Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector


19 November 1998

Our current howler: Ol’ Wishful, erupting again

Synopsis: Bill Safire just keeps wishing and hoping that Ken Starr will turn up with the goods.

Starr’s Turn
William Safire, The New York Times, 11/19/98

Starr to Accuse President Of Obstructing His Inquiries
Allison Mitchell and Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, 11/19/98

A Starr-Crossed Probe
Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, 9/28/98


We’ve had a lot of fun with William Safire this fall, and especially with his wishful thinking--his endless belief that his sovereign liege, Kenneth Starr, will eventually turn up with the goods. We saw a few weeks back how Wishful Will just ignored the facts about Kathleen Willey he didn’t like (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/5/98); and he’s never stopped assuring his readers that, in the fullness of time, Krafty Ken would come up with the goods.

But we had no way of knowing that Ol’ Wishful would erupt in the Times once again this morning. The guy just plain never gives up:

SAFIRE: Let’s assume Judge Starr uses his opening time to show how Clinton exhibited a four-year “pattern and practice” of abusing his power by withholding evidence and tampering with witnesses...

And by...well, you get the picture. Of course, you may have heard that Starr sent the Congress a little dispatch called “The Starr Report” that didn’t mention this four-year “practice” at all. But that doesn’t stop the Optimist King from “assuming” it will be there today.

Why wouldn’t Starr have mentioned this stuff, if it’s been going on for four years, and it’s actionable? The thought never enters Bill’s head. Ol’ Wishful just runs through things-that-might-be, like Gilda Radner’s willful child, in her chamber:

SAFIRE: The committee should grill Starr on other investigations long overdue for as criminal investigation. Now is the time to expose the Clinton manipulation of the F.B.I. in Filegate, as well as White House influence on Justice Department persecution of Travel Office employees...

Safire goes on to list other key areas where the shit-hits-the-big-fan today.

Of course, any dimly rational person would have long since have realized that, if Starr had evidence of wrongdoing in “Filegate,” he’d have brought it forward long before this. Safire’s suggestion that the bad news would have to dragged out of Starr belies a child’s view of the past year’s proceedings. And anyone even dimly familiar with the progress of Starr’s probe would have known that Newsweek reported two months ago, uncontradicted, that Starr had concluded there was no wrongdoing by Clinton in Filegate. Why is Safire still promising a report on this topic? It’s another example of the exceptionally low level of factual awareness required of op-ed writers in the great New York Times.

In fairness, maybe Safire didn’t know about Newsweek’s report because no one in the media followed up on it. You know how much that celebrity press corps just hates it when they get news like that. News where Vile Clinton is cleared of charges just doesn’t get far with this jaundiced posse. Though you’re free to picture the hoo-hah that would have followed, had Newsweek said indictments were near.

But good news today for the King of the Dreamers--he can read it in his very own paper! Yep. No muss or fuss, or fumbling around, having to do some real work! On the very same day that Wishful Willy is dreaming of sugarplums on A31, his paper’s page one has this to say about those impending Filegate/Travelgate bombshells:

MITCHELL AND SCHMITT: [F]or the first time, Mr. Starr announced, in his [pre-released] testimony, that he has exonerated the Clinton Administration of any wrongdoing in the firings of seven employees in the White House travel office and into whether White House officials misused confidential F.B.I. files of White House and Government employees in their own and previous administrations.

As Gilda’s Emily Latella used to say: “Never mind.”

News you can’t use: Here’s what Newsweek reported, two months ago, about the Filegate matter:

KLAIDMAN AND ISIKOFF: At one point Republicans flogged Filegate as the most serious of the Clinton scandals...But sources familiar with the probe say Starr found no evidence that the files were obtained for any political purpose. Instead, Starr’s staff was forced to conclude that the collection of FBI files was exactly what the White House had insisted: a bureaucratic snafu.

That should have been a major news story. But Newsweek placed it at the bottom of a secondary report, and we saw it followed up on exactly nowhere.