Remember hearing about how Bill Clinton and his merry men trashed, vandalized and otherwise debased the White House when the torched was passed to Dubya and his keepers? The stories splashed across the airwaves in January and were horrific; pornographic materials left in the printers, phone lines cut, crude messages left on answering machines, drawers and cabinets glued shut, aides had even removed all of the "W's" from computer keyboards. Air Force One had been looted. Conservative pundits and national media stars had a field day cluck-clucking about how this reckless destruction of public property was just the final touch -- proof, really -- of a truly morally bankrupt presidency.
Too bad for them it wasn't true.
On May 17, the General Services Administration reported that little if anything out of the ordinary occurred during the Clinton-Bush transition.
And now, the Washington media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in the Media (FAIR) wants viewers and readers to demand that major news organizations conduct self-examinations and determine why anonymous reports backed with no evidence became a major focus of their presidential transition coverage.
FAIR noted that "ironically, the [GSA] investigation came in response to a request from Rep. Bob Barr (R.-Ga.) and many conservatives who had assumed that the wild rumors would be confirmed by an official inquiry. That wasn't the case."
This week, FAIR took aim at a number of pundits. Here are a few snippets of how the story was initially reported:
TV Anchor Brit Hume: "The Washington Times reports that the presidential 747 that flew Bill and Hillary Clinton to New York on inauguration day was stripped bare. The plane's porcelain, china ... and silverware, and salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases, nearly all items bearing the presidential seal, were taken by Clinton staffers who went along for the ride."
Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity: "Look, we've had these reports, very disturbing reports -- and I have actually spoken to people that have confirmed a lot of the reports -- about the trashing of the White House."
TV Anchor Bill O'Reilly: "I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that's a felony right there."
Oliver North, talk radio host: "There's an awful lot about this whole administration that never looked right to many of us. And of course, their closing act in this whole thing ... We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House."
Tom Schatz, Citizens Against Government Waste: "They turned it into Animal House."
TV Anchor Paula Zahn: "This is the White House, for God's sakes. We're not talking about people living in a fraternity."
Syndicated columnist Tony Snow wrote that the White House "was a wreck" and that Air Force One "looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves -- or perhaps wrecked by a trailer park twister."
FAIR noted that while many of those news organizations offered brief coverage of last week's GSA's findings -- that the Clintons did not trash the White House -- the pundits consistently failed to disclose their own earlier roles, trashing the Clintons.
On Monday, as the Colorado legislative special session on growth planning ended in a stalemate, House Speaker Doug Dean immediately attempted to spin the failure onto the Democrats.
"At the beginning of the special session, the [Democratic-controlled] Senate drew a line in the sand," said Dean, who didn't mention that the House's idea of growth planning was to give their developer pals the moon. "It appears that line has now become the Grand Canyon. This is truly a shame and the people of Colorado are the big losers."
Some, however, believe that Dean is a big loser. Last week, the Speaker, a Republican who represents Colorado Springs but lives in Denver, found himself at the receiving end of a litany of nasty name-calling related to his very public break-up with his girlfriend. Lobbyist Gloria Sanak obtained a restraining order against Dean -- and later dropped the complaint -- after he broke into her home with a screwdriver and subsequently chased her down the street in the middle of the night as she sought refuge at a neighbor's house. On Thursday, May 17, the Rocky Mountain News conducted an online readers' poll to see what they thought of Dean's assertion that the incident was a personal matter. Readers overwhelmingly opined that not only was the matter rightly public, but they believed Dean should have been arrested for the break-in.
"Dean is a sleezoid. He passes himself off as Mr. Family Values and Mr. Morality, but in real life, he's neither," wrote one unidentified reader. "If Clinton is unfit for office, so is Dean."
Out of the mouths of "anonymous." Ouch.