Conspiracy at the Washington Post
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been accused of "conspiracy theorism"
over the death of the White House aide, Vincent Foster. Keeping silent, he says,
is even worse.
FROM: The Electronic Telegraph [TM] Mon. 10 July 1995
MY STRAITJACKET is buckled tight. The foam is wiped off my mouth. A bottle
of sedatives sits at hand. I am cool, calm and ready to answer on behalf of all
"conspiracy theorists". And I say to the powers of the Washington
Last week the Washington Post attacked the Sunday Telegraph
in a front-page article on the "Foster conspiracy theorists". It was
an unflattering piece on the tiny band of critics who have raised questions
about what is increasingly looking like the cover-up of the 1993 death of
In normal circumstances it would be inappropriate to dispute this, but
weighty matters are in the balance here and the Washington Post has
quasi-monopoly power - a duopoly, perhaps, shared with the New York Times
- in setting the political agenda for the entire American media. Foster, the
deputy White House counsel, was the highest-ranking official to die in violent
circumstances since President Kennedy. He was also the intimate friend of both
Bill and Hillary Clinton and looked after their personal finances at the White
House. The decision by the Washington Post to run such a piece at this
late stage - in the face of overwhelming suspicions of foul play - comes
perilously close to complicity in a cover-up.
The argument has nothing to do with ideology. The Washington Post
ceased to be a newspaper of liberal activism a long time ago, if it ever really
was. "Its anti-establishment image is one of the most absurd myths in
journalism today," said Jeff Cohen, from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
in New York, a liberal group that monitors the Post closely and accuses
it of an incestuous relationship with the governing elite. "It has been an
instrument of state power for many years."
The question is whether the Washington Post is sitting on the
stories that really matter.
The team that led the fight against the Nixon Administration and turned the
Post into the most fashionable newspaper in the world is mostly gone.
Kay Graham, the Queen Bee, retired in 1991 after 28 years in charge of the
family heirloom. Ben Bradlee, immortalised in All The President's Men as
the swashbuckling and incorruptible captain of Watergate, is now a semi-detached
editor at large. Both, incidentally, have regrets about their role in the great
regicide. Neither want to see the same thing happen again in their lifetime.
There is talent, still. The coverage of the US occupation of Haiti, by Douglas
Farah, has been outstanding. The editorial pages have the finest mix in the
business. The Style section is beautifully written. But the question is whether
the Washington Post is sitting on the stories that really matter, just
as the Mexican daily, El Excelsior, a vibrant and authentic newspaper to
the untutored eye, serves - wittingly or unwittingly - as a mouthpiece and a
subtle tool of disinformation for the ruling regime.
Allegations of drug use, sexual shenanigans and misuse of state resources
were there for the plucking during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992.
Yet the Post's inquiries only skimmed the surface of the charges.
Admittedly, it is hard to get people to talk about these things in Arkansas. But
not that hard. The Post has subsequently refused to make amends.
Instead, it has insisted on ever-higher standards of "proof" or,
alternatively, down-played the importance of the accusations.
Take the case of Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of sexual harassment when
he was Governor of Arkansas. In early 1994 the Washington Post was given
exclusive access to Jones and to other witnesses who could corroborate parts of
her story. The newspaper went through her background with a toothcomb. Weeks
went by. The lead reporter, Mike Isikoff, found her claims to be credible and
wanted to run the story. The editors refused. In the end there was a shouting
match in the newsroom between Isikoff and the national editor, Fred Barbash.
Isikoff was suspended for two weeks and later left the newspaper. The Post
never ran the original story. I emphasise this point because the paper is now
trying to claim that it was just waiting for the appropriate moment. The Post
was overtaken by events. Paula and Steve Jones were so disgusted by the failure
of the paper to publish that they decided to file a sexual harassment suit
against the President, forcing the issue into the news pages.
Failure to report the news is one thing. Active disinformation is
It is worth noting too that the Washington Post ignored the series
of well-researched pieces by the American Spectator alleging that Bill
Clinton used Arkansas state troopers to solicit women on a routine basis, and
then played rough to silence leaks. One might choose to treat that as
unimportant. A private matter. Beneath the Post. But what about the
story of gun-running and drug-smuggling through the Mena airport in Arkansas in
the 1980s? As reported by The Sunday Telegraph in January, the managing
editor, Robert Kaiser, intervened at the last moment to spike a story by Sally
Denton and Roger Morris that was backed by an archive of 2,000 documents. The
story had been cleared by the lawyers. It was typeset and ready to go to the
printers. Since then there have been fresh developments in this story. Sworn
testimony taken from a court case in Arkansas has linked Bill Clinton directly
to this cloak-and-dagger operation, which has possible ties to US intelligence.
Not a word about these depositions has been written in the Washington Post.
But failure to report the news is one thing. Active disinformation is
another. Last week's article in the Post insinuated that The
Telegraph had fabricated a story about clandestine trips to Switzerland by
Vince Foster. The author, Susan Schmidt, who is the Post's full-time
reporter on Whitewater, said that sources "with access to Foster's American
Express receipts say they show no purchase of airline tickets to Switzerland".
But when confronted, she admitted that her sources did not in fact have access
to information - that The Telegraph did have - about the two flights
Foster made to Geneva in 1991 and 1992. Furthermore, she had no credit card
numbers and she did not know which of Foster's American Express cards may have
been involved. Nor did she have any records from the airlines. "These
records are closely guarded," she said, by way of explanation. You bet they
are, and Ms Schmidt failed to get them. The only information she had, it turns
out, referred to a single purchase in July 1993 conducted through the White
House travel office. We would surmise that her "sources" (plural) are
in the Clinton White House. We rest our case.
Is the newspaper that broke Watergate now, intentionally or not, aiding
and abetting a cover-up a generation later?
Ms Schmidt called me before she wrote her piece and asked what I thought
about some of the wild allegations being made that Vince Foster had ties to
Israeli intelligence and was under investigation by the CIA for espionage.
I told her that it sounded pretty far-fetched and was not consistent with
what I knew about Foster. She ignored this. In her article she implied that The
Telegraph was advancing such claims. But this, broadly, is the method that
has been deployed by the Washington Post to muddy the waters and
discredit anybody who has been asking legitimate questions about the death of
Foster. Is the newspaper that broke Watergate now, intentionally or not, aiding
and abetting a cover-up a generation later? As for key developments in the
Foster case over the past few months, the Post has been silent. It failed to
report that Miquel Rodriguez, the lead prosecutor looking into the death, had
resigned in March because the highly politicised investigation was being
obstructed. It does not seem to be aware of enhanced photographs showing that
the gun found in Foster's hand was moved around after his death, and that Foster
had a wound on his neck that the authorities had tried to cover up. Ms Schmidt,
however, says that the Post is doing a terrific job. "The Washington
Post has broken every story about Whitewater," she said. "At
least every story that's been true."
Electronic Telegraph is a Registered Service Mark of The