McCaffrey had another bogus defense: He claimed Hersh was "recycling" old charges that had already been put to rest. It's true that in 1991, the army allowed McCaffrey's unit to investigate the incident and exonerate itself of wrongdoingbut how convincing is a self-investigation? That didn't stop McCaffrey from going on two TV shows last week, waving a copy of the September 8, 1991, Savannah Morning News, as if it "proved" his troops had been cleared. But, while the paper did report that the army had cleared itself, it offered no conclusions of its own.
Rexanna Lester, the News's managing editor in 1991, was surprised to see McCaffrey trot out the story in his own defense. "We certainly didn't exonerate the guy," she says, noting that, at the time, the News lacked the reporting power to do its own investigation. Lester, now executive editor, did a double take when she saw McCaffrey on national TV. "I said, 'What is he doing?' I guess he was grasping at straws."
PR dictates that when you're under attack, concede nothing. So it's no surprise that last week the White House and the army backed the drug czar 100 percent. On May 18, McCaffrey's spokesman told me the story had "deservedly died on the vine." But, the same day, The New York Times called on the government to open a new investigation, and, this week, Newsweek and ABC World News have weighed in with follow-up stories.
It's heartening to see the media challenge wartime propaganda, even nine years after the fact. But let's hope Hersh's coup triggers more investigation of McCaffrey's drug war as well.