Did I Dis Sid? I Did!

Did I Dis Sid? I Did!

Did I Dis Sid? I Did!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
March 1 1998 4:29 PM

Did I Dis Sid? I Did!

Is Chatterbox crazy to think Sidney Blumenthal didn't get enough favorable publicity after he was forced to appear before Kenneth Starr's grand jury to tell prosecutors whether he was saying nasty things about them? The subpoena was, after all, just as outrageous as the commentariat said it was. (Does Pepperdine law school really want to give its deanship to someone who doesn' t know the first thing about the First Amendment?) Yet when Blumenthal finally testified last Thursday, and then denounced Starr from the courthouse steps, NBC correspondent David "Excitable Boy" Bloom poisoned Blumenthal's sound bite by characterizing it in advance as a "tirade."... The most gratuitously anti-Sid coverage was the front-page sneer from John M. Broder in the New York Times. Broder's story began with this: "After a long career as a scribbler in the shadows, Sidney Blumenthal got his moment in the sun today... ." Now, it's true that Blumenthal was obviously loving the exposure, but so are about 80 percent of the people who appear in the New York Times. That doesn't usually get them a first-graph smirk, at least when there are important things at stake. Imagine the respectful tone the Times would have struck if, say, Erskine Bowles had been hauled before the grand jury. But the First Amendment issues would have been the same.... Broder's third graph was bizarre: "A former journalist and the White House's most celebrated conspiracy theorist, Mr. Blumenthal faced the cameras at the peak of the Western Hemisphere's last total solar eclipse of the millennium." Chatterbox at first thought this was an adventurous metaphor for the way Blumenthal's story had been eclipsed by the news from Iraq, or the lull in the Flytrap scandal, or by Broder's own attitude. But no. Turns out it was an in-joke--Blumenthal is a millennium freak. You can laugh now... When is an in-joke too in to run? Chatterbox's rule of thumb is that if Chatterbox doesn't get the joke, it doesn't belong in the paper. If Chatterbox gets the joke but the guy sitting next to Chatterbox doesn't, it's cutting-edge journalism.... Why don't reporters like Sid? Not simply because when he was a political writer he was considered pathetically in-the-tank for Clinton (see Chatterbox for 2/23). It's also his standard demeanor, which features a permanent I-know-a-secret-that-I'm-not-telling-you grin.... Contacted by telephone, the Times' Broder denies any "personal animosity toward Sid."... Yes, that's right, Chatterbox actually picked up the phone and called somebody for a reaction. Journalism! Don't expect it to happen again...

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CORPORATISM WATCH: "There is a significant difference between asking a White House official for his sources and asking the owner of a Web page on the Internet for his sources," Marvin Kalb, director of the Shorenstein Center on Press and Politics at Harvard, tells the Times. "On the Drudge side, you're in uncharted waters." Meaning what? That Drudge has different [fewer?] First Amendment rights than Blumenthal? That Kalb knows how to get his name in the papers?... It's true that the Sidney Blumenthal now being pursued by Starr is the same Sidney Blumenthal who recently demanded that Matt Drudge reveal his sources. There's some hypocrisy there on Blumenthal's part. But there is a difference between the two situations, and it's not the offensive Drudge-is-a-peon distinction offered by Kalb. Blumenthal was never in charge of a grand jury criminal proceeding, the way Starr is. He is suing Drudge in civil court for libel, the same way any citizen can sue another citizen for libel. If Starr had similarly sued Blumenthal for libel or slander instead of calling him before the grand jury (where, among other things, you're not entitled to have a lawyer present during questioning), we'd have a different story on our hands. But of course Starr would never do that because he's a "public figure" and under existing First Amendment precedents would have the same trouble proving his case that Blumenthal will have in his suit against Drudge...