Tongue-Tied About Ted
The ConWeb didn't exactly rush to Ted Olson's defense during his confirmation battle. We wonder why.
By Terry Krepel
The most interesting aspect is not that most of the usual suspects rushed to Theodore Olson's defense during the protracted battle over his confirmation as solicitor general, which ended abruptly when he was confirmed by the Senate May 25 before that body moved to Democratic control with the defection of James Jeffords.
It's that the core of the ConWeb, which heartily supported Olson's anti-Clinton efforts of the past several years -- hell, pretty much anything even remotely anti-Clinton -- pretty much stayed out of the fight.
Neither WorldNetDaily nor CNSNews.com generated a single original story under their own bylines about it. Most of NewsMax's coverage consists of UPI wire stories that they couldn't even work up the enthusiasm to slant. And the original NewsMax works, all of which reside under the "Inside Cover" section, isn't as insulting as usual.
A May 10 piece details former conservative hatchetman David Brock contradicting Olson's testimony about his involvement in the infamous "Arkansas Project" that the American Spectator magazine conducted with the generous funding of Richard Mellon Scaife (who, by the way, is now threatening to turn his firepower on Hillary Clinton). A May 16 piece notes that former Clinton lawyer Bill Bennett backed Olson's nomination.
A May 17 article, though, attempts a little NewsMax-style intimidation by bringing up the apropos-of-nothing charge that Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, the top Democrat on the committee in charge of Olson's nomination, leaked classified information about the Iran-contra investigation 15 years ago.
With the main ConWeb players out of the competition, the heavy lifting in puffing up Olson and trashing his opponents fell to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. It dismisses David Brock as being motivated by generating publicity for his upcoming book and the Arkansas Project itself as ineffective.
The Journal also attacks writer Joe Conason, who has provided some good, detailed reporting on the Olson nomination at Salon, as a "Clinton sycophant." It then creates a straw man out of Conason's claim that the Arkansas Project was not journalism and therefore not protected under the First Amendment by taking the statement at face value and ignoring Conason's reasons for making that claim. In his May 23 piece lionizing Spectator publisher R. Emmett Tyrell -- who's the sycophant now? -- Seth Lipsky spins the lie that "the Conason complaint seems to be that the ratio of words published to money spent was suspiciously low." In fact, Conason argues that if the Arkansas Project truly was journalism, "then why did Olson and his fellow American Spectator board members decide that it should be shut down? And why would the Spectator's own attorney feel such a powerful need to dissociate himself from the magazine's pioneering journalistic endeavors?" The Journal refuses to answer these questions.
There's also a bit of referring to the Shaheen report that supposedly cleared the Spectator of any wrongdoing in the Arkansas Project, but we wouldn't know that for sure because the report has never been released to the public.
Another example of how the right-wing press covered Olson: The Washington Times story of May 25 on the vote confirming Olson is heavy on allegations of Democrat obstruction of Bush nominees but says nothing at all about questions on the veracity of Olson's testimony that prompted the delays in his nomination in the first place. (News story links at the Washington Times stay live for about a week.)
The junior hatchetman in all this was, interestingly, UPI, demonstrating a growing rightward tilt under its new Moonie ownership. Writer Michael Kirkland, on the heels of an April 1 pro-Olson commentary, argued in a word-parsing May 10 piece that just because Olson's work for the Spectator was explicitly anti-Clinton in nature doesn't mean it was part of the Arkansas Project. He concludes that " ... as best as that truth can be determined in this imperfect world, Olson did not found ... did not manage ... was not involved in something called the Arkansas Project." An interesting statement since Kirkland spends much of his April 1 article trying to cast doubt on the very existence of the Arkansas Project.
(Another example of UPI's new slant is a May 18 commentary by Peter Roff, billed as UPI's national political analyst, slamming the news media for reporting on rumors of an affair involving Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The article might have had some journalistic credibility had Roff not also described himself as the the former political director of GOPAC, the conservative political group formerly led by Newt Gingrich.)
NewsMax, even though it ought to have access to everything UPI sends out, didn't offer any of these commentaries on its site. It ran its own exploration of the Jeb Bush rumor on May 25, blaming the Democrats.com site for fanning the flames. Writer Phil Brennan includes this odd attempted attack on Democrats.com for saying all it was doing was investigative reporting: "As for describing its rumor mongering as 'investigative reporting,' what can one say in the face of that outlandish absurdity?" Well, one can say that passing off rumor mongering as investigative reporting is also the raison d'etre of NewsMax, and if it's good enough for NewsMax, why not for Democrats.com?
Why did NewsMax and its fellow-travelers shy away from the Olson story? Perhaps because they would have to prove that people with a history of being friendly to them were liars. David Brock may be a turncoat in the eyes of many conservatives, but he may still be friends with the likes of Christopher Ruddy and Joseph Farah, who may be a little more gunshy about trashing him than the Wall Street Journal. At the height of the Arkansas Project when Brock was taking Scaife money for his work, Ruddy was doing his own scandal-mongering for the Scaife-owned newspaper in suburban Pittsburgh, and the Western Journalism Center, which former Scaife employee Farah co-founded, was accepting Scaife money while helping Ruddy with his work.
And then there's the state trooper angle. In his Salon article questioning the journalistic value of the Arkansas Project, Conason points out that L.D. Brown, a former Arkansas state trooper best known for trying to link Bill Clinton to a drug-smuggling operation in Arkansas in the 1980s, writes in his memoirs about his contacts with Olson and the Spectator which add to the evidence that Olson didn't tell the whole truth to the Senate committee.
The problem here is that the former state troopers have, in the past, been pretty valuable to the anti-Clinton types behind the ConWeb -- and, in particular, lucrative to NewsMax, which sells audiotapes of fellow ex-trooper Larry Patterson dishing dirt on the Clintons. To question Brown's truthfulness means they would have to start questioning Patterson's, which obviously can't be permitted to happen.
To sum up: When the ConWeb wasn't ignoring the Olson case completely, it downplayed or dismissed the arguments of Olson's opponents and engaged in personal attacks against them. In other words, business as usual.