Accuracy in Media

One of the strange aspects of the coverage of the Clinton scandals is the tendency of reporters to fawn over the job being done by White House spinmeisters. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote a whole book about it, based on interviews with White House officials, including Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry. The title of his book was “Spin Cycle.” The ability of the White House to confuse, mislead and stonewall is sometimes presented as something to be admired. And now that McCurry has announced he’s leaving his post, this tendency has reached a ridiculous extreme.

Walter Shapiro’s column in USA Today about McCurry’s leaving ran under the headline, “McCurry leaves with clean hands…” The worst that Shapiro could say about McCurry was that he was “often forced into an uncomfortably evasive, I don’t-want-to-know-the-truth posture.” He went on to say, “Given his talents and integrity, it is a shame that McCurry’s name will never be synonymous with open government.” But if McCurry is full of all this integrity, why didn’t he want to know the truth and why was he evasive? Is this to be defended because he was just doing his job? If so, this is a new low for government. The lesson from Shapiro is that if you cover-up and stonewall on behalf of the president, your reputation will remain essentially pristine.

Over at the New York Times, reporter James Bennet said McCurry had used an “agile wit and aggressive tactics” to defend the White House. Bennet admitted that McCurry had been accused at times of misleading reporters, but Bennet himself wouldn’t make that accusation. Kathy Kiely of the New York Daily News praised McCurry for being “calm and witty.” Deborah Orin of the New York Post said that his “greatest talent” in defending Clinton has been his skill at “diplo-babble,” defined as “using lots of words to say next to nothing.” This is apparently a talent to be admired.

Permit us to lodge a dissent to McCurry’s tenure as White House press secretary. His wit doesn’t impress us. He was a flack for a president who is a bald-faced liar, and he knew it. Few stories about McCurry’s leaving the White House reminded us that earlier this year he told the Chicago Tribune that he thought that his boss was guilty of something in the Monica Lewinsky affair. “Maybe there’ll be a simple, innocent explanation,” he said. “I don’t think so, because I think we would have offered that up already.” Nevertheless, McCurry continued to serve Clinton as his press secretary.

In that capacity, he smeared journalist Chris Ruddy for his coverage of the Vincent Foster case. And he refused to consider Internet reporter Matt Drudge as a legitimate journalist, even though he broke the story about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In these cases, McCurry didn’t demonstrate wit; he acted as a propagandist and smear artist.

Deborah Orin of the New York Post said that Republicans were overjoyed to see McCurry go because he was so good at his job. If so, this means that the Washington press corps is full of a lot of dupes. And this explains why they like McCurry so much.

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