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Caveat lector

25 August 1998

A Daily Howler follow-up report: E.T. and Coop get it right!

Synopsis: Remember how Big Bill Was Signaling With Neckties To Monica? At Newsweek, they got the tale right.

Extracting A Confession
Evan Thomas and Matt Cooper, Newsweek,8/31/98

You’ll recall the miserable pair of gimmicked-up stories that we held our nose and discussed last week--the stories pretending that Mr. Bill May Have Been Signaling With His Neckties To Monica? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/22/98.) In the stories, truth-loving journalists kept a slander alive by omitting a key bit of information.

Well, it’s amazing how easy reporting can be when reporters aren’t trying to write fiction! Here’s how Thomas and Cooper tell the story, right in this week’s Newsweek:

THOMAS AND COOPER: On Wednesday, some clever Clinton ally leaked that Starr had questioned the president about the tie he had worn at a Rose Garden ceremony on Aug. 6, the day Monica Lewinsky had first testified before the grand jury. The gold-and-royal-blue cravat was one of a half dozen that Lewinsky says he had given Clinton as gifts. Was the president sending Lewinsky some kind of sign, a coded plea for loyalty? During his testimony, Clinton had laughed off this suggestion as preposterous. The timing alone was impossible; Lewinsky would have entered the grand-jury room before Clinton appeared in front of cameras in his (or her) tie.But as the story played the next day in the New York Times, the idea of a secret signal between the former lovers didn’t seem quite so far-fetched. (Our emphasis)

Incidentally, “cravat” is the French word for “tie.”

In the single sentence we highlight above, Thomas and Cooper somehow manage to do what the New York Times and the Washington Post couldn’t manage last week--they report that Clinton couldn’thave been signaling to Monica, with his necktie orwith his cravat. Cravat-crazed cubs at the Post and the Times dropped that fact from their craven confabulations.

We do have one problem with Ev and Coop’s work--in their final sentence, it isn’t quite clear what the boys are really saying. Are they saying the story really wasn’tfar-fetched--that there really mighthave been a cravat-call to Monnie? Or are they cutting some slack to their homeboys at the Times--suggesting,without ever quite saying straight out, that the Times had simply omitted the info that showed us that this story never made a lick of sense?

Whatever! We reprint their work to show how simple it was to report this story with all the key information. The truth is, the single sentence we highlight above didn’t take that much time for the boys to type up. The key information this sentence conveys couldn’t have been all that hard to assemble. And Ev and Coop, master stylists that they are, made the info fit their flow. So, how intriguing it is, as we look at their story, which managed to include this key piece of information--how intriguing it is, that the Post and the Times both chose to print stories without it!

Editor’s note on attribution: At THE HOWLER, we’re sticklers for attribution. So we now record the names of the journalists who typed up this groaner while leaving out the essential, key facts:

    For THE WASHINGTON POST: Roxanne Roberts
    For THE NEW YORK TIMES: Don Van Natta Jr. and James Bennet
Some of the news wasn’t fit to print--it didn’t help to produce an exciting story!