Eric Boehlert’s not-to-be-missed-subscribe-now-ya-bastids Press Run newsletter on Wednesday went long on an element of the Nikole Hannah-Jones story that had eluded me.
Critical to the backlash against Hannah-Jones’ appointment at the University of North Carolina was a wealthy donor named Walter Hussman, who has given the university enough cay-sh to get the journalism school there named after him. This is bad enough but, as Boehlert points out, Hussman was intimately connected to the fundamental seedbed of all the multi-megaton crazy currently detonating all across the landscape — the conservative campaign to delegitimise President Bill Clinton, which culminated in the Great Penis Hunt of 1998 and the first presidential impeachment since the one they dropped on Andy Johnson. From Boehlert:
You know who probably wasn’t surprised by Hussman’s meddling in the hiring of a prominent black journalist and consequently damaging the reputation of a journalism school? Bill and Hillary Clinton. For years they tangled with Hussman’s conservative Arkansas Democrat, which later took over a more liberal rival to become the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Hussman’s family bought the Arkansas Democrat in the 1970’s and he was installed as publisher at age 27, so that’s his journalism resume.)
According to Arkansas newsroom veteran Max Brantley, Hussman’s daily had been “incredibly critical of Bill Clinton.” Clinton himself agreed, once telling biographer Taylor Branch that the newspaper had been his "chief tormentor for decades,” concocting “Faulknerian plots” of intrigue about him and his family. And it was the paper’s editorial page editor who first dubbed Clinton “Slick Willy,” a moniker the right-wing media relished for years.
More recently, Douglas Blackmon, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who once worked for Hussman’s daily, called out the publisher for being a cog in the right-wing noise machine. “Hussman’s family bought the dying Arkansas Democrat in the ’70s & installed him as boy-publisher, still in his 20s,” Blackmon tweeted. “He hired extremist conservative editors who made war on the truth, and in the 80s begin spinning bogus ‘Whitewater’ conspiracy tales about Bill & Hillary Clinton.”
When people express amazement at How We Got Here, and especially when that sentiment comes from Never Trumpers who were involved in the Clinton-era ratfcking, and that includes reporters who lapped up dark tales from every state house poolroom liar in the state of Arkansas, point them back down to the beginning of the long road they’ve walked since 1992. Everything that amazes them now was present in its advanced larval stage back then.
At the root of this was the unspoken conviction on the part of influential Republicans that no Democratic president would be allowed to exercise the full power of the office and that, therefore, no election of a Democratic president needs be accepted as legitimate. It’s now a topic of mannered horror among Republicans that Mitch McConnell now has expressed his disinclination to allow Democratic presidents to govern twice in a row. Where were these people when Bob Dole greeted Bill Clinton’s election by telling the country that he had been elected by the people who hadn’t voted for the winner? From The New York Times:
Bob Dole, the Senate's Republican leader: ". . . 57 percent of the Americans who voted in the Presidential election voted against Bill Clinton, and I intend to represent that majority on the floor of the U.S. Senate.” Mr. Dole later softened his tone. But why so rancorous in the first place? Why so instantly obstructionist -- particularly when Americans have had their fill of divided government, and when Mr. Clinton's programs have yet to see the light of day?
Why? Because the prion disease had taken hold and was beginning the cascade that reached flood stage down an escalator in Manhattan in 2015.
And not only did nobody pay a price for changing American politics this way, they absolutely prospered. If it weren’t for this style of politics, Newt Gingrich would be flunking sophomores at some backwater college in Georgia. The same tactics worked against Al Gore in 2000, and against Hillary Clinton in 2016. (This was proof enough that the elite political press had learned nothing, either.) And the home turf ratfckers from Arkansas are rich enough to buy journalism schools and blackball Pulitzer Prize winners for telling the truth. It never ended. It blossomed.
Which brings us to another jaunt forward…into the past. On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit ruled against the Food and Drug Administration in a case involving a treatment centre here in the Commonwealth (God save it!) that is still using electric shocks to treat severely disabled children. The FDA banned the devices back in 2020, and the court on Tuesday overturned the ban. The judge who wrote the opinion was federal Judge David Sentelle, and here’s where the video gets all wavy and doesn’t clear itself again until it’s…1987.
It was Sentelle, appointed by President Ronald Reagan to replace Antonin Scalia on the D.C. Circuit, who overturned the Iran-Contra convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter and who worked tirelessly to obstruct I-C special counsel Lawrence Walsh. Since then, Sentelle, a North Carolinian whose political patrons included the late pathogen Jesse Helms, has hewed closely to the line of conservative hackery. In 2013, he ruled against the Obama Administration’s recess appointments to fill empty seats on the National Labor Relations Board. But in terms of our topic under discussion, David Sentelle’s masterpiece came in 1994, when he played a key role in inflicting Kenneth Starr upon the Republic.
The original Whitewater special counsel, Robert Fiske, was prepared to chuck the entire Whitewater matter into the Tidal Basin. That simply would not do for the Republicans who saw the investigation as an invaluable tool in hamstringing a Democratic president whom they declined to believe was legitimate. So, on July 14, 1994, Sentelle, who in those days headed the three-judge panel charged with overseeing the special-prosecutor statute, had lunch with another of his political patrons, Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina. Not long after that, Fiske was out and Starr was in and the Great Penis Hunt was on. The special prosecutor’s office was completely weaponised; Starr even investigated poor Vince Foster’s suicide again, at the insistence of a young lawyer in his office named Brett Kavanaugh. And David Sentelle is still on the federal bench down the block. Nothing ever dies any more, and anyone who wonders How We Got Here is a liar or a fool.
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