Said that he was the victim of "modern...


January 24, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

BOBBY RAY INMAN said that he was the victim of "modern McCarthyism."

Before that David Gergen said Washington had descended to "cannibalism."

Before that Vincent Foster said, "here ruining people is considered sport."

They were all talking about the press, but the fact is, as a general rule it is not the press that ruins people and eats adversaries.

Now, I'm not going to defend what William Safire wrote about Bobby Ray Inman. Some of it was pretty low.

I'm not going to defend the Wall Street Journal editorials about Vincent Foster. Some of them were unfair.

I'm not going to defend what the entire press corps of the nation, including yours truly, wrote or said about David Gergen's boss' sexual and financial activities. Some of it was voyeuristic and uninformed.

But -- let's keep all this in perspective. Let's keep in mind two important things. One: It has always been this way in Washington -- always, for over 190 years. And two: The press is not the group most interested in feeding on their foes and ruining people. Public officials are the real cannibals, the real ruiners.

"McCarthyism" is named after a senator, after all, not a columnist.

That would be Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, R-Wis., 1947-1957. His tactics in hunting and exposing Communists in government included smears and unsubstantiated assertions that destroyed the careers of numerous innocent people.

Joe McCarthy succeeded in his demagogy precisely because the press of the day felt obligated to report his reckless charges. Not to, of course would have been censorship and cited as

evidence that mainstream newspapers were a "pink press," as McCarthy liked to put it.

Maybe a man as sheltered from the Washington political storm for practically all of his life as was Vincent Foster truly believed what he said about the press, but Washington insiders like David Gergen and Bobby Ray Inman? Gimme a brake! I often think of Dwight Eisenhower when I hear even sensible, informed public officials playing "Beat the Press."

He entered politics from Bobby Inman's world -- high-level career military -- in 1952. On June 1 of that he returned to the United States from his NATO commander's post in Europe. The very next day he called on President Harry Truman. They talked politics.

Eisenhower's opponent for the Republican nomination was Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio. Eisenhower told Truman that Taft's people had been spreading rumors to the effect that his wife, Mamie, was a drunk, that Eisenhower was really Jewish, that he was having an adulterous affair with Kay Summersby, his wartime driver, and so forth.

He was troubled by this, but Truman, who knew how hot it can get in the political kitchen, told him, "If that's all it is, Ike, then you can just figure you're lucky."

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