Accuracy in Media

Susan McDougal recently dropped a small bombshell into the muck of the Clinton scandals on Meet the Press. She announced that contrary to what her attorney Mark Geragos had said, she wasn?t prepared to say that President Clinton had not lied under oath at her trial at which she was convicted of four felonies. “I would hate to go against my attorney,” she told Tim Russert, but, quote, “I would have to actually have his testimony in front of me and go through it line by line before I would be willing to put myself up to say he told the truth,” unquote. What message was she sending and to whom?

The Associated Press thought it a significant story, and it was picked up by USA Today and the Washington Times. The New York Times and Washington Post ignored it. Several cable TV personalities, especially Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren have portrayed Susan McDougal as a principled political prisoner, endlessly persecuted by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

A little background is in order. Susan McDougal has been characterized as an innocent obedient wife signing papers that she didn?t fully understand. Jim McDougal used Susan?s name in applying for the infamous government-guaranteed $300,000 loan from David Hale?s small-business-loan operation. He used a shell corporation headed by Susan to get the loan, and the jury found that this was a fiction created to meet the requirement that the loan go to disadvantaged borrowers. The reason Susan was designated as the borrower was because of her gender. She was not disadvantaged.

None of the money went for the stated purpose. Some went to benefit the Whitewater development which was owned by the McDougals and the Clintons. Much of it was squandered by Susan on luxuries. Some of it went into another real estate development project that Susan controlled. The jury said she was guilty of misapplying funds, mail fraud, falsifying documents, and making false statements. Now she is facing new charges, embezzling more than $150,000 from her employer, music legend Zubin Mehta and his wife. That trial begins on July 13.

So is Susan McDougal, as Geraldo Rivera and others have said, the Joan of Arc of Ken Starr?s partisan witch hunt? Or is she a common thief and embezzler as one jury has already determined, and another is about to consider? Did she in fact make the statement about not knowing if Clinton told the truth at her trial to prod him to carry out his half of the bargain?a pardon?as James McDougal told author Curtis Wilkie for his posthumous memoir, Arkansas Mischief?

If she testifies that Clinton lied when he said he never pressured David Hale to give her a loan, that could further damage Bill Clinton?s presidency . She appears to be sending a message to Clinton that she?s growing impatient. She has already spent eighteen months in jail on civil contempt charges for refusing to testify before the grand jury and she now faces criminal contempt charges for the same reason. She?s currently serving time for her felony convictions, and facing more. The heat is set on high.

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