CNN Falls Into Whitewater Trap


Just two days after the midterm elections concluded, CNN is helping to make “Whitewater” lies part of the 2016 election. 

Doug Henwood, author of a Harper's magazine article headlined “Stop Hillary!,” appeared on CNN along with Elise Viebeck, a reporter for The Hill, to discuss Hillary Clinton (whom Viebeck called “pathologically ambitious” and “extremely opportunistic”) After Viebeck claimed that “the past scandals that the Clintons have been involved with” could be used by Republicans in any future election, Henwood mentioned Whitewater, a real estate venture that failed in the 1970s and 1980s and was exhaustively investigated in the 1990s, as key to any campaign to discredit Clinton. 

“Every time you do Whitewater, the media will kind of roll its eyes, like 'We've been there; this is old,'” host Chris Cuomo replied. “Not the media, but the media that wants to defend Hillary Clinton, or her defenders in general. You say, oh no, no, no. The facts there mattered. She kind of got a pass.” 

One key fact that mattered went unsaid by Cuomo or either of his guests: exhaustive investigations by Republican prosecutors and legislators concluded that there was no evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton broke the law in connection to the Whitewater land deal.

Henwood's explanation for why Whitewater still mattered centered on his claim that Clinton “lied” about billing records and how much time she spent as a lawyer working for a bank connected to the deal. Again, the public record fully corroborates what Clinton has said about this.  

Nevertheless, Cuomo encouraged his viewers to read Henwood's story in Harper's, calling it an interesting take on Clinton.

Veteran reporters from the 90s see it differently.

“The most basic facts elude him,” Gene Lyons observed in the Arkansas Times. Lyons, who wrote a book that originated as a Harper's article on the media's Whitewater failures, offers a devastating point-by-point rebuttal to Henwood before concluding, “a journalist who chooses to question a presidential candidate's character by dragging up 20-year-old controversies owes it to readers to know two or three things about them.”

And CNN owes it to its viewers to challenge its guests over basic, verifiable facts.

In early October, Yahoo! News columnist Michael Isikoff revisited the Whitewater saga that made him famous, touting a book written by the first special prosecutor to look into the land deal before he was replaced by Ken Starr. Dredging up old news and breaking no new ground, Isikoff warned that Clinton foes would try to use Whitewater against her.

Joe Conason, who co-authored The Hunting of the President with Lyons, took Isikoff to task for ignoring the facts and offered compelling guidance to journalists who insist on discussing Whitewater. “If we must dredge up Whitewater,” Conason wrote, “then let's be specific instead of vague.” Conason urged journalists to “report all of the evidence.”

Watch the CNN segment from the November 6 edition of New Day: