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29 January 1999

The Daily Howler retrospective (part I): The press overlooks Schippers’ follies

Synopsis: The press fell in love with the folksy David Schippers. It’s covered up for his blunders ever since.

What It Means to Be a Democrat
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 10/7/98

Panel Displays a Judicious Restraint Before Party-Line Vote
Guy Gugliotta and Dan Morgan, The Washington Post, 10/6/98

GOP’s Chief Investigator Is a Fervent Democrat
Edward Walsh, The Washington Post, 10/6/98

When gruff David Schippers appeared on the scene, the mainstream press corps found true love. The gruff old goat was commonly said to be “right out of central casting.”

Unfortunately, once Schippers began running House impeachment proceedings, he practiced law like someone from central casting, too. The groaners cited by Charles Ruff last week--errors that had GOP senators checking the exits--were only the latest in a string of blunders from the grouchy Chicago lawman.

But it was hardly surprising that the mainstream press had little to say about David Schippers’ latest follies (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/26/99). In fact, the press had averted its gaze from the counsel’s gruesome conduct all throughout the latter part of last year. Should we have been surprised when House managers showed up with arguments built on embarrassing howlers? Not if we’d followed the string of striking blunders Counsel Schippers had already made.

He overstepped the bounds of his proper authority; he made factual errors that boggled the mind. But the press corps generally looked away, ignoring even his greatest misconduct--the episode in which Schippers sent wavering House members off to review “secret evidence” in a steamy “sex vault.”

Charles Ruff was dead wrong when he told the Senate “the system places a special responsibility on prosecutors.” The press corps’ lackadaisical treatment of Schippers has, if nothing else, clearly shown that.

Puppy love: October 6, 1998

Schippers’ debuted in Washington October 5, speaking before the House Judiciary Committee, as the panel met to debate and vote on conducting an impeachment probe. Schippers presented a review of the evidence suggesting that Clinton had committed impeachable offenses. At the end of his statement, “speaking as a citizen, a father, and a grandfather,” Schippers made an unusual statement, lecturing members on the great stakes involved in their impending choice:

SCHIPPERS: The laws of this country are the great barriers that protect the citizen from the winds of evil and tyranny. If we permit one of those laws to fall, who will be able to stand in the winds that follow?...Fifteen generations of Americans, our fellow Americans, many of whom are reposing in military cemeteries throughout the world, are looking down on and judging what you do today.

It was the first surfacing of the silly recourse-to-the-dead that was later carried out by Schippers’ patron, Henry Hyde, and it was a statement that was completely inappropriate for Schippers in his role as counsel. (It can now be seen as the first warning sign of the grumpy bad judgment from Schippers that would follow.) Democrats complained about Schippers’ remarks, and Hyde had them taken down from the record, making it clear he agreed that Schippers had overstepped his proper role:

HYDE: The Chair, in response to some questions and complaints by the Democrats, and I must say I find them with some substance to them, object [sic] to Mr. Schippers’ remarks as a citizen. He was here testifying as special counsel to the majority and not as a citizen. So those remarks he made at the end which do not refer to the record, to the Starr referral, will be stricken from the record. [Our emphasis]

With the wonderful buffoonery that has so frequently characterized the endless, frenzied pursuit of Vile Clinton, Schippers--charging Clinton with abusing his office--had stepped over the bounds of his own.

But life in this celebrity press corps means always covering up for accusers. The perpetually-furious Michael Kelly rushed these sad remarks into print:

KELLY: When Schippers spoke for the sacred law and for the old values, what was the reaction of the Democrats who sat listening to him in that committee room? They rushed to the chairman to complain that such talk was out of order. And Henry Hyde was happy to concede the point; if the Democrats wished to declare themselves opposed to even oratorical support for the rule of law--why, that would be fine with the Republicans. Hyde ordered Schippers’ remarks stricken from the record, and the moment was complete.

Hyde had explicitly said he agreed with the Democrats, but that wasn’t the story Kelly wanted to write. And so began a continuing process in which CelebCorps covered for Schippers’ errors, leading to the blunders and outright misconduct which we review below.

By the way, the Washington Post couldn’t find a way to be silly enough in reviewing Schippers. Writers elbowed each other aside, fighting to be the most fatuous. October 6, Gugliotta and Morgan:

GUGLIOTTA AND MORGAN: The white-haired, grandfatherly, slightly rumpled Schippers emerged yesterday as a personality to be reckoned with in his own right, even while serving on the committee’s professional staff.

Edward Walsh found him more of an uncle:

WALSH: With his white beard, stocky build and slightly rumpled, avuncular demeanor, Schippers projects an image that is the antithesis of the smooth Washington lawyer.

It was as if Kris Kringle had come to town, and writers gushed over Schippers’ appearance, as they would later cheer barefoot boy Lindsey Graham and stone cold sister Cheryl Mills. Lost in the crush was Uncle Dave’s first small blunder, the one Irate Mike would airbrush away, though Walsh already had spun it from view. Walsh was redoing Hyde also:

WALSH: Minutes later, Schippers had a quick lesson in those [Washington] politics: The Democrats quickly complained about his folksy concluding remarks, in which he spoke as a “father and a grandfather” and not as chief counsel. Hyde, not wanting to pick a fight, agreed to strike the Chicago lawyer’s remarks from the record of yesterday’s proceedings. [Our emphasis]

But Hyde hadn’t said that he didn’t want to pick a fight; he’d said he agreed the remarks were improper. Nowhere in the Post’s three accounts of Schippers’ statement were Post readers informed of what Hyde had said. The first warning sign from Uncle Dave was ignored, and we began to see how the press just loves “folksy.”

Tomorrow: Schippers borrows from Joe McCarthy. The press doesn’t much seem to care.