Media hyprocrisy

April 05, 1994|By Mona Charen

ONE great casualty of the Whitewater scandal may be the presumption of Democratic rectitude, from which undeserving pols have benefited for too long. The unwritten assumption in the press has been that Democrats, who so often receive backing from unions, environmentalists and other opponents of business interests, must themselves be untainted by money or the pursuit of it.

It was always an absurd belief. The lure of lucre knows no party, and money is green whether it comes from the AFL-CIO or Exxon. Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright, a Democrat, was forced from office for a sham book-selling arrangement. His deputy, Tony Coehlo, resigned rather than answer questions about his ties to corrupt savings and loans. Rep. Fernand St. Germain was forced from office for multiple ethical lapses.

But now that the Democratic first couple themselves have been shown to be eager (shall we say greedy?) for financial as well as political prizes, the lesson may be driven home at last: Democrats love money as much as Republicans do. They're just more hypocritical about it.

How devastating to the carefully crafted image of policy queen and righteous debunker of the 1980s is Hillary Clinton's foray into cattle futures. Isn't this the woman who said that the trouble with our health-care system is that "too many people are making too much money." Cashing in on pork bellies? How capitalistic!

There is a great deal of speculation that Mrs. Clinton may have profited improperly in these trades, and it is known that her broker had his license suspended for favoring some clients over others (winnings go to Ms. X, losses to Mr. Y). Still, it is possible that she did nothing wrong.

Except one thing. Almost none of the activities Mrs. Clinton has been revealed to have taken part in as a private lawyer pass the informal "Would you do it?" test. She permitted a high official of Tyson Foods, which stood to gain a great deal from her husband the governor, to give her investment advice.

Did that create a presumptive debt on the part of the Clinton family? Would you do it?

According to a lengthy report in the New Republic, she used the private plane of a convicted drug dealer more than once. Would you do it? She benefited financially from business created for her firm by acts her husband took as governor.

Would you do it?

She reportedly took her draw as a partner in the Rose Law Firm in 1992 to avoid being taxed at the higher rates her husband was going to pass into law in 1993. Would you do it? She was part of an investment partnership that shorted certain health-related stocks just before she and her husband publicly attacked the pharmaceutical companies and drove down their stock prices (for no significant profit to her, as far as I know). But would you do it?

Until now, the Clintons were objectionable because of their zeal to enlarge an already obese government. Now they look unscrupulous and a little tawdry for their willingness to use government positions to enrich themselves.

Still, it would be nice to think that now we could somehow come to a truce in the bloody sport of scandal mongering that grips our national life so frequently. I don't particularly want to see the Clinton presidency crippled by Whitewater. I would like to see it crippled by other things -- like the horrendous health care proposal, or the conduct of Joycelyn Elders, or its fumbling foreign policy.

But I cannot contain a certain exasperation as I watch members of the press wring their hands over the handling of the Whitewater mess when no such pangs of conscience disturbed their sleep as Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Ed Meese, Carol Ionnone and scores of other conservatives were being pilloried. The Washington Post is now sitting on the story of Paula Jones, who alleges that she was sexually harassed by Bill Clinton in 1991. Indeed, a Post reporter was suspended when he objected to his story being spiked. Would the Post display such fastidiousness if the accusation were about Jesse Helms?

The Clintons are being revealed as world-class hypocrites, but theirs is not the only hypocrisy on display.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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