The Hunting of the President’

To the Editors:

It’s regrettable that Joseph Lelyveld chose to use Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President as a straw man in his exchange with Sidney Blumenthal [NYR, May 29]. Contrary to his assertion, we never wrote that The New York Times failed altogether to report the Resolution Trust Corporation’s December 1995 report about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater investment. Instead, we pointedly critiqued the paper’s coverage of the RTC report.

In Chapter Eleven of The Hunting of the President, we extensively quote the RTC report before concluding that “its hundreds of minutely detailed pages, thousands of footnotes, and documentary exhibits… demonstrated that the Whitewater ‘scandal’ had no factual foundation.” After praising The Wall Street Journal‘s full and fair coverage, we then observe that

The New York Times waited until Christmas Eve, then hid Stephen Labaton’s perfunctory summary on page 12. Judging by his article’s dismissive tone, no reader could imagine that the Pillsbury Report answered every one of the accusatory rhetorical questions the Times had urged the president and first lady to come clean about for years (most recently in a December 6 editorial). Labaton’s story ignored the passages pointedly exonerating the Clintons, and focused on the fact that the report’s “authors had been unable to interview a number of important witnesses, some of whom have been cooperating with the independent counsel.” Specifically, neither David Hale nor the McDougals had been interviewed by the Pillsbury lawyers.

In fairness, Mr. Lelyveld’s misconception about The Hunting of the President may have originated with an embarrassing but relatively trivial error of our own. In an earlier chapter, we’d gotten a date wrong, erroneously writing that “no word of the Pillsbury Report’s [preliminary] findings would appear in The New York Times until January 16, 1996.” The correct date was July 16, 1995. That error has been corrected in subsequent editions.

Gene Lyons
Little Rock, Arkansas