Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Who was Robert Bartley?

On Tuesday, Brent Staples, a liberal editorial writer for the New York Times, wrote a tribute to the late Robert Bartley, the retired editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Staples’s brief piece was similar to others I’d seen in the days since Bartley’s death. Unable to separate the public person — a vicious scandalmonger whom Staples politely described as "thunderous" — from the "quiet, self-effacing man" he knew personally, he chose to honor the latter and ignore the former.

But Bartley’s misdeeds should neither be forgotten nor forgiven. As one of the original lying liars, Bartley smeared Bill Clinton and his associates for eight straight years, helping to fuel the right-wing rage that led to Clinton’s impeachment and near-removal from office.

The most infamous headline to appear over a Bartley-era editorial was who is vincent foster? The editorial, which appeared on June 17, 1993, was an incoherent jumble. At one point, the editorialist, presumably Bartley himself, complained that Foster, deputy White House counsel and a former law partner of Hillary Clinton’s, had refused to supply the Journal with a photo of himself.

But Bartley was just getting warmed up. As later recounted in the American Journalism Review, "Four more Journal editorials over the next four weeks played up Foster’s circumstantial connections to Jackson Stephens, an Arkansas businessman involved in the BCCI scandal, and the White House travel-office imbroglio. Foster’s integrity, the editorials suggested, was very much in doubt."

And on July 20, Foster committed suicide. He left behind a note. It read in part: "The editors of the Wall Street Journal lie without consequence."

Not that Bartley ever repented. Indeed, so proud was he of the Journal editorial page’s incessant coverage of Whitewater and other so-called Clinton scandals — none of which, we now know, ever amounted to more than a speck — that he collected all this garbage in books and offered them for sale. Bartley’s was a parallel universe inhabited by the Clinton-hating right. And for a while, aided by fellow conspiracy theorists and assorted wackos ranging from the American Spectator to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, they nearly succeeded in toppling a presidency.

"There’s a thin line between hard-hitting opinion journalism and character assassination, a line that Bartley frequently erased," wrote Jack Shafer in Slate last week — quite an assessment considering that Shafer considers himself "a conflicted fan" of Bartley’s.

In fact, Bartley’s persecution of Clinton was the culmination of a miserable career. Though credited with popularizing the supply-side economics of the Reagan era, his real talent was for whispering darkly about phony scandals. In 1984, he published a piece by Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny — on his opinion pages, not in the news section — suggesting that Philip Zaccaro, the late father-in-law of that year’s Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, had "connections" to organized crime. Among other things, Kwitny included a list of questions that Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, had refused to answer. At the time that Kwitny’s piece appeared, Philip Zaccaro had been dead for 12 years.

According to a Washington Post piece on the furor, "In The Journal’s newsroom some staff members considered the story ‘an embarrassment,’ as one put it; at other publications some said it was wrong to raise such destructive questions without having the answers." Bartley defended his decision, piously telling the Post, "I think the voters have a right to decide for themselves."

Another embarrassment — the wrong word, perhaps, since Bartley himself never seemed to be embarrassed by anything — came over his crusade regarding "Yellow Rain," a poisonous substance that he contended the Soviet Union used to subdue enemies in Southeast Asia in the 1970s.

As former Boston Globe columnist David Warsh, on his Web site, EconomicPrincipals.com, recalls, "The ‘Yellow Rain’ samples proffered by the State Department turned out to be bee feces, dropped by swarms during seasonal cleansing flights. No credible alternative weapon delivery system was ever produced." But Bartley never retreated.

"Bob Bartley was a corrosive force in American life," wrote Warsh. "Almost single-handedly, he made extremism respectable."

It’s an epitaph for the ages, and one Brent Staples might consider as he pays final respects to his soft-spoken friend.

Issue Date: December 19 - 25, 2003
Back to the News & Features table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group