Accuracy in Media

We recently did a commentary on a story in which The Washington Times had reported that UN Ambassador Bill Richardson’s appointment to head the Energy Department was in jeopardy, even after he had already been confirmed by the Senate on the recommendation of the Energy Committee chaired by Senator Frank Murkowski. According to Times’ reporter Bill Sammon, there was overwhelming evidence that Richardson had lied to the committee when addressing matters surrounding his having offered a UN job in New York to Monica Lewinsky, with whom President Clinton has finally admitted having an improper relationship.

Murkowski was outraged when he read the Times’ story, and sent a letter to the President urging that he hold up on swearing Richardson in to his new position. Now that issue is moot. It took the committee about one week, utilizing one lawyer from each party to investigate, to conclude that there was, quote, “no basis to believe that Ambassador Richardson had misled the committee in any way,” unquote. He has now been sworn in to his new post.

We looked into how the committee had reconciled the questions raised in the Times report. The answer is that they ignored the conflicting facts, and chose instead to focus on one narrow aspect of the process for which they could reasonably exonerate Richardson. They focused only on whether any job openings existed at the time of the interview, and the answer was yes. There were apparently six political spots open, with which the ambassador was free to do what he wanted. The problem is that this is not the argument Richardson made to justify offering Lewinsky the job.

What Richardson emphatically told the committee was that the job offered to Monica had existed for years, that it was an entry-level job paying $30,000 a year, and it had to be in New York. But these facts remain: no one was doing the job she was offered nor was the job slot allocated until days after the Lewinsky scandal broke in January of this year. Paul Aronsohn, the person who was later given the job supposedly offered to Lewinsky, was a senior staffer with considerable experience and was paid more than double what Lewinsky was offered.

In addition, Aronsohn and the job had moved from New York to Washington two weeks before the confirmation hearings, despite Richardson’s insistence that the job had to be in New York. And the position was transferred from the political to the press section, contrary to a State Department Inspector General recommendation. Clearly there are huge inconsistencies between what Richardson told the committee, and what had actually happened.

Why then was this allowed to go forward when clearly so many questions remained unsatisfactorily answered? We suspect this is not a fight the committee had the stomach for. They had already confirmed him, he is a former popular Congressman, considered a hero by many for his diplomatic accomplishments, and supposedly this is part of Ken Starr’s investigation into whether the President tried to buy Lewinsky’s silence with a good job offer. In short, it’s business as usual on Capitol Hill.

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