Blumenthal's accusations. Here's what it found:

Blumenthal Grand Jury Transcript Excerpt...
QUESTION: "Has the White House produced any document like a talking points document relating or referring to the Monica Lewinsky matter?"

"I've seen talking points from the Democratic National Committee."

QUESTION: "And you received this from the DNC?"


"Did you distribute it to anyone outside the White House?"

"If reporters called me or I spoke with reporters, I would tell them to call the DNC to get those talking points. And those included news organizations ranging from CNN, CBS, ABC, New York Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Observer, Los Angeles Times."

It's now obvious that Ken Starr's team wasn't the least bit interested in Blumenthal's relationships with reporters. It was simply pursuing a line of questioning that might reveal the origin of Monica Lewinsky's "talking points." At the time, though, the White House's political need to bash Starr outweighed its obligation to tell the truth while standing on the court house steps.

I predict that the truth will continue to elude Ken Starr, at least in areas that concern Sidney Blumenthal. Even if the Supreme Court rules that Blumenthal's conversations with the president are not protected by any privilege, it's doubtful that Starr's investigation will reap any benefit.

With the Starr Report now in the public domain, Blumenthal, and incidentally, Bruce Lindsey, both have thorough road maps for safely navigating through future grand jury appearances. They know what Starr knows, and so, if they have anything to conceal, they'll now exactly where they can get away with concealing it. In this sense, Clinton's many privilege claims have worked like a champ.

I suppose there's a chance that Starr foresaw this quandary and has withheld certain bits of information from his report. Maybe such bits would serve as trump cards if he ultimately wins his court battles against the White House privilege claims.

My gut tells me to doubt it, though.

Unfortunately, many aspects of the White House's summer cover up have been quite successful. And unless Blumenthal or Lindsey decide to turn a fast buck with a future tell-all book, many parts of a story the public deserves to hear will probably remain untold.

Send your comments to Coffee Shop Times editor Douglas Barricklow.

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