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joe conason

Double play
It's bad enough that the New York Times got Hillary Clinton's role in the Madison S&L; case wrong back in 1996, but how do they explain doing it again, four years later?

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By Joe Conason

April 11, 2000 |  It's almost always a bad idea to complain about reviews of your own book, particularly when they appear in places like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You're bound to seem like a complainer to many readers, such as this lady I know from Long Island, who says, "Stay quiet. You should be so lucky that the big papers notice your book in the first place." Believe me, I'd take her advice, except in an instance of egregious unfairness and one or more gross errors in the offending review.

So, with apologies, Ma'am, this is one of those exceptions to your rule.

It may have been inevitable that our book ("The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton" -- co-written with Gene Lyons) would be trashed by someone like Neil Lewis, a reporter in the Times Washington bureau. Given what our book reveals about the Times' coverage of Whitewater and other "Clinton scandals," we were in no position to expect any favors from the paper of record.

Joe Conason

Joe Conason's column appears in Salon News every other Tuesday.

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The same was true of the Washington Post, whose book editor actually assigned the book review to a writer from the American Spectator -- the conservative monthly that consorted with billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife in the Byzantine "get Clinton" scheme known as the "Arkansas Project" -- events we describe in all their comical detail.

I won't rebut those reviews point by point. But I must answer a false charge made against us by Lewis. Remarkably enough, in an attempt to discredit our reporting, Lewis repeats a seriously slanted version of history that the Times itself took pains to correct more than four years ago.

Claiming to prove that we are "sometimes brazen in [our] efforts to be generous" to the Clintons, Lewis offers a solitary example from the Senate Whitewater hearings which he says "should suffice." As he puts it:

Hillary Clinton had been criticized for her ambiguous answers [to the Resolution Trust Corporation] about her work as a Little Rock lawyer for the savings and loan association run by the Clintons' partner in Whitewater. She had said that the [Madison Guaranty] account had been brought in by an associate, Richard Massey, who also did almost all of the work. Massey was called before the Senate Whitewater Committee ... amid press speculation that his testimony could be damaging. The authors write: "All such speculations were dashed when the first lady's soft-spoken, balding former partner Rick Massey appeared before the D'Amato committee ... Not only did Massey fail to contradict Hillary's testimony; any tighter fit between their recollections would have been suspect." This is an astonishingly misleading account. Massey did, in fact, contradict her on the most important points of her story, although he took great care to do it gently.

. Next page | How did he miss the Times' own apology?

Illustration by Zach Trenholm


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