20 September 1999
Our current howler (part I): Lets claim a deal
Synopsis: When Hardballs gang discussed Waco and the FALN, they revealed a new concept of evidence.
Commentary by Pat Caddell, Chris Matthews
Hardball, CNBC, 9/9/99
The Waco hit on civil rights
Paul Craig Roberts, The Washington Times, 9/3/99
The Problem With Special Prosecutors
William Raspberry, The Washington Post, 9/10/99
A tabloid talker, inflamed by Waco, was barking out brio at
his standard brisk pace. Janet Reno never investigates administration
wrong-doing, he griped. Then a guest, Pat Caddell, offered this:
CADDELL: The reason for that is very simple. When she was going
to be fired after the first term, basically the deal was made
that she'd protect the president in the second term. It was no
secret. The fact of the matter, let me just say this
The program was only six minutes old, but it was the second
time the excited Caddell had made his charge about Reno's corrupt
deal. Earlier, the gloomy ex-pollster had made this remark, referring
to campaign finance allegations:
CADDELL: [Janet Reno's] the one that's been covering this up.
She covered up the China thing, involving questions of, very serious
questions of treason that may have been involved. She's done nothing
in this job except prove the fact that to keep this job in the
second term she agreed she'd cover up for the president.
A talker let Caddell slide the first time. But the second time
the charge was made, Hardball's host was ready for evidence.
He made a traditional query:
MATTHEWS: How do you know this, Pat?
Yep. At least since 400 or 500 B.C., it's been a rule of thumb
in the west. People who claim that something is true should be
able to offer some evidence.
But two recent, high profile public discussions have put an
interesting fact on displayevidence now plays a dwindling role
in the work of the celebrity press corps. Major journalists feel
free to lodge charges without attempting to prove them at all.
And this impulse hasn't just shown itself in the Roller Derby-style
discourse that is featured on Hardball. Over the past
month, mainstream figures have lodged serious charges about the
Waco disaster and the FALN clemency deal, without attempting to
offer any evidence to demonstrate that their charges are true.
Take a look, for example, at Paul Craig Roberts, writing on
the Waco disaster. Nine paragraphs into a syndicated column, he
made the following charge:
ROBERTS (paragraph 9): Janet Reno is not the only person who
lied about the events at Waco. The agents who conducted the raid
lied. So did Charles Schumer, then a Democratic U.S. representative
from New York, now a Democratic senator to the disgrace of that
By any normal standard, Roberts makes a serious set of charges.
He starts with the charge that the attorney general "lied
about the events at Waco." Eighty people died on the day
at issue, and it is now clear that FBI officials, and Reno herself,
misstated some facts about the FBI's conduct. The claim that the
attorney general actually lied is a serious accusation
Roberts' charge against the attorney general comes in paragraph
nine. But oddly, nowhere in his first eight paragraphs does he
even try to show that Reno lied. He points out that Reno
now acknowledges that pyrotechnic devices were used; he points
out that Reno has complained about being misinformed by the FBI.
But he nowhere showsor attempts to showthat Reno lied
about any of these matters. Not a word, at any point, addresses
this charge. And no effort is made, at any point, to demonstrate
that FBI agents or Schumer lied, either.
Roberts, of course, is an ideological writer, who can be relied
on for this sort of drek. But William Raspberry, avuncular prize-winning
columnist, opened a recent Washington Post column like this:
RASPBERRY (paragraph 2): The revelation that FBI agents lied
about the use of incendiary tear gas cartridges in the 1993 siege
of the Branch Davidian stronghold in Waco shows why something
is needed to replace [the now-lapsed independent counsel legislation].
Raspberry alludes to a "revelation" that FBI agents
"lied" about Waco. But, like Roberts, he makes no effort
to explain when this was revealed, or to say which FBI agents
he refers to.
By now you're probably pretty tired of our efforts to grope
through work like this, and frankly, we're getting tired of the
repetition involved in this also. But the coverage of the Waco
disaster and the FALN deal were striking even to us. Endlessly,
the press corps showed us how it will now make charges without
reference to any sort of evidence at alland how it prefers to
wallow in matters of motive, often failing to describe basic facts.
So over the next few days, we'll look at these topics, working
like an anthropologist describing a distant people's strange morés.
But in the meantime, let's finish one task, involving Caddell's
serious charge. How did Caddell show that Janet Reno had made
a corrupt deal with President Clinton? It turned out Caddell really
did have the goods. Here's his exchange with a talker:
MATTHEWS: How do you know this, Pat?
CADDELL: Well I mean it's pretty common knowledge he wanted
to get rid of her and the price was, concern was, she wasn't loyal
enough. And all of a sudden now she's turning to every possible
way to protect the president.
What's his evidence? It was "pretty common knowledge!"
Of course! Earlier, he'd said much the same thing, the first time
he'd made his charge:
CADDELL: Everyone in Washington knows and it's common knowledge
and we ought to say it publicly that she is one of the, probably
the most incompetent attorney generals of this century.
How did he know that Reno was corrupt? He kept citing "common
knowledge!" Caddell's second statement was good enough for
his host, whose conversation moved swiftly to this:
MATTHEWS: Let's go to Peter King...What do you make of Charles
Ruff, the president's counsel, a respected man, he won the fight
to protect the president during the impeachment trial in the Senate.
Did he write this memo, this is the big question, did he write
a memo to the president advising the president to release these
guys, and if so, did he do it to pay off perhaps a deal
made during the impeachment trial with New York congressmen who
cared about getting these guys released?
Maybe Ruff made a deal too! This was the first time we'd heard
anyone even suggest this ideathat the president's clemency for
the FALN members was part of an impeachment arrangement. But when
you throw away the concept of evidence, almost everything that
comes to mind could be true. That ubiquitous "perhaps"
in the talker's rant shows us where our discourse is headedif
we're prepared tolerate the sort of work we've thrilled to in
the past several weeks.
On Hardball, Reno and Ruff had both made a deal. And
no one on Hardball ever offered any evidence. The program
began to sketch the New Rules that now govern our laughable discourse.
Tomorrow: We frame New Rule #1: Don't bother with evidence.
And, as we look at the FALN coverage, a second cool rule starts