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16 November 1998

A Howler update: Disappearing Tripp

Synopsis: Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony on Willey and Clinton has now disappeared from the Washington Post.

Starr Sends House New Files on Willey
Juliet Eilperin and Peter Baker, The Washington Post, 11/14/98

On October 2, Ken Starr released Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony about Kathleen Willey’s relationship with President Clinton. Tripp’s account strongly contradicted the impression given by Willey in her Sixty Minutes appearance in March.

Tripp, a White House co-worker of Willey’s during 1993, testified that Willey had sought an intimate relationship with Clinton throughout that year; had repeatedly speculated about where they could meet privately, without Secret Service interference; and had “smiled from ear to ear the entire time” as she recounted her Oval Office encounter with Clinton, immediately after it occurred.

Tripp’s account strongly contradicted the impression Willey gave when she appeared on Sixty Minutes in March. Quite appropriately, the Washington Post gave Tripp’s account substantial coverage in its treatment of the Starr “document dump” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/5/98).

But, remarkably enough, the Post was the only major paper that reported Tripp’s testimony in the aftermath of the document release. And now, Tripp’s testimony about Willey has essentially disappeared from the Post’s coverage of the Willey affair, too.

Here are the Post’s Eilperin and Baker this past Saturday, in an article describing the Kenneth Starr’s new referral to Congress on the Willey matter:

EILPERIN/BAKER: Willey’s story has been challenged in part by two witnesses. Linda R. Tripp, who at the time worked at the White House, has said she ran into Willey shortly after she left the Oval Office and Willey seemed happy about a brief encounter with the president...

For the record, former Willey friend Julie Hiatt Steele is the other witness the writers cite.

In this story, Eilperin and Baker essentially revert to the slender account of the Willey matter that Tripp gave Newsweek in August 1997. In her detailed grand jury testimony, Tripp did not state that she “ran into” Willey after the encounter; she stated that Willey had come up to her office to tell her about the meeting, as the two had prearranged. She also told the grand jury that Willey had attempted to arrange the meeting with Clinton in part to see if her flirtatious relationship with Clinton might be advanced. Eilperin and Baker don’t begin to capture the actual ways in which Tripp’s testimony has “challenged” Willey. Their account essentially ignores what Tripp told the grand jury. It could have been written at any time since August 1997.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea what may or may not have happened between Willey and Clinton. But we assert again what we have asserted before. Where an accusation is given widespread press coverage, and where an accuser is afforded major editorial support, newspapers have a duty to tell their readers when the accuser is credibly contradicted. In Saturday’s reporting, the Post has now completed a journey away from Linda Tripp’s striking grand jury testimony, a journey we warned about just last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/98). Tripp’s account has disappeared down the memory hole the CelebCorps seems to maintain for those who would challenge accusers.

If Post readers are going to be told what Tripp said about Willey, they deserve to be given an accurate account. Eilperin and Baker’s article does not do this. Sadly, the Post has now fallen in line with other major papers in ignoring Tripp’s stunning grand jury account. But then, we all know that the press corps just those accusers. Why would the press corps want to tell you when someone contradicts things accusers have said?

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On October 3, the Post gave substantial coverage to Tripp’s grand jury account. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/5/98.

On November 1, in reviewing the story, Susan Schmidt omitted significant parts of what Tripp told the grand jury. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/98.

On November 14, Eilperin and Baker completely ignore Tripp’s grand jury account. See today’s DAILY HOWLER, above.

We stress our point: Post readers should be given an accurate account of what Linda Tripp has said.

Read on: Stop the presses! The New York Times has made its first mention of Tripp’s grand jury account. See Read on, 11/16/98.