The Press and the Death of Vincent Foster
I believe that...the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
Foster's attempt to seek legal help is described in more than 200 pages of Park Police and FBI reports into his death that have not yet been publicly released. ...those reports leave no doubt that Foster was suffering from a worsening depression....
of what happened in Fort Marcy Park on July 21 (sic) has remained secret. The
Park Police report has only been reviewed once, by the Daily News. But we are
now familiar with its specific conclusions. Investigators, who do not wish to
be identified, have been interviewed. This is the final report of their
official May 4, 1994, USPP report describes the eight scenes depicted in
[Park Police investigator] Rolla's [crime scene] photographs:
The most basic charge to be made against the American press in the coverage of the death of Vincent Foster is that it has not behaved as we should expect a free and independent and minimally competent press to behave. It has not demonstrated the curiosity nor the natural suspicion of even the average man on the street nor has it shown any resourcefulness at all in putting known facts together and making plausible inferences. Lacking the time or the means to gather the information for himself, the citizen is dependent upon the press to gather the information for him. This the press has simply not done. It has done virtually no independent investigation such as interviewing witnesses nor has it shown a fraction of the diligence of some few private citizens who have taken the time to look into the official record and report upon what they find. At best it has merely been a conduit for the executive branch's official announcements and conclusions; at worst it as been a cheerleader for and an embellisher of those conclusions.
When the information imparted by the executive branch has had inconsistencies and anomalies, it has made no effort to resolve them, or even to point them out. When witnesses have testified before Congress it has virtually ignored the proceedings, and it even has failed to do substantive reporting on such events as the press conference by the Justice Department, the FBI, and the United States Park Police on August 10, 1993, when the first official conclusion of suicide was announced or of the inclusion of the dissident witness's submission with the report of the Independent Counsel on Vincent Foster's death. In a word, America's press has not acted in this matter as though it felt any obligation at all to be of service to the public. Rather, it has acted little differently, on its face, from what one would expect if it were the official public relations department of the executive wing of the federal government.
The two newspaper quotes with which we begin this section are entirely representative. Reporter Michael Isikoff of first The Washington Post and then with the Post Corporation's Newsweek magazine may be described as the lead mainstream reporter on the Foster case. Five days before this article appeared there had been the above-mentioned joint news conference. The gathered journalists had not been told on what basis murder had been ruled out and no written substantiation for the suicide conclusion had been released. Furthermore, no indication was given of when or if any report would be released. Journalists were told simply that they could file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for any supporting documentation should they wish to see it.
America's news organs demonstrated total satisfaction with this conclusion announced as though by imperial decree. They did not clamor for a report substantiating the conclusion. They did not even report the fact that the Park Police and the FBI offered no real substantiation for their suicide conclusion and that there was no public report or any prospects for one in the foreseeable future. Rather, here we have The Post in its first Sunday edition after the official announcement telling us that reports that neither they (ostensibly) nor we have been able to see leave "no doubt" about a key disputed question in the case. This is press dereliction of responsibility to the public of the highest order.
Accompanying the Isikoff article on that crucial first Sunday after the authorities had, they hoped, laid the Foster death controversy to rest, was a massive, front-page 159-column-inch article by David Von Drehle, syndicated to newspapers around the country, whose purpose is indicated by its title: "The Crumbling of a Pillar in Washington, Only Clinton Aide Foster Knew What Drove Him to Fort Marcy." The article set the tone for virtually all that would follow in the American press. Dropping all pretense to objectivity, Von Drehle gives us nothing more than a serious sales effort for the tenuous thesis that Vince Foster killed himself because he was depressed. It is the prosecutor's case for the murder of Vince Foster by Vince Foster. The case for the defense is completely absent. Nowhere in the lengthy article, for instance, are we told about the withheld official report or that the authorities are not even allowing release of photocopies of the torn-up note attributed to Foster that belatedly turned up mysteriously. Freely drawing conclusions about Foster's state of mind as reflected in the uncharacteristically sophomoric and disjointed note, a note that had been supposedly found in a briefcase that had previously been thoroughly searched, Von Drehle also avoids any mention of authentication of the note's handwriting. We should not be surprised at his extreme public credulousness because, two Sundays before, this same reporter had contributed the rare opinion column entitled "The Muse in the News, I Confess--T.S. Eliot Matters More to Me Than the Thomasons" in which he told us that the Edward (sic, it's Edwin) Arlington Robinson poem, "Richard Cory," about a handsome and prosperous man who shoots himself to death for no apparent reason, told him essentially all he needed--and, by extension, all we need--to know about the Foster death.
From the quote of Mike McAlary of the New York Daily News we see that a full six months later there is still no public substantiation of the suicide conclusion. The American public is still being asked to take the public pronouncements on the death of this high-level government official essentially on faith. In that whole time no clamor had arisen from the American press for the substantiating report. Now, instead, Mr. McAlary, we are told, has been given the exclusive privilege of viewing the report and our faith in him is now to be added to our faith in the authorities. We are still not permitted to have faith in our own assessment of the supporting evidence. Once again, government service seems to have been substituted for public service as the standard for an American journalist..
Another four months will pass before roughly a hundred pages of raw police documents will be quietly released in the wake of the report by Special Prosecutor, Robert Fiske. They, and the fact that they contain numerous inexplicable and totally indefensible redactions will be completely ignored by the press. The press had already assured us that Fiske, whose report has a body of only 58 double-spaced pages, had told us all we needed to know and that he, as we had been assured before in the wake of the August 10, 1993, news conference, had laid the matter to rest.
Continuing into 1998, the game of using members of the Fourth Estate merely as press agents is still being played, although the example we use here is that of a book author as opposed to a reporter. Like McAlary, Dan E. Moldea is given exclusive access to police documents, in this case important crime-scene photographs, and this very vocal supporter of the official suicide conclusions implies that what they show is consistent with the official version of what happened, for if they were not, would he not have told us? In point of fact, it is very difficult to see how they could possibly support the official version. To do so they would have to show blood and brain matter sprayed on the ground, dried leaves, and foliage behind Vince Foster's head, bodily fluids that would have come spewing as though from a geyser out of the gaping inch by inch-and-a-quarter exit wound that the autopsy doctor says was in the crown of Foster's head. The witnesses who viewed the body that night agreed that there was no such blood or brain matter in evidence.
The larger question to ask of Mr. Moldea is whom is he serving here, the public or the government. Why does he join the government saying, "Trust us"? How much better and more trust-inspiring it would be if rather than saying, "I have seen the photographs and they show what they say it shows," he could say, "See, here are the photographs and this is what they show." The public should be trusted to make up its own mind based upon release of the evidence.
The Opening Stages
The first reports, repeated many times, were that Vince Foster's body had been discovered by an anonymous caller to 911 and that the death was being described by the U.S. Park Police as an "apparent suicide." From all the public was told by the media the only conceivable reason for the "apparent suicide" judgment was that a gun had been found in the hand of the victim. In that fact alone there was ample reason not to call it an apparent suicide. The press never told us that placing a gun in the hand of a murder victim is easy to do and is, in fact, often done by murderers staging a suicide to protect themselves and throw the police off the track. In almost all instances, when one shoots oneself in the head with a high-powered pistol the combination of neurological trauma and the recoil of the weapon will cause the gun to fly, sometimes several feet, from the hand. In point of fact, on Saturday, July 24, just four days after the death, The Washington Times, using Park Police spokesman Major Robert Hines as its source, said that "establishing the ownership of the handgun found near Mr. Foster's body remains a priority." (Emphasis added) Whether it was The Times or the Park Police who was being sloppy about just where the gun was is not clear. What is clear is that by Saturday, the press was mainly interested in just relaying the "apparent suicide" conclusion without being too concerned about conflicting details among the very few supplied to support that conclusion. Concerning the gun and the "suicide," here is what The New York Times had written just two days before:
The article then has some speculation about the criticism the White House and its legal office had been taking over the travel office firings and failed cabinet appointments, but concludes this way:
But the friends say that Mr. Foster, a seasoned litigator, would certainly not have been driven to suicide by either of these circumstances, which by Washington's low standards of civility were almost gentle.
Apparently some progress was being made in the high priority matter of the gun, but an astute press would have noted the fact that the police did not yet know that it was Foster's gun more than likely meant that it was not his gun. His entire immediate family was in town, which included his wife and three children, the youngest of whom, John Brugh, was actually not quite college age, though the other two, Vincent III and Laura were. One of his sisters also lived in Washington, DC, and the other had flown up for a pre-planned visit on the very day that he has chosen to commit his "apparent suicide." If determining the ownership of the gun was such a priority, one would have expected that that is virtually the first thing the police would have done. They would have asked the family; most importantly, they would have asked the two sons who would have been the most likely ones to have an intimate familiarity with any guns the father might have had. Hadn't they done that? Here is what The Washington Times tells us on Saturday, the 24th of July:
"Park Police investigators had many questions about Mr. Foster's final hours but deferred to his friends and family by delaying contacts with them until after yesterday's funeral in Little Rock."
Is it possible to imagine any death investigation anywhere in the country that would be done in such a casual way? Anyone in homicide work knows that the chances of solving the crime plummet if it is not solved within the first couple of days and that the most important people to talk to are those closest to the victim. Professionals in the news business know this, too, but here they merely report that the police aren't talking to friends and family until after the funeral and leave it at that. In fact, the widow, Lisa, the only immediate family member officially to be interviewed by the police, is not questioned until the 29th, nine days after the death. No editorials appear raising questions about this unconscionable delay..
The day after telling us that the authorities had said the death gun was a collectors' item and one of a matched pair, both of which were in their possession, we have the following, on July 23, from The New York Times:
In clarifying the account they had provided Wednesday, Federal officials said today that only one .38 caliber Army Colt revolver had been recovered in the case, not two. They said that the weapon, which was found in Mr. Foster's right hand, had been assembled from parts of two identical revolvers manufactured in 1913.
This is not "clarifying the account." This is changing the story. The previous story was specific enough about the existence of the second gun as to tell us that the authorities would not say where it had been found. The new description of the gun, furthermore, makes it all the more unlikely that this is the sort of collectors' item that this successful lawyer who made $295,000 the previous year would have had in his possession. This ancient, cobbled-together weapon bears the earmarks of the classic street drop-gun, ideal for planting in the hand of a shooting victim so that the shooter can claim self-defense--or that the death was a suicide.
The information trickling out about this high-profile case grew day-by-day more curious, but apparently not so to the press. Here we have the police not talking to the immediate family, and the gun, on the word of the police, being changed from one of a matched pair collector's item to a thrown-together apparent drop gun. There is no motive. The "suicide" is a complete surprise to everyone, but the police are, for reasons they will not say, 99 percent sure that it was a suicide, and that seems to be good enough for the press.
The strange failure to account for Foster's whereabouts between the time he ostensibly left the White House and the time about five hours later are remarked upon in the press, but nothing is done with this information. No editorial commentaries appear pointing out how curious this is if the official story is true. Foster was over six feet four inches tall and a handsome, striking figure, and yet he seems to have vanished into thin air after he left his office. No one else is reported to have seen him after he told his secretary that he would be back. The natural question to raise at this point is what does the video record say. Do the White House security cameras show him leaving the compound under his own power, either driving his car or walking, or did he drive out or walk out in the company of others? Establishing these facts with the video record would have probably been relatively easy, and these facts are absolutely crucial to the case. Yet no one in the press raised any question about the video record at the time, and to this day they have not.
The choice of a place to kill himself also seemed to attract no attention from the people in the news business. The nearest major facility to Fort Marcy Park is the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, a convenient landmark for locating the site, but that fact is never reported. The park is not scenic. It is preserved only for historical reasons. It is wedged between two busy highways and offers no view of the nearby Potomac River. Later the record reveals that no one knew of Foster ever having visited the place before, but the question is not even raised in the days after the death. The body could have gone undiscovered for days where it was said to have been found, on the back side of a berm at the most distant corner of the earthen works from the parking lot, more than two hundred yards away and mostly uphill. No reports from the site appear in the early days. On the 23rd The Washington Times had an Associated Press photograph with the caption, "A Civil War cannon in Fort Marcy stands near where White House aide Vincent Foster Jr.'s body was found Tuesday," but one gets the impression that they don't know precisely where because they don't describe it and the reader is given no sense of how hidden and obscure the site really is.
In their initial reports of the death, on the 21st, perhaps in order to better define in the public mind just who this little-known man is who has turned up mysteriously dead, both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal tell us that Foster, while at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, had "represented the interests of the powerful Stephens investment firm." The fact is never mentioned again. They are referring here to Jackson Stephens, owner of one of the largest investment banking firms outside Wall Street and the man credited in the book False Profits by Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Truell and writer Larry Gurwin with bringing the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to the United States. BCCI is the much under-reported largest criminal enterprise in history, which involved drug money laundering, the bilking of depositors and investors, and the bribing and corrupting of government officials around the world. Neither the Journal nor The Times saw fit to remind us of that fact, but the Journal did mention that Stephens's Worthen Bank of Little Rock made a large loan to the Clinton campaign in 1992 to get him over the hump of the New York primary. From False Prophets we learn that the Worthen Bank was jointly owned by Stephens and James and Mochtar Riady of Indonesia's Lippo Group, more recently in the news for illegal campaign contributions to the 1996 Clinton campaign and perhaps for serving as a channel for illegal influence by the government of China.
Perhaps our press kept the public innocent of knowledge of Foster's not too distant connection to some very large shady activities to prevent undue speculation about the reasons for his demise. Stephens, it should be mentioned, is also a major contributor to political campaigns. A similar figure with a connection to Foster is left out of the press's story entirely. The Washington Post reported on July 30, 1993, that Foster had spent the weekend before his death visiting, along with his wife and Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell and his wife on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the home of Michael and Harolyn Cardozo. Actually, The Post was probably aware but did not report that the host of that gathering was Harolyn's father, wealthy developer and Democratic Party official and major political contributor, Nathan Landow. On January 26, 1978, The Post had reported on a couple of investment ventures by Landow that involved, in one case, a member of the Gambino family and in another a member of the Meyer Lansky organization . The error by omission of The Post concerning the true host of Vince Foster's last weekend, once again, kept speculation from taking place, speculation that the people at The Post apparently deemed to be unhealthy. By choosing in this way what it considers suitable for public consumption, and when the unsuitable so often turns out to be intimations of sweeping, very high-level corruption, by, in effect, ruling whole areas of inquiry out of order, the press makes itself irrelevant to the pursuit of the truth. Hardly any motivation for suicide was anywhere in evidence, and by withholding vital information the press would simply not permit any speculation on possible motivation for murder.
Anonymous Sources and the Depression Story
Almost from the beginning small hints were dropped dissenting from the near universal agreement by friends and family that Foster was completely normal. First we have this from Ruth Marcus and Ann Devroy of The Washington Post July 22, 1993:
"Although White House officials said they saw few if any signs of emotional problems from Foster, others who were his friends described themselves as worried over his depression and anxiety. One Washington friend said, 'His friends could see his depression and his wife was terribly worried about it.'"
One can only wonder who these anonymous non-colleague Washington friends were who were so familiar with Foster's emotional state. He had hardly been in Washington long enough to make new friends in the city.
Then "childhood friend" Joe Purvis, from Arkansas, in the July 23 New York Times said Foster told him that he had lost 10 to 12 pounds. Nothing further is made of the matter in that article, however, which generally perpetuates the "complete mystery" interpretation of the death. Another Little Rock friend, Rose Law Firm partner Jerry C. Jones says in the article, "He absolutely loved his family. They were the center of his existence," suggesting that he would hardly leave them in so irresponsible and inconsiderate a manner.
The real blockbuster is the next day, Saturday, July 24, 1993, on the front page of The Washington Times. With this article and several that follow in various publications we see the press transformation: from being merely unprofessionally incurious and inept to being a conduit for anonymous sources, primarily sources promoting the thesis that Foster killed himself because he was depressed.
"Victim of Washington? Foster faced "hard times" in final days." That was the article's headline and it is peppered throughout with quotes from and references to an unnamed source "close to the Foster family" who is unequivocal about Foster's "depression." Interestingly, in the same day on the continuation page is an article about depression which concludes:
Clinical depression of the type for which D.C. Council Chairman John Wilson was being secretly treated before he hanged himself May 19 includes a range of symptoms that friends say never were seen in Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster. There apparently is no way to determine the condition's existence after death.
"His family says with certainty that he'd never been treated," White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said yesterday.
The reporter for the front-page article, Frank Murray, also went to the trouble of attempting to confirm the allegation of the anonymous source that brother-in-law, Beryl Anthony had been consulted by Vince about his depression.
"There's not a damn thing to it. That's a bunch of crap," Anthony responded, and immediately hung up the phone.
Taken all in all, the initial attempt by the anonymous source to plant the depression idea had been a failure. But on Wednesday and Thursday of the next week, July 28 and 29, the press would establish the depression story once and for all with reports of a couple of discovered notes.
On the 28th The Washington Post article written by Michael Isikoff begins: "White House officials searching the office of Vincent Foster Jr. last week found a note indicating the 48-year-old deputy White House counsel may have considered psychiatric help shortly before he died July 20 in what investigators have concluded was a suicide (sic), federal officials said yesterday." Neither the names of the officials who supposedly found the note nor are those who supplied the information identified nor is the number of names on the list of psychiatrists specified.
On the same day, Douglas Jehl had published a "Special to The New York Times" which reported as follows:
"...a document written by Mr. Foster that showed that he was considering seeking medical treatment for depression has been found, a person involved in the investigation said tonight. The existence of the document was first reported tonight by NBC News and later confirmed by the investigator who would not say where it was found or when it was written. The NBC account said it had been found in Mr. Foster's White House office.
Note that once again the source for the information is anonymous and once again it is reported that the note was found in Foster's office.
The next day Jehl has another "special" which fleshes out the story, saying "Federal officials said today that a piece of paper with the names of at least two psychiatrists had been found among Mr. Foster's possessions, but White House officials insisted that they had learned of the discovery only late last night."
Notice again that the sources are anonymous "federal officials" who seem not to be White House officials and that they say that the piece of paper has the names of "at least two psychiatrists." What's going on here? If they have the paper they should know exactly how many names are on it, not two or who-knows-how-many more. Perhaps they don't know if all the names are those of psychiatrists. In that case they should have simply said the list contained (blank) names, two of which have been confirmed to be psychiatrists.
The news on July 29 was dominated, however, by the story of the note discovered tumbling out of Foster's previously searched and thought-to-be empty briefcase. The Washington Post had the headline "Note Supports Idea that Foster Committed Suicide." Written on yellow legal paper, it had been torn into 28 pieces and not one of them, we are told, had been spotted by White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum when he emptied out and inventoried the briefcase in the company of several others on July 22. The promise of the headline is not delivered in the article nor in any article in the immediate days ahead. The text of the note is, for no apparent reason, not immediately released, allowing suspense to build. We are told that it is not exactly a suicide note, but it does reveal that Foster was quite troubled. Interest is cultivated in and attention drawn to the note and away from the curious handling of the case overall and its many anomalies. The press also makes much of the fact that there was reportedly a 30-hour delay by the White House in notifying the authorities of the discovery of the note, heightening the note's importance in the eyes of the public. Overlooked by the press is the fact that if the people at the White House had not wanted the public to know about the delay they could have easily withheld that information.
The Post's major front page article the next day continues the theme, but is packed with tantalizing information, and apparent misinformation, that has nothing to do with the note. Its title is "Handling of Foster Case is Defended" with the subtitle "White House Offers Explanation for 30-Hour Delay in Reporting Note." The fact that they continue to withhold the contents of the note seems to need no defense, and is not questioned. Most of the attention is directed to the delay in reporting the discovery of the note, the White House failure to seal off Foster's office after his death, and how unforthcoming the White House has been in allowing access to Foster's office and the documents therein. The changing story from a normal Foster to a depressed Foster is handled this way: "White House credibility has been called into question by a series of sometimes contradictory statements about the investigation and knowledge on the part of the president and others about Foster's mental state." Use of the term "Foster's mental state" leaves the impression that there was, indeed, something wrong with it and that everyone was for some reason not telling the truth when they indicated initially that there was nothing wrong with the man. Chief Robert E. Langston of the U.S. Park Police is used to burnish the impression with this follow-up quote:
"It's been hard getting some material out of them...a lot of political sensitivity has been brought into it.'" But, he said, his investigators now are "pretty well wrapping this up."
"The evidence led to the conclusion he was suffering from depression, he was dejected by his job."
"Langston said investigators had learned Foster was being treated by a physician in Arkansas and that some medication, believed to be an antidepressant, had been shipped to him. But he said it was unclear whether Foster had started taking the medicine.
No questions are ever raised by the press why it took so long for the fact of the alleged treatment of Foster by the Arkansas physician to come to light nor how this squares with the family previously saying "with certainty" that he was not being treated for depression. No one asks if there are long distance telephone records which would corroborate the medical consultation and prescription and none have ever been volunteered.
The article does apparently give some clarification to the "at least two psychiatrists" on the note previously mentioned. It says that there were two, Stefan A. Pasternack and Martin G. Allen, clinical professors of psychiatry at the Georgetown School of Medicine. "But Foster did not contact or visit either of them, 'And that's the tragedy of it all,' said Pasternack. 'This could have been prevented.'"
In this way a psychiatrist who knows nothing about the matter is, in so many words, confirming for the reader that it was, in fact, a suicide. Easily missed is the statement just above the doctor's quote that the list was discovered by Park Police in Foster's possession. Once again, someone should have raised some questions in the press, but did not. If the list was found in Foster's possession, why were we told by this same newspaper just two days before that federal authorities said it was found in his office, and NBC had said the same thing? And if the Park Police found the list in his possession when they were so desperately searching for anything that would suggest or confirm that this was, in fact, a suicide, why did it take them so long to bring this matter to light? Worst of all, Dee Dee Myers said in her press briefing the day before that there were three names on the list, and the final published note does indeed show three names, but the name not mentioned in The Post, that of Dr. Robert Hedaya, appears to have been written in a different hand from the other two.
The greatest unexplained misinformation in this article, however, is with respect to the activities of the police on the night of the death. It says first that..."Foster's widow, Lisa yesterday was interviewed for the first time by police." Further on we are presented with this statement:
Police who arrived at Foster's house the night of the death were turned away after being told Lisa Foster and family members were too distraught to talk. Investigators were not allowed to interview her until yesterday. "That was a matter between her lawyers and the police," [White House counselor David] Gergen said, and the White House "had no role in it."
This remained the official version of events, as far as the press was concerned, for exactly a year. On July 29, 1994, Park Police investigators John Rolla and Cheryl Braun testified before the Senate Banking Committee and described their visit to the Foster house that fateful night, a visit that lasted more than an hour, and The Post reported blandly the next day that they revealed nothing new. Of course, if the testimony of Rolla and Braun is true--and it is now corroborated by the sworn depositions and official reports of many others--the story told both by The Washington Post and The Washington Times in the first ten days after the death, that the police didn't talk to the family until after the funeral and that they were turned away from the Foster house was completely untrue. One can only wonder why the police would go to such an extreme as to tell such a major, verifiable lie, a lie which completely undermines their credibility in every other aspect of the case. (See "America's Dreyfus Affair, Part 6" for a possible solution to this mystery.)
Did the people at The Washington Times and The Washington Post know that they were perpetuating a lie of the first order concerning the police not talking to the family on the night of the death? The indications are that at least The Post people knew. In the days ahead with the text of the torn-up note still not released and the official verdict of the Park Police still not rendered, two noteworthy columns appear, both by reporters, not columnists, and both designed quite clearly to sell the suicide conclusion. The first is the "Richard Cory" column by Von Drehle, previously mentioned. The second, on August 5, was by usual CIA-beat reporter Walter Pincus, who reveals that he had managed to get quite close to Foster, having him over to his house for more than one dinner and meeting him several times for breakfast or lunch. Maybe he is the anonymous "Washington friend" to whom Devroy and Marcus refer in their July 22nd article, although there is always the possibility that an anonymous source was merely fabricated. The title of the column, "Vincent Foster: Out of His Element," captures the flavor of the piece. Pincus manages to become the first person to say on the record, for attribution, that he noticed that Foster was at least feeling rather low:
His composure sometimes broke when he would discuss what he considered wild assertions in one paper that would be denied but then picked up blindly by others. He would be amazed and extremely disturbed by the rumors that have accompanied his own suicide and found their way into print.
That no examples of such repeated wild assertions or printed rumors are cited or known to exist seem to trouble Mr. Pincus no more than the fact that Foster's "suicide" at that point is still only officially alleged. He also fails to explain what he means by "his composure sometimes broke." He concludes like this:
Near midnight that Tuesday at the Foster home in Georgetown, I sat in the garden with a few of his Arkansas friends for half an hour. They had stories about his remarkable life in Little Rock. We then all talked --with hindsight--about how he had taken on everyone else's problems in Washington. Each of us recalled how we had seen the little ways the pressure on him had shown through. But none saw any sign that he would take his own life because of them and so--much too late--each voiced his own guilt about having failed Vince when he most needed help.
So, reporter Pincus was at the Foster house that night. The police made the official death notification there and questioned people for more than an hour. He could not have failed to have known it. The Post was an almost certain party to this crucial lie.
One other major apparent lie embellishing the suicide-from-depression conclusion before the August 10 official announcement is worthy of comment. Sidney Blumenthal wrote in the August 9 issue of The New Yorker that Foster had lost 15 pounds. He gives no source for his information, and the 15-pound weight loss is later cited in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and many other places as clear evidence of Foster's depression. Later we learn through examination of the public record, that at a physical exam in Little Rock in December of 1992 he had weighed 194 pounds and that the naked body at autopsy, after having lost blood and drying out on a hot July day had weighed 197 pounds.
On August 10, 1993, Chief Langston of the Park Police, Carl Stern of the Justice Department, and Robert Bryant of the FBI held a press conference in which they officially announced that Foster died of a suicide. They presented no evidence and released no report. Reporters were told that if they want a report they must file a Freedom of Information Act request. None of this, save the suicide conclusion, was reported in the press. They also used the occasion to release the text of the note, and all the reporting was devoted to that. Each of the nine terse, unconnected items is chewed over, but the final line is the one that is really seized upon and trumpeted, "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport."
"See," the press so much as tells us, "the Pincus-Blumenthal-anonymous-source thesis is borne out. Foster couldn't stand the negative attention of Washington. It made him depressed and he killed himself. Furthermore, that's what the authorities have concluded. Now let's move on." There is no public questioning of the authenticity of the curiously-discovered and strangely-worded note. One has to obtain the transcript to find out that one reporter asked if the note had been authenticated. Chief Langston responds that it has been, though he doesn't say by whom or by what method, but he volunteers that the wife has said the handwriting was Vince's as well, as though she were an expert in such matters. There is no follow-up question. Not even a photo-copy is released to the public, "upon the request of the family." This curious and highly-suspicious development is not questioned and it is not reported, though the equally suspicious fact that the note had no fingerprints on it is reported, but nothing is made of it editorially.
On Sunday, August 15, The Washington Post had the long, previously mentioned summarizing, wrapping-up article by David Von Drehle. He lays out the suicide-from-depression thesis as though it were a proven fact, and all the changed stories and loose ends, including the fact that the Park Police have released no report and give no indication that they ever will release one, are simply ignored.
A week later, August 22, The New York Times does them one better with its syndicated article by its Washington correspondent, Jason DeParle. The title says it all: "Portrait of a White House Aide Snared by his Perfectionism" with the subtitle, "A Life Undone: A Special Report." DeParle tells us that his report is based upon "extensive" interviews with officials and with people close to Foster. "Some of them spoke about the situation for the first time on the condition of anonymity to correct what they called misleading impressions of earlier accounts." In other words, we are to forget the original story and are to believe the changed one, the one that stresses Foster's (thoroughly unproven) depressed mental state, built almost completely upon anonymous sources. DeParle even manages to give us, four years early, a look at the post mortem psychoanalysis that will dominate the final report of the Office of the Independent Counsel: "'This kind of perfectionism and purity is a kind of two-edged sword,' said Dr. Jerome Motin, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco and an expert on suicide." DeParle, too, leaves the loose ends hanging, seemingly perfectly content if no final report, including the autopsy, is ever issued by the Park Police.
Part I of the story line has, therefore, been developed within the first month, and it is primarily the construct of the national press. That line is that Vincent Foster's death was a pure and simple obvious suicide that any reasonable, normal, level-headed person should accept. Part II of the basic story line is that anyone who questions any part of the official version put out by the federal authorities and the derelict press can only be doing so either because he is somewhat mentally unbalanced, he is so unscrupulous as to exploit this awful tragedy for money through the sale of books and videos, or he is an extreme right-wing partisan undeterred by considerations of elementary decency. In due time the argument will be advanced that a number of official reports have been rendered concluding suicide, so that in itself should be enough to satisfy any legitimate skeptic, but that argument will ring hollow because the press seemed perfectly content from the beginning with an official suicide conclusion without even one published report to back it up, not even the most basic report of the autopsy doctor.
The next stage of the Foster saga begins on December 20, 1993, when The Washington Times reports on its front page that Whitewater documents were among the papers removed from Vincent Foster's office on the night of his death. This provided a rationale to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the financial chicanery that occurred in Arkansas while Bill Clinton was governor as well as to look into the Foster case. Reporter Jerry Seper claims as his source Park Police investigators, though this lacks credibility. The Park Police investigators had no way of knowing that any documents removed from the office were, in fact, Whitewater documents, and even if they had been permitted to see them, it is doubtful that at that stage of the game they would have known what they were seeing. From the looks of things, The Times was lending its services--as known "anti-Clinton" partisans--to give a pretext to appoint someone to provide cover for the eventual release by the Park Police of the key evidence in the Foster case. Ginned-up appearances to the contrary, keeping the lid on the Foster death scandal has been a bipartisan effort from the beginning right up to the present time.
Very close on the heels of the appointment of Robert Fiske as Special Prosecutor, we have the first report to appear in any newspaper that is critical of the official story and, not coincidentally, it is the first to be based upon the independent collection of evidence. That is the January 27, 1994, article by Christopher Ruddy in the conservative tabloid New York Post. The reporting of Ruddy, later that of the Englishman, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing for the Sunday Telegraph of London, and several new developments in the case, particularly those related to the lawsuit of aggrieved witness, Patrick Knowlton (more about him later), bring out another feature of the press in the Foster case. That is the massive suppression of news. Ruddy discovered from emergency workers George Gonzalez and Cory Ashford that Foster was found lying perfectly straight with his arms rigidly by his side and with virtually no blood and gore in evidence. Ashford, who helped put the body in a body bag said he didn't even see an exit wound, which should have been obvious if Foster had killed himself with a .38 caliber revolver fired deep in his mouth pointed upward into his brain. Ruddy also has experienced New York police sources who tell him that the snap judgment of suicide in such an instance is highly unusual and virtually indefensible.
The New York Times reacted to these startling new revelations by ignoring them completely. The Washington Post ignored them for a day and then had a short "rebuttal" article at the bottom of page 2 of the Metro section of its lightly-read Saturday paper. The title is "Doubts on Clinton Aide's Death Silenced," giving the impression that any final doubts about how Foster died have been put to rest, but in fact the doubts have suddenly been magnified while a couple of important eyewitnesses have been silenced. After the New York Post article had appeared, Gonzalez and Ashford had scheduled a news conference to answer questions, but it had been canceled by the orders of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department management. The article is mainly an attempt to explain the new revelations away. The writer manages to say, in passing, "Foster, who had been treated for depression before his death...," leading the reader to believe that whatever irregularity might have been in evidence at the body site was immaterial because this man obviously killed himself because he was depressed. At the time this was written the family doctor in Arkansas had not publicly confirmed any prescription of medication and to this day no hard evidence of the prescription has been produced. Eventually, the doctor claims to have prescribed a dosage of anti-depressant so small that it belies its name and is good only to combat insomnia. The Post claim also flies in the face of the initial denial "with certainty" by the family that Foster was being treated for depression.
But, worst of all for The Post, when it should by this time, more than five months after the death, have been excoriating the Park Police for not releasing their evidence, attempted to silence skeptics by relaying blatantly false information from the police, to wit:
U.S. Park Police officials said yesterday that there is "no doubt" that Foster committed suicide.
Maj. Robert Hines, the Park Police spokesman, said no ballistic test was performed on the antique 1913 revolver found in Foster's hand because a bullet was never found.
But Hines said an examination performed by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that residue in the bullet chamber during a test firing was identical to the residue in Foster's hand, indicating that Foster had fired the gun.
The conclusion was further supported by the autopsy, which found gun residue in Foster's palm.
Even if the residue on the hand had matched the residue in the gun barrel--and we have evidence that that would have been almost impossible--it would have proved nothing. It would have meant only that the gun that smudged the hand used a bullet with the same kind of powder as did the gun that was found in the hand. There are millions of such guns. And if Foster had residue on his palm rather than on the back of his hand, it is more likely that he was using the hand to attempt to ward off a gun rather than to fire one. We also knew by this time that the Park Police had concluded suicide officially before they had even test-fired the gun. More than ever a curious reader is made to wonder upon what basis suicide had been concluded, for it could not have been this, but not the credulous Post.
From this point on, having signaled that it would do almost anything to support and defend the official version of suicide, the press did so by periodically leaking information that tended to support the government, engaging in ever more egregious acts of suppression of news that conflicted with the official version or revealed that a cover-up was going on, and promoting and publicizing books that were not primarily about the Foster case but had important parts that bolstered the suicide story. The first and one of the most important of the leaks was to ABC News, a leak that was widely reported in other media. Shortly after his initial revelations, the reporter Ruddy had another article in which he claimed that crime scene photos had not been taken. ABC then produced a single photograph of a man lying on a bed of leaves with the man's thumb on the trigger. The gun is down by his hip, which, along with the hand and forearm, is the only part of his body visible. The narrator, Jim Wooten, tells us that the photograph also shows a pool of blood, but in the still photo reproduced from the screen later by Newsweek, The New York Daily News, and others, no such blood pool is evident. No sooner, then, than he had appeared upon the national scene, Ruddy had been undermined on national television. Later it would come to light that there was some truth to Ruddy's assertion in that the Park Police would claim that all the 35 millimeter photographs taken of the scene were somehow spoiled from underexposure and a number of the Polaroid photographs taken would inexplicably disappear.
On March 14 the Park Police chose the previously mentioned Mike McAlary of the New York Daily News to carry their message. The title is "The Unfostered D.C. Suspicions" with a subtitle "Aide's suicide is confirmed by heads-up cops." Like much that has gone before, it is largely based upon anonymous sources ("Investigators, who do not wish to be identified, have been interviewed.") and, like other supposed facts emanating from the Park Police, much of it is inaccurate or inconsistent with other reports of theirs. The main new revelation is that a maintenance worker who earlier had said he was told by a man in a white van that there was a body in the back of the park has changed his story and now admits that he discovered the body while drinking and goofing off at the park. That story never appeared before nor has it since in the official record.
The press begins its major news suppression after June 30, 1994, when it ignores the numerous inconsistencies in the case revealed in the Fiske Report. The Washington Post, in its complacent tone, speaks for them all when it says in its "news" story on the Fiske Report that those who would question his conclusion of suicide from depression are indulging in "conspiracy theories" or "talk show fantasies' and in its editorial it says that the report should "satisfy all but the most cynical partisans." One wonders if they had bothered to read it. Had they done so they would have noticed that the autopsy doctor reported powder burns on the soft palate in the back of the mouth but that Fiske's team of pathologists said, "There were no flame burns from the muzzle blast identified within the mouth, nor would injury of such type necessarily be expected." On the other hand, the pathologists said "The large quantity of gunpowder residue present on microscopic sections of the soft palate indicates that Mr. Foster placed the barrel of the weapon into his mouth with the muzzle essentially in contact with the soft palate when he pulled the trigger." The FBI lab working for Fiske, however, said "No ball-shaped gunpowder was identified on the tissue samples from the inside of FOSTER'S mouth, when examined at the Office of the Medical Examiner for Northern Virginia." However, they did find ball-shaped gunpowder on his eyeglasses which were found 13 feet below his feet (uprange).
Fiske's forensic medical experts explain powder burns on the index fingers of both of Foster's hands facing the thumbs near the webbing by saying that as he fired the gun his fingers were "in the vicinity of the cylinder gap" from which gases were expelled as the gun was fired. By such scientifically imprecise wording the doctors conceal the fact that the fingers of both hands would have had to have been on, or in front of, the, front cylinder gap when the gun was fired. This is an awkward, if not completely impossible, position from which to fire a gun if the trigger is to be pulled by the thumb. To get the leverage to pull the trigger with the thumb the hand, including the index fingers, must be wrapped around the butt, far out of the path of the gases coming from the front cylinder gap. It is consistent with the hands having been placed there to ward off a gun being held and fired by someone else at close quarters to the deceased, however.
These anomalies were not reported. Nor did the press report that blood tracks from the mouth had indicated that the head had assumed three different positions post mortem. The public was also not told about Fiske's admission of the failure of the 35-mm crime scene photographs. They also missed the biggest and most obvious inconsistency of all, which really does make one wonder if anyone at the newspapers had bothered to read the report. In the text, Fiske says that the autopsy doctor did not take any X-rays because the X-ray machine was not working. But on the autopsy's gunshot wound chart, Dr. James C. Beyer has checked that he did take X-rays. Later that summer at the nationally-televised half-day hearings conducted by the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Lauch Faircloth asked Dr. Beyer about that inconsistency. Beyer responded that he had filled out the entire gunshot wound chart in advance, prior to actually doing the autopsy, a really remarkable thing because that chart also catalogs all the wounds, including the powder burns on the soft palate of the mouth. Nothing of this exchange, of course, found its way into the press.
At this point, in fact, with the reporter Ruddy having been dismissed from the New York Post, bland uniformity had once again taken over U.S. news coverage of the Foster death. Here is the prototypical response of The New York Times:
The special prosecutor devoted nearly 200 pages to his review of an exhaustive investigation that he said left no doubt that Mr. Foster, a kindergarten classmate of the President's and former law partner of Mrs. Clinton, put a revolver in his mouth and took his life July 20, hours after he left his office in the White House West Wing.
Although the Park Police quickly concluded last year that it was a suicide, the death of the 48-year-old Arkansan has spawned theories so widespread and ugly that [White House Counsel Lloyd] Cutler went on today to express hope that "those rumormongers and those parts of the media that published their rumors will now let the Foster family rest in peace..."
--- Mr. Fiske found that Mr. Foster was "distraught" by critical editorials that appeared in The Wall Street Journal and "distressed" by criticism of the White House counsel's office in May after the dismissal of seven employees of the White House travel office.
Once again, the perspective is not that of the needs of the public but, in this long-awaited report on the investigation by Robert Fiske, the nation's "newspaper of record's" perspective is entirely that of the concerns of the White House. In fact, all the major themes are sounded. Principal emphasis is placed upon Foster's presumably disturbed mental state, with no suggestion of how weak the evidence is for such a conclusion. Authority is appealed to in the person of the Park Police and Special Prosecutor Fiske and his team. All those expressing the slightest doubt about the highly dubious conclusions of Fiske and the Park Police are vilified as "rumormongers" and heartless purveyors of ugly theories. Into the standard formula is mixed in some plain old misinformation designed to buck up the authority being appealed to. The Times simply takes Fiske's word for it that he has conducted an "exhaustive investigation" and implies that he has written a review of it that is more than 200 pages in length. In fact, he and his team wrote a 58-page, double-spaced report with numerous space-eating section breaks, a report that is further puffed up with 97 pages of the resumes of the doctors he hired to review the autopsy report and the psychiatrist who did a postmortem psychoanalysis. The report is further stretched by numerous appendices, but missing is any review of the initial work done by the police and the FBI, the work from which they jumped to their suicide conclusion. Also missing are the interviews of witnesses, including those of the police. None of this troubles The Times or any other newspaper. Rather, they bend over backwards to make Fiske's report seem to be a lot more than it really is. The Times, also prototypically, makes the importance of the matter and the controversy surrounding it seem to be a lot less than it really is by placing the story on page A10 and by adopting a "ho-hum," "routine-news" tone.
The press has also ill served the public in this case by failing to point out how crucial to the suicide conclusion is the work of the autopsy doctor, James Beyer, and how tainted is his record. It cannot be pointed out too much that Beyer's description of the wounds to Foster are completely at odds with what all the witnesses at Fort Marcy Park saw. Suppression of news in the Foster case extends critically to suppression of news about Dr. Beyer's previous work that would seriously undermine his basic credibility.
When, on November 11 of 1994, Unsolved Mysteries on NBC had a segment on the case of 21-year-old college student, Tommy Burkett, The Washington Times had the one and only story about the case that has run in a major American newspaper. In that case, Dr. Beyer had similarly ruled cause of death, which occurred on December 1, 1991, as a gunshot through the mouth and out the back of the head. The parents had the body exhumed and a second autopsy found that the young man had a broken jaw, a mangled ear, and numerous bruises and scrapes. The evidence strongly suggested a beating death. Burkett, his parents discovered through informants, had been doing undercover work for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Just as this Beyer-discrediting story has received virtually no coverage by the major press, so, too, has the story of 21-year-old Timothy Easley been ignored. In Easley's 1989 case, which the police ruled a suicide through stabbing in the heart, Beyer had not noted an obvious defense wound in Easley's hand, not unlike the powder burns on the index fingers that suggest Foster was trying to ward off an assailant. The parents did notice it at the funeral and photographed it. That caused the suicide case of the police to unravel and eventually Easley's girlfriend confessed to the murder.
In 1995, the suppression of the news on the Foster case became massive. In March, Miquel Rodriguez, the lead prosecutor for the Foster part of the Whitewater investigation for Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel who replaced Robert Fiske, resigned, apparently in disgust. His resignation was not reported. Before that, the press had undercut Rodriguez's efforts, with The Washington Times headlining a Scripps Howard story on its front page on January 6, just as he was beginning to call witnesses before a Washington grand jury, "Starr Apt to Second Ruling on Foster: No Link Found to Whitewater." Kenneth Starr, the article said, was going to conclude that Vincent Foster "committed suicide for reasons unrelated to the Whitewater controversy."
On October 22, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reported The Sunday Telegraph of London, that he had located Patrick Knowlton and that Knowlton had been outraged to discover that his witness statement to the FBI had been falsified in fundamental ways, completely changing its meaning. He had been adamant that the Honda he had seen in the Fort Marcy parking lot when he had stopped by to relieve himself around 4:30 pm had been an older-model rust-brown one, also with Arkansas plates, not the later model blue-grey Foster Honda. The FBI had tried hard to convince him that his eyes had fooled him. Failing in that, the FBI had simply changed his statement for him. He was unaware of the fact until the reporter had shown him the FBI report. He had also stated firmly that he could pick out from a lineup a suspicious-looking man who had eyed him from another car in the lot. The Fiske Report, which briefly mentioned Knowlton, though not by name, had left any mention of the suspicious man out, and the underlying FBI report had said that Knowlton had said he would not be able to recognize the man again. To emphasize the untruth of that FBI transcription, The Telegraph accompanied the article with a police sketch of the Hispanic-looking mystery man, based upon Knowlton's still firm recollection. None of these revelations made the mainstream U.S. press. Only Christopher Ruddy, by this time working for the small-circulation Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on the matter.
On October 26 Knowlton received a subpoena to appear before Kenneth Starr's Foster grand jury, and on that evening and the following one, he and his girlfriend received the harassment and intimidation on the streets of Washington that would, in time, move him to bring suit. Both Evans-Pritchard and Ruddy reported on the harassment at the time, but they were alone. This news, and the news of the hostile treatment Knowlton received by Starr's prosecutors before the grand jury, were essentially blacked out by the American press.
Simultaneously, another monumental development in the case was essentially ignored by the American press. In spite of the suspicious efforts of the federal government to keep it out of the public's hands, a pirated photocopy of the torn-up note said to have been found in Foster's briefcase had been reproduced on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Using that reprint and a dozen samples of known writings by Foster, Strategic Investment newsletter had commissioned three handwriting experts, most notable among them foremost literary manuscript authenticator in the world, Reginald Alton of Oxford University, to check the note for authenticity. On October 25 they held a Washington news conference in which they announced their unanimous findings that the note was a rather poor forgery. The Washington Times had a short article about it on an inside page and never mentioned it again, proceeding in its coverage of the Foster case, like all the rest of the U.S. news media except the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to continue to treat the note as completely authentic. USA Today made brief, front-page mention of the forgery assessment and it went out at the end of a late Associated Press wire story, but no affiliates are known to have picked up the story. Kenneth Starr's "suicidologist," Dr. Alan L. Berman, depended heavily upon the authenticity of this note for his determination of Foster's "depressed" mental state, and those dependent upon the American news media for their information would have no reason to doubt him.
Starr's investigation dragged on, and in October of 1996 it was once again a major revelation by Evans-Pritchard that is suppressed. Arkansas chief of security for the Clinton presidential campaign in Little Rock, Jerry Parks, had been murdered gangland-style in suburban Little Rock in October of 1993. That fact had hardly been reported in the national press. The case is still unsolved. In an October 6, 1996, article based on interviews with Parks' widow, Jane, and son, Gary, Evans-Pritchard revealed an apparent connection between the Foster and Parks deaths. Parks had received a phone call from a pay phone in Washington a night or two before he died, and Jane could tell that her husband was agitated that Foster was planning to turn over some sensitive files of some sort to Hillary Clinton. "You can't give Hillary those files, they've got my name all over them," she recalls hearing him say. Jerry had done covert surveillance of Bill at Hillary's request, said Jane, and he had had shadowy dealings with Foster as well, once returning from a trip to Mena airport with Foster with a Lincoln car trunk full of $100 bills. When Jerry learned of Foster's death he reportedly blurted out, "I'm a dead man." The article was ignored by the American press.
On November 12, 1996, when Patrick Knowlton unveiled his lawsuit for witness harassment, most of the major American media were present at the news conference, including the the major networks with their cameras, but the only thing that appeared in the press was a somewhat skeptical and inaccurate article on an inside page of The Washington Times. The paper has never referred to the suit again.
On July 17, 1997, the witness Knowlton and researcher Hugh Sprunt discovered in the National Archives the report of Medical Examiner Donald Haut, the only trained physician to look at Foster's body in the park on the night of the death. In the second page of the report he has written of a wound "mouth to neck.," and on the front page the "NECK" in "MOUTH TO NECK" has apparently been lifted off the page and replaced with the word "HEAD." This discovery, made just days after Kenneth Starr announced that he had concluded suicide, corroborated the eyewitness accounts of emergency worker witnesses. A press release was sent out announcing the finding, but, once again, the news was suppressed by the national media.
The dead hand of national news suppression became most complete and obvious when the letter of Knowlton's lawyer, John Clarke, to the three-judge panel that appointed the Independent Counsel was appended by order of that panel to the report on Foster's death released on October 10, 1997. The 20-page letter completely undercuts the official conclusion, trumpeted by the media throughout the nation, that Foster committed suicide. It would have been impossible for any reporter not to notice the existence of the addendum because it came shrink-wrapped with the larger document from the Government Printing Office. Yet, the entire national news media pretended that it did not exist. The Washington Post even went so far as to post the entire Starr Report on its Internet web site, that is, the entire report minus the addendum, which it falsely represented as the entire report.
Rather, something of a replay of the reaction to the Fiske report was performed. Kenneth Starr's suicide findings were universally hailed as the final and definitive word on the Foster case. Certainly the response, by this time, should come as no surprise since every time the government has reached this conclusion it has been accepted, regardless of the evidence, or lack of evidence, presented. Most recently, when Starr's spokesman announced his suicide conclusions on July 11, 1997, accompanied by an announcement that he did not know "when or if" the supporting report would be released, the press demonstrated complete satisfaction, giving the appearance that neither they nor we should care if any report were ever released. The Washington Times in its front page article merely provided support for Starr's conclusions with what it presented as a review of the case. To that end, it focused heavily upon the torn-up note which it attributed to Foster, emphasizing the last sentence, "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington." The Times seemed to have forgotten completely its earlier report on the findings of the three handwriting experts that the note was a forgery.
Nothing was made of the fact that it had taken the Starr team more than four years to reach their conclusion and that the conclusion depended as much as ever on a psychologist willing to stick his neck out and make a post mortem psychoanalysis based upon what we have seen is extremely shaky evidence. This time it is "suicidologist" Dr. Alan L. Berman who declares "to a 100 percent degree of medical certainty the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide." Nowhere in the press was it noted that Berman's report, from which Starr quotes liberally, as well as the reports of the other experts he draws upon, including a new handwriting expert, are all kept secret. The findings of the handwriting expert, in fact, were completely ignored by the press because to acknowledge his work would be to acknowledge that the authenticity of the torn-up note had been contested and that the press had suppressed that news.
One difference from the aftermath of the Fiske report is that this time it is the "conservative" news organs that take the lead in defending the government. "Starr probe finds Foster killed himself. New evidence of his depressed state offered," said the lead headline on The Washington Times. Three days later a Times editorial entitled "The Starr report on Vince Foster" begins this way, "Three months ago, the office of Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr announced it had reached the unsurprising conclusion that Vincent W. Foster Jr. killed himself in July 1993. This week's release of Mr. Starr's 114-page report on the death provides exhaustive and incontrovertible evidence supporting that conclusion." After laying out Starr's evidence the editorial concludes, "All of this led the team of experts--in fact leads anyone--to the inescapable conclusion that Vincent Foster was not murdered elsewhere and moved to Fort Marcy Park wrapped in a carpet or anything else. In the depths of despair, he took a gun from his home, went to the park and shot himself in the head."
They know, of course, that the evidence is not incontrovertible and the suicide conclusion is not inescapable because they have in their possession the Clarke/Knowlton comments which were appended to the report, a fact that they, like every other newspaper in the country, carefully kept away from their readers. Such thoroughgoing suppression permits The Washington Post to conclude its page A4 article on Starr's report with the following uncontested quote from Deputy Independent Counsel Jack Bennett, "The report that was made public today reflects the culmination of a careful and exacting investigative process. The report should answer all reasonable questions about whether and where Mr. Foster committed suicide."
The suppression also makes possible the following observation by Micah Morrison on the "conservative" editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Starr's refutation has unleashed a torrent of criticism of Mr. Ruddy, especially from conservative magazines anxious to divorce themselves from allegations of conspiracy-mongering."
"The personal tragedy of Mr. Foster's death was compounded more than anything else by the massive failure of the initial investigation. That failure has been belatedly but persuasively corrected by Mr. Starr's painstaking efforts: instead of arguing with the Starr report, Christopher Ruddy and the like should take it as a tribute to their insistent questioning."
By the time Starr had rendered his long-awaited judgment on the Foster death, his reputation had been well-established in the press as a hard-bitten conservative Republican who would do almost anything to bring down the Democratic President Clinton. That gave his conclusions on Foster enhanced credibility, serving as a good substitute for persuasive evidence, and having well-known conservative publications take the lead at this point in attacking the most prominent critics enhanced the desired effect further. Christopher Ruddy was the preferred whipping boy. Those who took him on in the wake of what they treated as Starr's "definitive" report were the Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, National Review; and the conservative publisher, Regnery, came out in 1998 with two books that toe the government line on the Foster case to go along with their Gary Aldrich book of the same type. As a group these Regnery books tend to neutralize the effect of Evans-Pritchard's explosively critical 1997 book, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, which they had also published.
The Regnery book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, by Ann Coulter in its chapter entitled "Fostergate"simply cites Starr as definitive in the Foster case, invoking no evidence. The chapter is just about the irregularities in the handling of the documents in Foster's office and the uncooperativeness of the White House staff with the investigation. The other book, A Washington Tragedy, by Dan E. Moldea, on the other hand, is devoted exclusively to the Foster case. Curiously, it has received virtually no publicity. Perhaps that is because it is impossible to devote an entire book to the Foster case, as much as the author's intent may be to support the government's conclusions, without revealing a good deal of evidence that undermines it. He reveals, for instance, that Patrick Knowlton has stood firm on his testimony that the car he saw in the Fort Marcy parking lot at a time when Foster was lying dead in the back of the park does not fit the description of Foster's car, and Moldea reveals further that Knowlton is well-supported by other witnesses. Unlike the press, he also reveals that the judges' panel ruled over Starr's objections that the Clarke/Knowlton letter "be made part of the record," but he exposes his intent by failing to tell the reader about the powerful evidence contained in "Knowlton's statement."
Taking another example, Moldea tells us that Detective Pete Markland, who was present at the White House when Foster's briefcase was emptied out and inventoried, is completely unbelieving when he hears that it is being claimed that 27 pieces of a torn-up legal sheet have been discovered in the bottom of that briefcase. "Bullshit! Either it didn't come out of the briefcase, or Nussbaum was lying that he didn't see the note," Moldea quotes Markland. If the story about the discovery of the "suicide" note is a fabrication, it is highly likely that the contents of the note are as well. Concerning the note's authenticity, Moldea cannot escape telling us that three handwriting experts had found that it was a forgery, and that one of them was noted literary document authenticator, Reginald Alton, of Oxford University. He then attempts to impugn Alton's motives by quoting his observations on the apparent breadth of the scandals around Bill Clinton, from an interview with a British newspaper. The careful reader will notice that Alton is simply passing along what he had been told by people he met in the U.S. well after he had made his handwriting evaluation. The handwriting examiner, Gus Lesnevich, who declared the note authentic in a secret report for Kenneth Starr, Moldea describes as "a respected independent expert who had served in the Questioned Document Section of the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division and later the Secret Service."
Finally, one of the curiosities of the body scene is that none of the witnesses present at the park saw any blood spattered on the foliage near Foster's head, something one would have certainly expected if there were a one by one-and-a-quarter inch exit wound at the back of the head. Dr. Henry Lee, on the other hand, working for Starr claims to have seen on the Polaroid crime-scene photographs "reddish-brown, blood-like stains...on several leaves of the vegetation in this area." In an endnote, however, Moldea notes, "USPP Investigator Renee Abt told me that she, along with other investigators at the crime scene, had specifically examined the foliage around Foster's body for blood but found none. However, Abt, a gardener, did observe minuscule raised brown spots on the leaves, which she described as 'leaf disease.'"
Otherwise, Moldea follows the standard format of the press. He places greatest stress upon Foster's presumed "depression," he imbues in the government officials and the mainstream press an authority which he treats almost as a substitute for persuasive evidence, and he strongly implies that all doubts emanate from what Hillary Rodham Clinton has called a "vast right-wing conspiracy," funded primarily by Richard Mellon Scaife, or from assorted screwballs.
That leaves us with a brief survey of the vigorous defense of the Starr report and attacks on the critics, always called "conspiracy theorists" or worse, by the various conservative publications mentioned. Here's Byron York in the October 27, 1997, Weekly Standard, characterized as an investigative writer for The American Spectator:
Of course, there was a cover-up in the Foster case; it just had nothing to do with the manner of his death.... "Ultimately," says the source, "the actions taken by White House personnel in the aftermath are not inconsistent with suicide."
What happens now? There is no doubt conspiracy theorists will cite plenty of reasons to reject Starr's conclusions. For example, they have already begun to complain about Starr's treatment of Patrick Knowlton, a motorist who says that on July 20 he stopped in Fort Marcy Park to relieve himself and saw a man in a car who stared at him menacingly. Knowlton believes this man was connected to the Foster case. But Starr found no other evidence to support Knowlton's story, and the report mentions the incident only briefly.
But the conspiracy theorists have other reasons to dismiss the Starr report--reasons that have little to do with the investigation itself. In Ruddy's case, he now has a book to sell; it is unlikely he will suddenly concede that its premise is wrong. In addition, he writes about Foster for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the newspaper owned by conservative millionaire and Foster skeptic Richard Mellon Scaife....
It seems unlikely that Kenneth Starr's report—and the extensive, carefully analyzed evidence behind it--will stop such campaigns. Judging by their writing, speeches, and fund-raising appeals, the conspiracy theorists simply have too much invested in their murder scenarios to conclude that the evidence proves them wrong. But in the end, it does just that.
Please notice that York's confident public conclusions depend upon a willful misrepresentation of the full experience of Patrick Knowlton and the secure knowledge that the addendum to Starr's report has been suppressed.
Here is media critic, John Corry, in the December, 1997, issue of The American Spectator, the most virulently anti-Clinton mainstream magazine in the country:
The Fancifulness Knows No Bounds.
As the Washington Times said, Starr's report provided "exhaustive and incontrovertible evidence" that supported his findings, including "overwhelming physical evidence, examined by an impressive team of highly experienced law enforcement officers and scientists...that clearly puts to rest various controversial non-suicide theories of Mr. Foster's death.
Obviously what the Washington Times thought exhaustive and incontrovertible, the partisans did not. The DNA tests did not matter; neither did the gunshot residue found on Foster's right hand, nor the gunshot residue found in his mouth. Moreover, Starr, by any reasonable standard, had established that Foster had owned the revolver that had been found in his hand, and as his report said, "Virtually all theories that the manner of death was not suicide rest on an assumption that the gun did not belong to Mr. Foster." After all, if the gun did belong to Foster it was hard to imagine how his killer or killers might have gotten it, or else accosting him when inexplicably, he just happened to be carrying it around Washington.
Mr. Corry is an easily persuaded man. The FBI had to show Lisa Foster a silver gun and tell her that that was the gun that was found in her husband's hand to get her to say that the black gun that they actually found, the untraceable old relic made up of parts of two different guns, belonged to Vince. But The American Spectator and The Washington Times and Kenneth Starr, to whose authority Corry appeals, have all established a partisan, Clinton-opposing reputation, so if they say that the Foster death is a suicide, surely they must be believed.
Finally, illustrating most poignantly for our purposes the symbiotic way in which the press has worked with the government authorities in this case, and demonstrating what they hoped to achieve when those who harassed Patrick Knowlton performed their intimidating acts, we have the following two articles. In the first, the writer for the "liberal" Newsweek, Michael Isikoff, is given the "conservative" Weekly Standard as a platform to write his review article entitled, "The Secret Life of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard--A British Reporter's Conspiracy Compendium."
Chapters eight through fifteen make the case for the murder of Vincent Foster.... The willingness of some conservatives to believe the most ridiculous things...Whatever the explanation for it--blind hatred, boredom, the perverse influence of Oliver Stone....
Evans-Pritchard's work, such as it is, consists of little more than wild flights of conspiratorial fancy coupled with outrageous and wholly uncorroborated allegations offered up by his "sources"--largely a collection of oddballs, drug dealers, prostitutes, and borderline psychotics…
Subtitling his book "The Unreported Stories," Evans-Pritchard depicts the mainstream media as spineless lapdogs....
Back in Washington, Evans-Pritchard breaks one of his big stories: Patrick Knowlton, a construction worker who stopped to urinate at Fort Marcy Park on the afternoon of Vince Foster's death and--here's the key part--recalls seeing a mysterious "Hispanic-looking" man lingering around the parking lot. No sooner has Evans-Pritchard popped this bombshell in the Telegraph than, Knowlton reports, menacing-looking men in business suits begin following him and staring really hard at him: Brushing into him and circling "like hyenas," they fix him "with the look of death."
But for the moment I prefer my own conspiracy theory: Evans-Pritchard doesn't believe a word he has written in The Secret Life of Bill Clinton...designed to discredit critics of the Clinton White House by making them look like a bunch of blithering idiots.
We should note that unlike Ambrose-Pritchard's sources, Isikoff's source for the news that the list of psychiatrists was found in Vince Foster's office was anonymous, and that when John Clarke invited him to interview Patrick Knowlton he declined, saying that though he believed Knowlton, neither he nor any other mainstream journalist would write about his experience because it "raises more questions than it answers." One might also question why a journalist, who, from the beginning of the case has shown such an unprofessional lack of independent inquisitiveness, should find it necessary to write with such steaming vitriol about a journalist who hasn't.
Then there is the review of Christopher Ruddy's book by American studies professor, Jacob Cohen of Brandeis University, that appeared in National Review.
To this reader, nothing better illustrates Ruddy's fanciful susceptibilities than his discussion of one of his favorite witnesses, Patrick Knowlton, who claims that he came to the park at 4:30 on the afternoon of July 20 to relieve himself, and at that time saw in the parking lot a brown Honda with Arkansas plates. Today, Knowlton is furious that official reports suggested that the brown Honda with Arkansas plates that he saw was actually Foster's grey Honda with Arkansas plates.
He insists that a very sinister-looking man was hovering around the parking lot and may have monitored his peeing. Was that man, Ruddy wonders, a look-out protecting the killers as they deposited Foster's body? Perhaps, but Knowlton seems to have a penchant for seeing the sinister in the glances of those he meets. He is now a regular at meetings of Foster Disbelievers, claiming that he has been the victim of a massive campaign to frighten him into changing his testimony. Mysterious cars follow him, he says. Carefully organized teams of men constantly pass him and his girlfriend on the street, giving them very menacing stares. Apparently, they are present during every walk Knowlton takes, so that any experimental stroll will reveal them. One wonders, is there a school that teaches federal agents this methodology of intimidation?
Nowhere in his article does Cohen mention Knowlton's lawsuit, but with this passage he illustrates better than anything we have seen why the suit was so important. With the entire American press, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and both major political parties in full blatant collusion to conceal the truth about Vincent Foster's death, the lawsuit would have been the only remaining official means for revealing it.
May 25, 2002