|HEADLINE: 400 Historians Denounce Impeachment, Case Against Clinton Departs From Framers' Intent for Presidency, Letter Argues The Washington Post, October 29, 1998|
So, 400 of the nation's "leading historians" have put what is left of their prestige and credibility on the line by coming out against the impeachment of President Clinton.
They could hardly better demonstrate why they deserve the scorn that I heap upon them and their fellow academicians in my
As a fellow Southerner much influenced by his great scholarship, I was particularly saddened to see the name of C. Vann Woodward in the group. His books, The Strange Career of Jim Crow and Origins of the New South are deservedly classics, but in this instance the best I can say for him is that he has wandered out of his depth. At worst, he could have been corrupted by all those years at that citadel of Central Intelligence, Yale University.
In the case of another name figuring prominently among the benighted crew, Garry Wills, one neednít wonder as to whether it is a case of ignorance or corruption. On May 7, 1996, I wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Review of Books in criticism of one of Professor Willsí review articles. The NYR has very nearly the most liberal policy of any journal or periodical in the country with respect to letters to the editor. They seem to print any and all of them as long as they measure up to a certain standard of quality, no matter how long or vicious they might be (intellectual types can be shockingly vicious), but they keep the deck stacked in their own favor by allowing the original writer to get the last word by responding. That was what I had hoped for when I mailed the following missive, but, alas, it was not to be. Until now it had never seen the light of day. Fearing what the editors might do with it, I also sent a copy directly to Professor Wills at Northwestern University to make sure that if ignorance was his original problem it would not continue to be.
He did not respond, thus making no effort to defend himself, which puts him in the category of Jacob Cohen, professor of American studies at Brandeis University, who declined to debate me on the Foster topic on that collegeís student-run radio station. I had ripped him on-line for an extraordinarily dishonest article he wrote in William F. Buckleyís National Review. Interestingly, he initially accepted the challenge, but then, after having read my "Dreyfus" series he told the students at the station that he did not think it would be "productive" for him to be on the air with me. The students then proposed that he be given thirty recorded minutes to rebut, at his leisure, my thirty recorded minutes. I accepted those onerous terms, but I assume Professor Cohen did not because I heard nothing further from the student managers and I never got on the air there on any terms. For all I know he might have had something to do with that fact as well.
Now, here, for your enjoyment and edification, is the forbidden letter to the editor:
Although I have been a reader of your magazine for many years, I must admit that I am not much of a fan of one of your regular contributors, Garry Wills. My opinion has never been so well confirmed as it was by his recent review article, "The Clinton Scandals." In spite of its considerable length, the article is still almost childishly superficial, and it could hardly have been more one-sided in its defense of the suspicious behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Like most of the reviewers that the general public gets to read, Wills professes to be quite favorably impressed with James Stewartís Blood Sport, especially the part I find weakest and most objectionable. Wills writes that "Stewart is very good on the character and situation of Vincent Foster..." and states confidently that he "rightly rejects all conspiratorial nonsense about Fosterís death."
One would expect that the historian Wills would have done at least a tiny bit of primary research before pronouncing such a bold, blanket exculpation. Had he done so, he would have found that every single source that Stewart used to attest to Fosterís general nature and to his specific state of mind shortly before his death is either someone who has, on the record, changed his story, or someone who chooses to remain anonymous. There are several of each, but the most notable example of the former is the supposed force behind Stewartís book, the memory-challenged Clinton confidante, Susan Thomases. The top example of the latter, in all likelihood, is the composer or composers of the disjointed, peevish, sophomoric, fingerprintless note belatedly "discovered" curiously tumbling in torn-up pieces out of Fosterís previously-searched briefcase, a note which Stewart, Wills, and the authorities choose to treat, without any foundation to date that would begin to stand up in court, as authentic.
Taking the known story-changer first, Ms. Thomases is the source of the indelicate and incredible new revelation in Stewartís book that the gentlemanly and very private Foster confided to her, of all people, when they were alone together of an evening in her O Street rooming house scarcely a week before his death, that he held his wife of more than 25 years and mother of their three children in virtual contempt. Do I exaggerate? This is straight from the book:
And they say itís the skeptics who donít care about the feelings of the Foster family.
The fact that Vincent Foster had to be savvy enough to realize how it would certainly be taken for him to run down his wife after nightfall in the privacy of another womanís boudoir, even if he didnít mean it that way, is reason enough to doubt firmly that this extraordinary conversation ever took place. The fact that Ms. Thomases neglected to tell the FBI about it when they interviewed her as a part of Robert Fiskeís investigation is another strong reason to doubt it. What she told her FBI interviewers is that she last saw Foster on the previous Wednesday or Thursday, about the time of the belatedly reported nocturnal tete a tete, but she believes they had lunch together with some other people. "She noted no change in his demeanor or physical appearance...His death came as a complete shock to her and she can offer no reason or speculation as to why he may have taken his life." And that would include marital difficulties, we must infer.
Their face-value acceptance of the torn-up note as the work of Foster is even more damning of both Stewart and Wills. Both quote from it to show how wrought up Foster was about the travel office mess. Anyone with an iota of skepticism in his makeup, in light of the way in which the note turned up and the quality of the text, would have been suspicious of it, and one would have hoped that would include the investigating police. Suspicions should have been heightened when no photocopy of the note was released to the public or the press and longtime Clinton associate and Foster family lawyer James Hamilton wrote Attorney General Janet Reno pleading that the original note be given to the family for sentimental reasons and praising her decision not to release photocopies.
A rigorous evaluation of the note by detached, dispassionate experts was certainly in order. So what did the Park Police do? They located an uncertified, now-retired sergeant in the Capitol Hill Police who claimed some skill in handwriting analysis and gave him one and only one putatively known sample of Fosterís writing for comparison. To absolutely no oneís surprise, he pronounced the note authentic.
In spite of the governmentís best efforts at suppression, an actual copy of the original note did eventually leak out to the Wall Street Journal, which published it. Strategic Investment newsletter then hired three recognized experts and supplied each with a minimum of 10 known Foster handwriting samples taken from Senate hearing documents on the case. On October 25 last year they held a news conference in a ballroom of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, and explained in great detail why each had independently concluded that the note was an obvious forgery.
In legal language, the finding of those experts now represents the best evidence as to the authenticity of the not-quite-suicide note. Iím sure that Professor Wills would reply that the newsletter involved is part of that ultra-conservative "Foster Factory," as the Wills-referenced March/April, 1996, Columbia Journalism Review called it, partly funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, who also supports the dogged reporter, Christopher Ruddy. Interestingly, the CJR, as much as it tried to give a sinister cast to Scaifeís activities, neglected to mention this finding or the funding of the handwriting experts, one of whom, Reginald Alton, professor emeritus of English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, is perhaps the foremost authenticator of literary manuscripts in the world. One can only suspect that they, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the major news magazines and broadcast networks chose to suppress this truly monumental news because they simply had no way to explain it away.
Finally, I would remind the historian, Wills, that it was, after the passage of several years, the revelation of the forgery of something called the Panizzardi letter that finally blew open the Dreyfus Affair in turn-of-the-century France. We hear it said in case after case that for there really to be a conspiracy and cover-up too many people would have to be in on it. I wonder if Professor Wills might hazard a guess as to how many score French officials and news people were ultimately in on the framing of Captain Dreyfus.
My "America's Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster," is available in five parts on my web site. Part 6, started in the wake of the news-suppressed amended complaint by the aggrieved witness, Patrick Knowlton, is in progress. The amendment, in which Knowlton adds autopsy doctor James C. Beyer and Deputy FBI Director Robert Bryant, among others, to the list of participants in the conspiracy to deprive him of his civil rights can be found at Knowlton.
We note in conclusion that the three federal judges who appointed him
ordered Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to include with his official
report on Foster's death a 20-page addendum written by Clarke . That
addendum, which can be found by scrolling to the
end of the Starr
demolishes Starr's conclusion of suicide, which no doubt explains why
news of its existence has been suppressed as well by America's
journalism community. With the "writers of the first draft of our
history" doing such a miserable job, maybe we should not be surprised at
the quality of the work of the historians themselves.
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