Fox News host Howard Kurtz offered an erroneous defense of the flawed 1992 New York Times story that is widely credited for sparking the Whitewater investigations.
During the 1990s, Hillary and Bill Clinton were extensively investigated for their role in Whitewater -- a land deal gone awry in the 1970s and 1980s -- but all of the probes determined that no wrongdoing occurred on the part of the Clintons.
The impetus for national interest in Whitewater was a March 8, 1992, front page story in the Times authored by investigative reporter Jeff Gerth that scrutinized the Clinton's real estate dealings. Political opponents then seized on Whitewater to kick off years of investigations in a fruitless effort to pin wrongdoing on the Clintons.
On the March 15 edition of MediaBuzz, Kurtz reported that Gerth had contacted him to defend his "100 percent accurate" 1992 article, which had been criticized on the show the previous week by Daily Beast writer Michael Tomasky. According to Kurtz, "Gerth is right" to defend the article, which reported that "the Clintons bought land in Arkansas with the owner of a state-regulated [savings and loans company]":
KURTZ: On last week's program, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky criticized the New York Times story back in 1992 that broke the Watergate scandal, excuse me, the Whitewater scandal, saying it had been documented to most people's satisfaction that many of the details in the story didn't hold up. Well the author, investigative reporter Jeff Gerth, got in touch to say the article, which said the Clintons bought land in Arkansas with the owner of a state-regulated S&L that failed, and Hillary Clinton and her firm represented the S&L, was 100 percent accurate and the Clintons never asked for a correction. Gerth is right. It's hardly his fault that Whitewater came to stand for so many spin-off allegations.
But Gerth and Kurtz are wrong. Jim McDougal, the Clinton's business partner, did not own a state-regulated savings and loans company when he bought land with the Clintons. (McDougal would later be convicted of fraud relating to business dealings he undertook as the operator of savings and loan association Madison Guaranty.)
Jeff Gerth appears in the recently released trailer for Hillary: The Movie, a "full-length feature documentary" about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) that "is the first and last word in what the Clintons want America to forget," according to the film's website. In the trailer, Gerth asserts that Clinton is "a person who's struggling herself with figuring out who she is, or more importantly, how she wants to present herself to the American public."
Her Way co-author Don Van Natta Jr. claimed that, in writing the book, he and Jeff Gerth "were able to interview 500 people, many of them on the record -- most of them on the record." In fact, a Media Matters review counted 101 distinct named interviewees in the book's endnotes. Of the 873 citations to interviews, 309 were to interviews of named sources, while 564 were to interviews of anonymous sources.
In an advance copy of Her Way, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. claim that Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made a "secret pact" early in their careers to "capture the presidency for Bill," which the Clintons later expanded to include two terms as president for her. In an appearance on Good Morning America, Gerth and Van Natta dodged questions about the latter claim.
In Her Way, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. repeatedly cite former officials in the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) to rehash allegations against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. This recalls Gerth's and Van Natta's controversial reporting on the OIC at The New York Times. In fact, a federal judge criticized Van Natta for "journalistic sleight of hand" and "fraudulent attribution" of key information in a 1999 article. In that article, Van Natta also allowed an OIC spokesman to falsely deny that he had been a source on internal OIC discussions.
A Media Matters review of Her Way by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. identified at least 33 citations of conversations with officials in the former Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) that investigated Whitewater, at least seven of which refer to an interview with former independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Some of these notes refer to interviews with OIC officials in 1997 and 1998, recalling serious legal questions raised by alleged leaks from the OIC's office in the late 1990's. Given that three prosecutors decided against filing charges against Hillary Clinton, the high number of citations by Gerth and Van Natta of former OIC officials gives rise to questions about the authors' overreliance on sources who concluded they were unable to prove their allegations in a court of law.
Thirteen years after the publication of a New York Times article that made a false claim regarding President Bill Clinton's tenure as Arkansas governor, the online and Nexis versions of that article still do not include the correction.