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27 December 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Humbug reigns

Synopsis: Crotchety, grumpy old Howell Raines attacked Larry Flynt on the day before Christmas.

Fighting Off the Flynt Virus
Editorial, The New York Times, 12/24/98

Pity poor crotchety old Howell Raines, grumping around on the day before Christmas. It had been almost three weeks since Janet Reno-most-foul had presumptuously failed to appoint an IC. So the grouchy head scrivener of Times editorials must have felt he had nothing to do.

And then, of course! He had it at last! The grumbling old misanthrope knew what he’d do! As Scrooge had tormented that dear Tiny Tim, Raines would take out after poor Larry Flynt. Amazing, isn’t it? How the humbuggers instinctively know to attack the less abled on the day before Christmas?

Raines was upset by “a serious problem” that had recently come to his attention. It involved the plan of Hustler chief Flynt to spill the beans on various GOP chiefs. For seven years, they had chased Vile Bill all over the town, braying about his wild sex conduct. And now Flynt was saying that some of the pious had engaged in wild sex acts themselves!

Here at THE HOWLER, we long have warned against judging public officials by personal conduct. We have called attention to the raft of pitfalls involved in this ill-advised plan.

But, because we happen to have spent a few years on the planet, we’ve also developed a second view. We also feel that, if a standard is going to be held up for one, the standard must be held up for all. Why should Wild Bill be chased all over town, while a bunch of Dimmesdales all enjoy a free pass?

Howell Raines’ paper had plenty of time to see the plain truth of this concept. So here at THE HOWLER, we applauded Vile Flynt for what he was planning to do. Last week, Bob Livingston was revealed as the worst of the vile--a man who had sat by for years, and said not a word, as his party hung Clinton for Livingston’s own conduct. The truth is, Flynt had produced the sort of (sadly relevant) reporting the mainstream press has long shown it won’t do.

So we couldn’t help chuckling when Raines laid out the “serious problem” that now had him worried:

THE NEW YORK TIMES: [Recent events] laid out a serious problem for today’s journalists. Far too many readers and viewers believe, wrongly, that Mr. Flynt’s sleaze empire is just another branch of the established media...

The condescension displayed by Raines in this passage is the first thing we must mention. No, Howell. Average people do not confuse Hustler with the New York Times. We do understand there are few like you, so deeply aware of the subtle distinctions. But no one holds the dim-witted view you say your daft readers maintain.

But Raines should be careful when making the point that he and Flynt are not “in the same business.” The invidious comparison Raines seeks to draw really may not cut his way. Because in this case, it took Larry Flynt to step in at long last, where the mainstream press had failed to perform. It took Larry Flynt to create a perspective in which the pursuit of Vile Bill could be viewed.

And indeed, Flynt’s reporting is painfully relevant to our seven-year-long sex discourse. Thanks to Flynt, it is no longer possible for hypocrites like Livingston to paint Vile Bill as one of a kind. The simpleton discourse the mainstream press loved blew up with the info that Flynt revealed. He did the work the press failed to do over the course of the past seven years.

We’d have preferred that the press had cautioned against this kind of discourse. We’d have liked it better if the Times had explored the perils of this kind of hunt. But when pious Dimmesdales control the discourse, we have to say, by our standards, that’s news. It was news in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s day. And it’s news in the day of Vile Flynt.

We’re happy to say most sensible people don’t foul themselves by buying Hustler. But Flynt’s reporting is, regrettably, news. What a shock: Howell Raines doesn’t know it.

When it’s Raines, it pours: Howell Raines has this to say about Larry Flynt paying his sources:

RAINES: Professional journalists do not pay for the stories they get...Mr. Flynt...has acknowledged that he is actually paying for at least some of the dirt kicked up by his offer. That means that Hustler’s charges about Congressional sex ought to be given the same skeptical scrutiny as the pile of documents, faxes, and raw gossip that the nation’s mainstream journalists must sort through and check out each day as they search for publishable material.

Poor babies! And yes, it’s true, as a general rule, when people are paid for exciting stories, they have an incentive to lie. (For example, Gennifer Flowers received $750,000 for stories built around her charges.) But it’s all too typical of the way Raines works that he fails to mention an obvious fact--the info that Flynt’s money bought about Livingston has already been acknowledged as true! Livingston acknowledged that he engaged in the conduct that GOP Dimmesdales slammed in Clinton for years. How typical--that nowhere in Raines’ self-pitying screed is there mention of that simple fact.

And by the way, the notion that mainstream journalists jealously test facts is impossible to credit in this area. As we have pointed out again and again, the mainstream press has persistently failed to test the stories of Clinton’s accusers. Flowers’ Star articles were riddled with howlers, as Newsweek pointed out instantly (2/3/92). But, because the press corps simply those accusers, the fact that her story was riddled with error was quickly dispatched to the memory-hole; and all through 1998, pundits in the New York Times assured us “we now know that Flowers was telling the truth” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/28/98). There is no area where journalists have checked fewer facts than in the great sex-chase of the past seven years.

In closing, the troubled Raines had this to say about the dilemma facing Great Men like him:

RAINES: There is no way to eradicate gossip. But that is no reason for the mainstream media to abandon their standards or values.

Note again Raines’ dishonest suggestion that Flynt has come forward with “gossip.” The spin never stops around here. But if there was ever an area where the mainstream press ought to “abandon” its current practices, it is in the area of the great, dumb, thigh-rubbing, lip-smacking sex-chase they have engaged in for the past seven years.

Unfortunately, Flynt’s information is relevant, and true. No wonder poor Howell’s so puzzled.

Visit our incomparable archives, for more on the mainstream sex chase:

The corps waxes ignorant on Gennifer Flowers: See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/28/98 and 10/29/98. The press corps has persistently refused to explore the problems with Flowers’ (bought) story.

The corps waxes ignorant about Kathleen Willey: The white-shoes press tells the story it likes about the charges made by Kathleen Willey. Click here for HOWLER listings.