Thomas Jefferson warned that this constitutional democracy can only survive if we, the people, know enough about what’s actually going on so that we can protest—and vote against—official dishonesty. But institutional loyalty in the White House has betrayed Jefferson’s goal for the nation.
When the president bombed Afghanistan and later Iraq for the sole purpose of displaying his machismo, nobody in his administration resigned. That civilians were killed in an effort to save him from impeachment was clearly evident. No terrorists were disposed of or even deterred in the Afghanistan adventure, and the show bombing of Iraq resulted in the outside weapons inspectors being thrown out.
But the secretary of defense and the members of the National Security Council remained loyal to this ormolu commander in chief. No one blew the whistle on this lethal fakery. And most of the press played along.
A particularly foolish and uninformed defense of unquestioning institutional loyalty appeared in a December 28 Newsday editorial. This was the accusatory headline: “Disloyalty Reflects Badly on Mike, Dick, and George.”
Mike is Mike McCurry, “the latest high-paid ingrate.” He deserves contempt, says Newsday, because since leaving his post as the president’s press secretary, he has been “berating his old boss.”
It is an “honor,” says Newsday, to work at the White House, and such grave responsibility should require “a greater degree of loyalty.”
But “McCurry’s approach to his job,” as Andrew Ferguson noted in The Weekly Standard, “was to keep reporters from doing theirs.”
With wit and calculated charm, McCurry evaded most substantive press questions and even publicly congratulated himself on “staying out of the loop” on highly controversial subjects. That is, he deliberately kept himself ignorant of Clinton mistakes or lies in order to remain safely uninformed of presidential trickery. We, the people, were paying McCurry, but he gracefully stiffed us.
McCurry, preening about his skill at conning the White House press corps, actually said, while on the job, that staying out of the loop was “a good approach for me personally, a good approach for the institution of the presidency, and a good approach for Bill Clinton personally.”
What about “the American people”?
I kept wondering during McCurry’s tenure at the White House why at least one or two of the renowned members of the White House press corps didn’t walk out one day to protest being so continually manipulated.
But except for Deborah Orin, head of the New York Post‘s Washington bureau, hardly any one of those superjournalists even gave McCurry a hard time during his briefings. And when he left that post, Margaret Carlson of Time said, “Mike did one of the great jobs of all time.”
A truly great snow job.
It is true that McCurry, now much better paid as he spreads his charm on the lecture circuit, has at long last begun to show some disloyalty to Clinton. As when he said, recently, about the Senate trial: “It’s a consequence, first and foremost, of the president’s appalling behavior. And you can’t get around it.”
McCurry knew the real Clinton all the time he worked for him, but I bet it never occurred to him that he had any responsibility to tell us of—as another current McCurry admission puts it—”the recklessness of Clinton’s behavior.”
But Newsday‘s editorial writer still believes—ardently—that McCurry is diminishing himself by “berating his old boss.” Newsday also puts George Stephanopoulos in its gallery of shameless ingrates, caustically criticizing the former Clinton adviser for being “the first major pundit-player to raise the prospect of impeachment last January.”
My God, says Newsday, as a result of such disloyalty, “the presidency itself is besmirched, and the bond of trust and confidentiality between the commander in chief and his lieutenants is eroded further.”
Have I missed something? It is the incumbent who besmirched the presidency, and the Constitution, more disgracefully than any other president in our history.
And it is those institutionally loyal folks, those accomplices in keeping the rest of us ignorant of what we have every right to know, who helped acquit the president.
In my January 19, 1999, column, I reported that, “when Republican congressman Jim Leach of Iowa began investigating Whitewater, he found a stranger—[private investigator] Jack Palladino—skulking about his home.” I based this on an article in The Weekly Standard. However, Mr. Palladino has just alerted me to correspondence between himself and Congressman Leach about this claim and a note subsequently published by The Weekly Standard, stating:
“At the time we published our story, our sources were confident of this information [about Mr. Palladino]. Mr. Palladino has now written to Mr. Leach and to The Weekly Standard denying that he ever investigated Mr. Leach. Mr. Leach has written back that he accepts Mr. Palladino’s disclaimers, and, accordingly, so do we.”
Just as I relied on The Weekly Standard in my initial reporting, I rely on its acceptance of Mr. Palladino’s disclaimers, as well.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 1999