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Caveat lector

4 May 1999

The Howler review: Where they been?

Synopsis: Finally! Someone else has written the story we first brought you seven months back.

Starr and Willey: The Untold Story
Florence Graves, The Nation, 5/17/99

Uncovering Clinton
Michael Isikoff, Crown Publishers, 1999

Finally, someone else has written the story we first brought you seven months back! This week, the Nation simply is bustin’ its britches over the “new revelations” of Florence Graves’ “untold story”--the “untold story” surrounding Kathleen Willey’s accusations against President Clinton.

The truth is, Graves does provide a detailed recital of the machinations surrounding Willey’s charges. And she provides details of the Willey matter (sometimes incomplete and confusing) that go well beyond the reporting we’ve done.

But the Nation says its investigation “raises serious doubts about Willey’s credibility.” And that is a story we’ve been bringing to you since THE DAILY HOWLER of last October 5.

Surely, you remember the drill. On October 2, Ken Starr released Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony as part of his ballyhooed “document dump.” It became clear that, in detailed, sworn testimony before the grand jury, Tripp had grossly contradicted the story Willey told on Sixty Minutes in March 1998.

According to Tripp, Willey had pursued a romantic connection with Clinton since entering the White House in March 1993. She had scheduled the fateful Oval Office encounter at least in part to see if her relationship with Clinton could advance. Tripp said that by prearrangement, Willey came to Tripp’s office after the encounter to tell her what had occurred at the meeting. And she said that Willey “smiled from ear to ear the entire time” in describing a consensual encounter, and continued to wonder, in the days that followed, if she could move her relationship with Clinton forward.

In short, Tripp’s account was impossible to square with Willey’s story from Sixty Minutes. Given the massive attention the mainstream press had given to Willey’s original charges, one would think the press would feel obliged to report that Willey’s account had been challenged.

But over the course of the past seven months, the press has refused to report Tripp’s striking testimony. It is that odd bit of conduct on the part of the press about which we have kept you advised (see postscript for links to reporting).

In that respect, there is one part of Graves’ article we must correct. Noting that Tripp’s testimony has gone unreported, Graves offers this explanation:

GRAVES: Tripp is a controversial figure in Starr’s probe, but he seems to have found her very reliable. She talks extensively about Willey and her motives in her grand jury testimony, but much of it has never been quoted, perhaps because her testimony was difficult to read--it was reproduced in type smaller than a classified ad.

In saying that “much of [Tripp’s testimony] has never been quoted,” Graves engages in major understatement; Tripp’s testimony has been almost wholly ignored by the mainstream press. But Graves’ explanation for that simply won’t wash. The notion that the press didn’t know what Tripp said is extremely difficult to credit.

For example, on October 3, in its special “document dump” section, the Washington Post gave extensive coverage to Tripp’s contradiction of Willey’s account. Anyone who read the Post’s highlighted coverage would have seen what Tripp had said.

It is also true that every major paper assigned reporters to go through the testimony that Starr released in his “document dump.” It is inconceivable that only the Post noticed Tripp’s detailed contradiction of Willey.

More still: the Hotline, on January 8, published a substantial section on the topic, giving excerpts from Tripp’s grand jury testimony and from the January 7 Hardball. This section was linked to our own 1/8/99 DAILY HOWLER, which dealt with the 1/7 Hardball segment concerning Tripp-on-Willey.

Indeed, we ourselves sent substantial packets on Tripp’s testimony to a number of major Washington journalists (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/10/99). The notion that the press corps didn’t know what Tripp had said is difficult to square with the facts.

We’re inclined to agree with Michael Isikoff when he says, in Uncovering Clinton, that “sorting out [Tripp and Willey’s] conflicting accounts is next to impossible.” As we’ve said all along: we have no way of knowing what did or didn’t happen between Clinton and Willey. And it no longer seems to make too much difference, if it ever did.

But when the press corps had given such massive coverage to Willey’s serious charges, it should have felt an obligation to tell the public about Tripp’s contradiction. It’s great that the Nation is now climbing on board, long after the story has ceased to be relevant. We agree with the adage: Better late than never. But where was Florence Graves all last fall?

Visit our incomparable archives: We don’t advise it. But if you still want to wallow, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/8/99, with links to prior reporting.