11 March 1999
Minor mishaps: Just all tuckered out
Synopsis: Tom Squitieris been chasing Wild Bills former girl friends. Its begun to show up in his work.
McDougal returns to face new charges
Tom Squitieri, USA Today, 3/9/99
John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 3/15/99
Whew! That Little Rock night life can hit a man hard, and it really showed in this Tuesday report, in which Tom Squitieri took a hard look at the Susan McDougal contempt trial. By his own account, Squitieris been chasing after Wild Bills former girl friends, getting more gal pals to go on the record, and the pace of the chase is now taking its toll on the hard-living USA Today scribe.
Heres Tired Toms opening gambit:
SQUITIERI: Susan McDougal believes her ticket to acquittal is sitting in the federal district courthouse. She just does not yet know who it is.
Say what? Well have to admit, Tom had done it again--hed hooked us in with his opening image. What could he mean in saying that Susan doesnt know yet who her ticket might be? A ticket is an inanimate object; and Squitieri had used a personal pronoun. The analysts were simply compelled to read on. They devoured what Squitieri had said:
SQUITIERI: Her strategy for avoiding conviction and prison this time is simple: Raise doubt in the mind of at least one juror. Convince one person that she may be innocent of the charges and is being framed by Starr.
But the analysts quickly pointed to problems with the words that the subtle scribe penned. An acquittal requires a unanimous verdict, not the vote of one hold-out juror. We were willing to see it as a mere slip, until we read a few paragraphs further:
SQUITIERI: Were confident she is going to be acquitted, Mark Geragos, McDougals lawyer, says. I do not think, once anybody has heard her story and what they put her through, that if they were placed in the same situation and same circumstances, they wouldnt do exactly the same thing.
Strange! It didnt sound like Geragos was trying to locate one friend. Hed clearly said that he wanted acquittal, and that every juror would agree with Sues case. Maybe Squitieri, tuckered out from his nights on the town, just hasnt been listening as he took down the quotes. Moments later, in his own voice, he managed to muff it again:
SQUITIERI: McDougals strategy of finding at least one anti-Starr juror aims to capitalize on Starrs image as an overly aggressive prosecutor. [Our emphasis]
Weird. He completely ignored what Geragos had just said. Why should the public read Tired Toms story? He doesnt seem to have read it himself!
Wed be the last ones to say that Toms showing a bias, but he spun on as he closed his report. He gave a review of McDougals experience in her 1998 fraud trial in California:
SQUITIERI: [S]he and her lawyer believe she can be effective on the stand. McDougal was successful in winning over jurors last year, when she was acquitted on fraud charges in an unrelated case in California.
Tom made it sound as if Svengali-like Susan got up on the stand and just snake-charmed the jurors. Of course, those jurors didnt say that shed won them over; they said they became increasingly distressed with the prosecutions complete lack of a case. Two of those jurors are in Little Rock this week, sitting in on the current trial; and on Rivera Live this past Tuesday night, they described their anger at the complete lack of evidence that the DA put on in that trial.
Maybe Squitieris too busy chasing Bills girls to listen to these juror ladies. Sometimes, when men-folk chase women around, it begins to show up in their work.
The dwindling role played by mere fact: Were often struck, as we read the press, by the dwindling role that is played by the facts. It sometimes seems that the very concept of fact has begun to disappear from their thinking.
We were struck by these thoughts as we read John Cassidys New Yorker review of the Chris Hitchens meeting--the confab in which the Brawling Brit had met with The Nations big brass (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/99).
Cassidy has read Alexander Cockburns column on the Hitchens-Blumenthal matter, which Cockburn published in The Nation March 8. As we have discussed, Cockburn points out that Hitchens March 1 piece is full of howling factual errors about Sids grand jury appearances; and Cockburn points out that the egregious story seems to have originated with advisers to IC Kenneth Starr (see again yesterdays DAILY HOWLER for full links to past work on this piece).
But in Cassidys review of the Hitchens matter, he only discusses the ethics of snitching; he makes no mention of the factual errors that explode out of Hitchens piece. Like Howard Kurtz (see yesterdays HOWLER), Cassidy seems completely indifferent to the problems that Cockburn described.
Again we see the indifference to truth that CelebCorps so often betrays. Heres what happened in Hitchens piece. A major journal called a public figure a liar, based on factual assertions that were totally false. The falseness of these factual claims could have been established by reading public transcripts (it would have taken fact-checkers ten minutes). The narrative that the journal published has been in the press for several months. And when the plainly false story had first appeared, it had been openly attributed to a major adviser to independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
The fact The Nation isnt disturbed about this tells us a great deal about that journal. That Cassidy doesnt mention these facts tells us a bit about him. We cant avoid it: the concept of fact is fast disappearing from the corps very notion of what it does. The press corps role is not to serve fact. Increasingly, the corps exists to move story line on.
Note: Cassidy quotes Hitchens in praise of Ken Starr: Im very grateful to Judge Starr. I dont know one wrong thing hes done yet. Spreading slander would be a wrong thing. Neither Hitchens nor Cassidy seems to know it.
Tomorrow: Celebrity pundits played real dumb discussing Mrs. Broaddrick with Larry.