WSJ ed board member seems to have forgotten his paper's role in pushing Clinton conspiracy theories

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Near the end of a fawning column about Warren Stephens and the investment firm he chairs, Stephens, Inc., Wall Street Journal editorial page member Holman Jenkins suggests the firm's ties to the Clintons were overplayed by the national media:

As he tells the story, his family never once supported Bill Clinton in any of his campaigns, until the fateful 1990 gubernatorial race, when his GOP opponent was a bitter foe of the Stephens clan. A year later Mr. Clinton called in his "new best friends" and said he was running for president. They figured he'd be "smoked" by the superlatively popular President Bush, but donated a few bucks to keep the governor happy.

Then came Mr. Clinton's stumble in the early primaries amid the Gennifer Flowers eruption, and Mr. Stephens picked up the paper to learn that Worthen Bank, partly owned by his family, had fronted Mr. Clinton's campaign an emergency loan of $3.5 million. The loan may have been secured by federal matching funds. It may have carried a steep interest rate. But a story line was sealed in the national press that painted the Stephens family as the jerkwater Svengalis behind the Clinton campaign.

The Clinton experience, he says, was bad for Arkansas, and bad for Stephens Inc. "The publicity cost to the firm was awful . . . You'll never know what business you lost because of it."

Now, where would anyone get the idea that the Stephens family were the "Svengalis behind the Clinton campaign"? Maybe from Holman Jenkins' own Wall Street Journal editorial page. Journal editorials were a hotbed of Clinton conspiracy theories throughout the 1990s; in 2003, the paper published a piece titled "A Whitewater Chronology: What really happened during the Clinton years" that was peppered with mentions of Stephens, Inc.

The Journal certainly wasn't alone in theorizing about Stephens & Clinton. David Horowitz, for example, claimed that Jackson Stephens was Clinton's "Clinton's chief political backer." And the Whitewater non-scandal was eagerly peddled by news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the explicitly conservative media. But if Holman Jenkins is going to suggest that the "national press" went too far in connecting Stephens and Clinton, he might browse through the editorials he presumably helped write in the 1990s.

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