Rupert's Welfare

"I heard [Blumenthal] was furious," says Salon editor David Talbot, "although I didn't talk to him directly."

The story that popped Blumenthal's cork ran in Salon on May 29. Based on Waas's access to classified documents and anonymous government sources, it maintained that between 1993 and 1996, the administration "allowed numerous exports of potential ballistic-missile technology to the Chinese government," and that, in some instances, the exports had been approved despite the Chinese government's refusal to "allow inspections to assure that the technology was only being used for civilian purposes."

Moreover, Waas reported, the Clinton White House ignored warnings from its own Defense Department that the technology China was getting could be diverted to military use.

Waas's reporting was potentially explosive for at least two reasons. First, the Republican Congress had already announced its plans to investigate the export waiver given to Loral Space and Technology, which is headed by Bernard Schwartz, the Democratic Party's largest contributor. Second, Clinton was about to embark on a major trip to China, and did not want to be tarred as an apologist for weapons-crazed Chinese leaders.

In that context, Blumenthal apparently went ballistic. He called Salon Washington bureau chief Jonathan Broder and reportedly said: "In terms of foreign policy, nobody is going to talk to Murray Waas again." In a follow-up call to Waas, Blumenthal repeated his threat.

Waas told the Voice he was "maddened" by the call, especially because he's working on a book about nuclear proliferation. "I've never known someone from the White House to behave that way," Waas said last week. He added that he'd heard Blumenthal had been boasting around Washington that he'd gotten a separate Waas Salon story killed.

"This guy is a fundamentalist on the issue of Clinton," Waas said of Blumenthal, "in much the same way as Jerry Falwell is."

Editor Talbot said he "could care less" about Blumenthal's threat because he considered it "idle." He added: "Salon has a genuine American journalistic legend in Murray Waas. He follows his nose wherever it leads, and Salon fully backs him."

Is it, however, a wise idea for the White House to be trashing one of its best media friends? And does Blumenthal really have the official capacity to eliminate reporters' access?

Reached on Monday, White House press officer Julia Payne, traveling with Clinton in New Orleans, said she would investigate, but did not call back before the Voice's deadline.

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  • Feminism may not be dead, but it has trouble getting a big outdoor turnout on a very hot day. The National Organization for Women theoretically organized a demonstration in front of Time Warner's offices Monday, to protest the anemic Time June 22 cover story "Is Feminism Dead?" (the one that used a cover image of Ally McBeal to illustrate the point). The demo was coordinated with a meeting indoors between several feminist activists and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson and others to discuss increasing the mag's coverage of feminist topics. Arguably, the protest ended up making Time's point; a Time source said only 20 people showed up outside. One difficulty may have been logistic; the Voice received two flyers putting the start of the demo at different times. Inside, however, one participant reports that the atmosphere was "cordial," but "nothing concrete" was decided on. . . .

  • In a peculiar--but satisfying--allusion, this was how Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times referred to the three criminal convictions of media tycoon and onetime Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last Monday: "He has . . . turned his multiple legal troubles into a political campaign, accusing left-leaning prosecutors of singling him out for political persecution. A little like a player in the card game Hearts, who decides to amass bad cards to shoot the moon, Mr. Berlusconi is hoarding his convictions."

    Research: Leila Abboud

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