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Caveat lector

14 February 1999

Howler postscript: Don’t get high

Synopsis: Another top pundit showcased her skill at ignoring the world’s simplest concept.

Commentary by Kate O’Beirne
Capital Gang, CNN, 2/13/99

Public statement by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D, CT)
The New York Times, 2/12/99

Moderate GOP Senators Align With Democrats
Eric Pianin and Edward Walsh, The Washington Post, 2/13/99

Astounding. There’s no other word for the impoverished discourse that could permit this Kate O’Beirne screed:

O’BEIRNE: The reasons for the votes, as you read these statements! Senator Robert Byrd. He announced a week ago, “I believe the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors,” but he nullifies the Constitution which of course demands removal. Susan Collins announced, “I believe he committed obstruction of justice, I would vote guilty if he were a normal citizen,” but not Bill Clinton. Arlen Specter applied Scottish law...Senator Lieberman. He believed crimes were committed. He can go back now to making empty speeches trashing Hollywood’s morals when in fact any studio chief, even in Hollywood, would be removed from his job for committing the same kinds of crimes. [Our emphasis]

We hadn’t planned to revisit the topic we discussed in our piece on Michael Kelly last Friday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/12/99). But here was another major pundit, speaking on a major news show, showing no sign that she’d ever heard a word about the concept of constitutional “high crimes.”

Yes, she mentions high crimes when she discusses Byrd, but then the idea slips away. Let’s assume her paraphrase of Collins is accurate. If it is, Collins is saying that Clinton is guilty of a crime, but not of a high crime under the Constitution. O’Beirne may disagree with Collins’ judgment, but she rambles on--condemning Collins’ character, of course--as if she’s never even heard of the concept. Similarly, she tells Joe Lieberman that studio heads would lose their jobs for conduct like Clinton’s. But why would that affect Lieberman’s vote? Believe it or not, studio heads are not discussed in the impeachment clause of the Constitution.

Isn’t it astounding? That such remarkable discourse can still occur at the end of a thirteen-month news cycle, in which the basic concept of constitutional “high crimes” has been discussed again and again. (And again.) Who could have imagined so disabled a discourse, so totally worthless a public discussion? We suggested it on Friday: high school students couldn’t get away with this mess. But it’s standard fare from the celebrity press.

By the way, here are Lieberman’s actual words about his vote on Clinton:

LIEBERMAN: Whether any of his conduct constitutes a criminal offense is not for me to decide. That, appropriately, should and must be left to the criminal justice system, which will uphold the rule of law in President Clinton’s case as it would for any other American. What I must do is uphold the Constitution and decide whether the House Managers have presented clear and convincing evidence that the President has committed a high crime or misdemeanor...I conclude that the House Managers have not met that high burden.

It couldn’t be more conceptually clear; and it couldn’t differ more from what O’Beirne said. But is it any wonder that pundits who fudge simple concepts will also misstate basic facts?

Getting high: From Saturday’s Washington Post:

PIANIN AND WALSH: Collins...acknowledged that the managers offered compelling and persuasive evidence that Clinton had obstructed justice and tried to influence the testimony of witnesses. But she concluded that his misconduct did not meet the threshold tests justifying removal from office. [Our emphasis]

Whatever one may think of Collins’ judgment, high school kids would understand the distinction. But, to major pundits of the Washington press, it’s like a message that’s been beamed in from Mars.

Coming next: Nothing stops the celebrity press corps from finding new ways to get spun.