Cracking Up

Is Talk Jumping on the Antidrug Bandwagon?

The Times is especially heavy-handed. Using a standard rhetorical device, Times Washington reporter Neil Lewis overstates the book's premise, then faults the authors for not proving it. What follows is a sneering catalog of flaws, apparently designed to cover up flaws in the Times's own reporting.

You'd never know it from Lewis's review, but the book blasts the Whitewater reporting of Timesman Jeff Gerth. It also calls attention to a January 13, 1996, Editor's Note that ran in the Times, clarifying Stephen Labaton's report on the testimony of Richard Massey, Hillary Clinton's former law partner. In a tit for tat, Lewis calls Conason and Lyons's account of Massey's testimony "misleading," even though the book comports with the Times's own correction.

Lewis's conflict of interest is especially apparent when he chides the authors for repeating the saga of conspiracy backer Richard Mellon Scaife, "which has already been written about at length." Actually, Conason first broke this story with Murray Waas, in the February 4, 1998, issue of The New York Observer—a fact Lewis failed to note when he filed his Arkansas Project story for the Times two months later. (Full disclosure: Conason and I are old friends.)

Last week, Times Book Review editor Chip McGrath defended his choice of reviewer. "Why should we assign a book to a so-called neutral party who doesn't know as much as Lewis?" he told the Daily News. "People downstairs knew I was doing this—[executive editor] Joe Lelyveld and [managing editor] Bill Keller."

On April 10, the greeting on Lewis's voice mail said, "I'm out of the office for a couple of weeks." McGrath was out of the office as well.

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