Two Liars

Two Liars

Two Liars

Policy made plain.
Sept. 13 1998 3:30 AM

Two Liars

Two liars.

Two Liars

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Of the two, Bill Clinton is the bigger liar, we suppose, but Ken Starr may be the more brazen. Clinton's "that woman" lie at least was a sincere attempt to keep us in the dark. Starr, by contrast, seems to think he can mislead us about truths that are right in front of our eyes. And maybe he can.

Wednesday's New York Times, for example, carried excerpts from Starr's letter to Clinton's lawyer David Kendall explaining why he would not give Kendall an advance peek at Starr's report to Congress. "As you doubtless know," Starr wrote, "this Office steadily has maintained the position that it would not be appropriate to comment on the possibility that it would provide a 'report' to Congress." Naturally it is impossible to let Kendall see the report in advance if you have a steadily maintained position that you don't even concede the "possibility" that such a report exists.

That was on Page A18 of the national edition. Meanwhile, on Page A1 ("Report by Starr Against Clinton Expected Soon") of the same paper, the "possibility" of a " 'report' " from Starr was getting very different treatment. Starr "plans to deliver a report" quite soon, and he "intends to alert Speaker Newt Gingrich" that very day that the report contains "credible grounds for impeachment." The report "is expected to outline ... will almost certainly say ... is likely to include ..." and so on. Says who? Say "allies of Mr. Starr" and "lawyers familiar with Mr. Starr's plans" and so forth.

Despite the coy labeling, this information could come from only one of two places: someone's imagination or Starr's office. And since the info has proved to be accurate, the first option defies probability. Starr has said he disapproves of leaks, but leaks have gushered out of his office before and since, and no one has been caught and fired. So it's obvious that his "Office" did not have a steadily maintained position of not commenting on its then-forthcoming report. It was commenting every day and still is. Starr's letter to Kendall was, in short, a lie.

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The same Wednesday Times contained its usual daily editorial calling for more flamboyant abjection from Clinton, adding that Starr "correctly rejected" his lawyer's request to see the report in advance. It failed to note that Starr's reason for rejecting the request was transparently false.

How to Avoid Flytrap

E-mail continues to pour in complaining about too much Slate coverage of the presidential scandal. For Slate readers who agree with this sentiment, we have created a special page listing and linking to all the Flytrap stories in Slate they may wish to avoid. They may wish to make an exception for our two unique versions of the Starr report. One, supplied to us early in the week by free-lance writer Art Levine, has turned out to be wildly inaccurate. In hindsight, probably, we should have suspected that Judge Starr would not use the phrase "fiery loins." Oh well.

At this writing, the actual report is not yet out on the Web. As soon as it is, though, we plan to run it through a feature of Microsoft Word 7.0 called AutoSummarize. AutoSummarize reduces the bulk of any piece of prose by up to 90 percent while attempting to retain the original essence.

We'll also, of course, have links to various locations where you can read the whole thing.

--Michael Kinsley