Letters from our readers.
June 26 1998 3:30 AM

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Why Grill Brill?

William Saletan's "Brill's Con Game" raises only one interesting question: Why is the press so afraid of Steven Brill? Short of cases of outright lying (à la Janet Cooke or Stephen Glass), I cannot recall reporters so viciously going after one of their own. One answer is that Brill has gone a long way toward turning off the golden spigot of leaks from Kenneth Starr's office. The broader reason is that Brill has had the temerity to breach the inky wall of silence that largely protects reporters from being subject to the same rules of exposure they expect everyone else to live by.

Two of Saletan's points are especially absurd. One is that it now apparently is not enough to disclose the sources of the information in a story; Brill also should have disclosed "[h]ow, and with whose input, [he chose] to focus his investigation on Starr's manipulation of the press rather than Clinton's?" If that is the new rule, why didn't Saletan disclose in his article how, and with whose input, he chose to focus on Brill. What are his hidden motives? The other bit of nonsense is the complaint that Brill relied on authority from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals about the scope of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) but didn't cite supposed conflicting authority. The problem for Kenneth Starr is that his grand jury is in the D.C. circuit and, unless and until the Supreme Court takes up this issue, it is that court's rulings that bind him, regardless what the rulings may be in other circuits. Brill, who trained as a lawyer, understands that. Saletan does not.

--Eric SummergradWashington


Slate's Fragile Egos

Jacob Weisberg in "Brill, Mote, and Beam" and William Saletan in "Brill's Con Game" both display clear outrage at Brill's magazine piece. Their outrage was also shared by the talking heads on all the Sunday shows. What comes across to an objective viewer is that Weisberg, Saletan, and the press in general feel emotionally that they are collectively above criticism and that Brill has violated a taboo. I am surprised. I had thought better of Weisberg and Saletan. That they feel their egos were punctured by even an intimation that the press was in the wrong in its Starr coverage tells something about them.

--Ed O'Connell

Overkill on Brill


Little hard on Brill here, aren't we? Two separate, exhaustive shots posted simultaneously?

When it comes to accountability, the establishment media have the biggest glass jaw in the world, and its pre-emptive atomic carpet bombing of Brill's Content only proves it. Brill (or Drudge) tootles along and everyone in the McLean/Russert/West 57th Street axis whines and moans about professionalism and standards. Then comes the CNN/Time sarin story to prove the "professionals" deserve all the scrutiny anyone else can muster.

Give the guy a shot. I'd leave the strangulation-in-cradle attempts to CBS News. Slate is part of the revolution, not the establishment. If you join the Old Guard aboard the "torpedo Content before anyone's even read the piece in question" bandwagon, it's less salutary for you.

On the other hand, you did manage to use the great word "rebarbative" in the June 17 "Culturebox" ... so I'm not altogether unhappy.


--Tom FarmerSeattle

Steve Brillos the Press

Thou dost protest too much! Brill's magazine has accomplished with its first issue what years of public criticism of the press could not. Now someone has done unto you what you have been doing to others. Unbiased press ... hogwash!!!

--Gwendolyn M. Johnson


We're Not Boring! Honest!

Next time you describe the Columbia Journalism Review in an article, it would be better if your writer took a look at a few recent issues before typing. We call this reporting. The soporific thing Jacob Weisberg so offhandedly invents in "Brill, Mote, and Beam" bears no resemblance to CJR, and we're surprised the false description got past your editors.

We invite Slate readers to come to their own conclusions. Check out the contents page of our strong current (July-August) issue, or read some back issues (including our own look at coverage of the Starr-Lewinsky saga, which ran four months ago)--via our Web site.

--Mike HoytSenior editorColumbia Journalism Review

Bugs in the House

Permit me to congratulate you on your fine sense of humor. In "Getting Buggy Wit It," Andrew Shuman wrote an excellent article on the joys of bug-finding and bug-squashing, and on that same day you published the Slate table of contents with bugs. Very droll! I had to chuckle when I used Netscape 4.04 on a Solaris 2.5.1 Sparc-5 and had the pleasure of seeing such things as "_14._ Kosovo. newrecycled FreeGlobal/Images/ClearDot.gif" WIDTH=1 HEIGHT=1 VSPACE=1>." It is sad that people who are using Microsoft Internet Explorer do not have the opportunity to view the joke.

--Randy Heath

Nobler Amazon

In "Moneybox" (June 19), James Surowiecki noted that the market cap of Amazon.com was larger than that of Barnes & Noble, leading him to conclude that the Street values the offline stores at next to nothing. There's an alternative explanation. My wife and I have been regular customers of Amazon, but we recently tried barnesandnoble.com. Without revisiting the multiple e-mails and telephone calls that we had to exchange before finally obtaining a book, the experience left us more determined to shop with Amazon. More importantly, my desire to walk into a physical Barnes & Noble shop has diminished. At least for us, the online version of Barnes & Noble has reduced the value of the offline version, thereby rationalizing the Street's valuation.

--Steve Philbrick

Rumors for Breakfast

Regarding the dialogue between Susan Estrich and David Brooks in "The Breakfast Table" (June 22): Now I know that I can't have a beer with a friend in a public bar in Washington without being accused of impropriety by one of President Clinton's ever-watchful partisans. So be it. I'll make some concessions to the need to avoid imagined appearances of impropriety. But I'll have a beer with anyone I damned well please.

To put in perspective the conspiratorial inferences that Estrich strains to draw from seeing me with Starr deputy Jackie Bennett at the Jefferson Hotel bar--a block or so from the Washington Post, where I always go when I'm looking for a secure locale in which to do furtive things--perhaps Estrich should know that I also had some beers recently with a member of the Clinton defense team. We were at his home, where no peeping partisans intruded.

To be clear: Jackie Bennett was not leaking to me; he was not telling me what to write or say on television; it was not a business appointment at all. Bennett, evidently troubled and hurt by my former employer Steven Brill's ugly portrayal of him, had asked if we could get together for a private and personal conversation to help him understand why a man whose fairness I had mistakenly touted to Bennett would write a catalog of falsehoods and distortions about Bennett and Starr, painting them both as criminals. I had readily agreed, because I like Bennett and I felt I owed him the best perspective I could give on Brill's article, the extreme tendentiousness of which had surprised me. I had asked Bennett whether we should find a spot where he would run no risk of catching flak by being seen with me; Bennett had indicated that he was not going to let the risk of encountering malicious gossipmongers dictate which bars he could frequent.

Our conversation moved from Brill's article to other nonconfidential matters, such as the legal rules curbing what Starr's office can say to reporters, to matters like Bennett's sons, my daughters, mutual acquaintances, and other matters that even so creative a mind as Brill's might have trouble painting as grand jury secrets. After the arrival of Estrich, Bennett and I also wondered idly whether she would seize the chance to misrepresent our conversation as something unseemly, about which Bennett should be embarrassed. This she has now done. Bennett was not embarrassed. I am not embarrassed. It is Estrich who should be embarrassed, for having concocted a fantasy to serve her partisan agenda.

--Stuart Taylor Jr.

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