In Defense of Rep. Dan Burton
Jude Wanniski
May 5, 1998


Memo To: Anthony Lewis, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: “Slime on the Right”

In your Monday column, “Slime on the Right,” you went ballistic over the news that Chairman Burton of the committee investigating campaign finance “reached depths of degradation in publishing transcripts of telephone conversations that Webster L. Hubbell had, from prison, with his wife, friends and lawyers.” Now I know you have seen politicians reach depths of degradation before, Tony, but I read your column upside down and sideways, and did not find anything in it that puts Congressman Burton in the ballpark of degradation. There are other defenders of President Clinton who are jumping up and down because the transcript Burton released was edited to take out parenthetical remarks Hubbell made about Hillary Clinton that seem “exculpatory.” You make the same observation in your column. Can you explain to me what in blazes is wrong with what Burton did that constitutes “depths of degradation.” For you to equate Burton with “slime” and not be able to say why might look, well, slimy to Burton’s family and friends.

Convicted felons don’t have any privacy, as you well know. Their conversations with other prisoners can be taped without their knowing about it, and the tapes audited by the authorities for assistance in bringing others to justice. You know how much I have admired your work over your career on behalf of the First Amendment, Tony. You recall that I even awarded you four stars in my MediaGuide for the columns you wrote that helped defeat Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court -- although I consider Bork an old friend and did everything I could to get him confirmed. In other words, you know I’m fair when it comes to these things. And I just don’t see anything unfair in Burton’s behavior, let alone “slimy” and “degraded.” Bill Press on “Crossfire” Monday night acted as if Joe McCarthy had come back from the dead, disguised as Burton. I expect that sort of thing from him, not from you.

“Editing” a tape to take out parenthetical material that does not bear on the point the editor is trying to elevate is perfectly appropriate -- unless of course the editor has total control of all the tapes and is able to achieve evil objectives by releasing only the edited version. The tapes that Burton edited are practically on the Internet, so many people seem to have them. There is no possible way he could have believed the edited material he released to the press would fool people to not see that the “exculpatory” stuff was removed. Know what I mean? Burton culled those few sentences out innocently, the way an editor would in wishing to underscore what was important. I’m not going to get into the substance of what he released and what he didn’t. It isn’t important, because Burton could never have imagined he would be concealing material “exculpatory” to the Clintons.

Having said this, I hasten to add that I have otherwise paid little attention to the intricate details of the First Family’s finances and private lives. I’m genuinely hoping that when all the facts are in that are going to get in, the President and Hillary are exonerated as much as they can hope to be. I know I can count on you to make sure all the prosecutorial energies of Kenneth Starr and Dan Burton are on the up and up. In this case, Tony, I think I caught you in a technical foul. If  I’ve missed a loop here, please tell me where and how.