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Now, finally, poor Vincent Foster has officially been laid to rest. He was a troubled, over-worked man. His death was investigated over and over again not because there was any real evidence to suggest it was anything other than a suicide but because a significant piece of the political-journalistic establishment virtually insisted it had to be something else. The latest investigation says Foster was deeply depressed. If you read between the lines it says something else as well: A piece of Washington has gone mad.
-- Richard Cohen, The Washington Post
All of this led the team of experts--in fact leads anyone--to the inescapable conclusion that Vincent Foster was not murdered elsewhere and moved to Fort Marcy Park wrapped in a carpet or anything else. In the depths of despair, he took a gun from his home, went to the park and shot himself in the head.
-- editorial, The Washington Times
I have come to believe that although it is extremely important to determine what happened to Mr. Foster, this case is even more important for what it is telling us about the decay of our basic institutions, especially our "free" press which has come increasingly to resemble a propaganda organ more appropriate to a police state than to a democratic society.
--Edward Zehr, The Washington Weekly (available only online)
I don't want us to become a nation, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said of the Soviet Union, where the lie has become not just a moral category, but a pillar of the state.
--Dr. Larry Jones, from his funeral oration for Glenn Wilburn
The script said that this was to be the end of it. Four years and eighty-two days after the body of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster had been found in Fort Marcy Park, Virginia, the report of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was released to the public by the three- judge panel that had appointed him. The Congress, first one controlled by the Democrats and then one controlled in both houses by the Republicans, had shown no inclination to question anything that the Independent Counsel might conclude, and, of course, the press, as we have amply demonstrated, had been an active and enthusiastic purveyor of the suicide line from the very beginning, almost to the point of making one wonder if the press itself might have had something to do with the death. Even the one American journalist actively writing and reporting critically on the "investigation," inflated by Richard Cohen into a "significant piece of the political- journalistic establishment," had produced a book that, while it exposed many of the contradictions in the case, left the reader with nowhere to turn even to guess about ultimate blame or to continue the pursuit of justice.
The writers of the script had reckoned without those Americans outside the political- journalistic establishment, most notably the witness Patrick Knowlton and his lawyer John Clarke.
How does one anticipate that someone is going to happen along in the parking lot at Fort Marcy an hour and a quarter before the discovery of Foster's body, that he will see a car with Arkansas tags that is of a different color and several years older than Foster's car, that he will also see a menacing looking man who appears to be acting as a lookout, and that all this will in due time be brought to light in a very messy fashion? What can one make of the fact that upon learning that a high-ranking White House official had at that very moment been lying dead some 700 feet away, the witness called the Park Police with his information but was ignored? Then he would be called in by FBI investigators working for Special Prosecutor Robert Fiske on April 15 of the next year and again on May 11. Because he had felt threatened by the "lookout," who had stared at him intently, he had been more observant than usual, and he was a person who prided himself in his powers of observation. The efforts of the FBI agents to persuade, cajole, convince, trick him into saying that he might have been mistaken about the color and the age of the car he saw during the two long sessions only managed to increase his indignation, and his curiosity. Who could have predicted that the path of such a plain, forthright American as Patrick Knowlton would lead through such sinister goings-on?
Still, the chances looked good that the Knowlton annoyance to the FBI was over at this point. They had told him not to talk to the press, and he had dutifully avoided taking his very interesting story to anyone in the media, which, in retrospect, looks like a wise move on his part. What would have been his chances of approaching a trustworthy media representative? But his live-and-let-live peaceful existence ended forever a year and a half later. On October 13, 1995, the reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Sunday Telegraph of London tracked him down and showed him his testimony as recorded by the FBI. Two false transcriptions of his statement immediately stood out. One was that he would not be able to identify the man in the parking lot who gave him the menacing stare. Knowlton had said, to the contrary, that he remembered the man's appearance so well that he could pick him out of a lineup. The other was his description of the Arkansas car he saw as a 1988-1990 Honda, which would have made it conveniently consistent with Foster's car. This could not be true because, not only did Knowlton remember the Honda he saw as appearing older, but the rust-brown color he picked out from the panels shown him by the FBI was available on Hondas only for the model years 1983 and 1984. Unable to get Knowlton to change his story, the FBI had changed it for him.
On October 22 Evans-Pritchard's article appeared in the London newspaper. In the article not only were the false reports of the FBI noted, but a police-type drawing of the menacing- looking man was published to highlight the article. Note was also made of the fact that Knowlton had not been called before Starr's grand jury, which was meeting at that very moment in Washington.
Starr's hand had been called. Now the grand jury had to hear Knowlton's testimony, so he was duly subpoenaed two days after the Sunday Telegraph hit the newsstands in this country. The disinterested observer can only conclude that there was great fear in the government camp over how Knowlton and his story might come across to the grand jury because of the shocking things that happened next. On the very evening of the day in which Knowlton received his subpoena, and the next day as well, he and his girlfriend were treated to an extraordinary campaign of intimidation and harassment by a series of men, 25 or more stern, mostly young, athletic-looking men, on the streets of Northwest Washington, DC. Meeting him on the sidewalk or coming up from behind, one after the other would fix him with a hard, cold stare. At one point, the girlfriend was on the verge of tears. "I have never witnessed anything like this before or since. It was intentional, coordinated, intimidating, and extremely unnerving," she has said in a sworn affidavit.
Some of the continuing harassment was witnessed the next evening by reporter Christopher Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and he duly reported it as did Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in his London paper, but this apparent intimidation attempt of an important witness in the case of the highest ranking government official to die by gunshot since President John F. Kennedy remained completely unnewsworthy to the rest of the country, and it was not reported.
The message had been well conveyed that there would be unpleasant consequences for Mr. Knowlton should he insist on having seen things that did not support the official story, and as a bonus, his overall credibility before the grand jury would likely be undermined. "Tell us about your alleged harassment," was, in fact, how the prosecutor for Starr's team brought it up, in the midst of questioning that seemed primarily aimed at impugning his motives and painting him as a pervert.
The tactic, in a very limited and short-term sense, would seem to have been a success. Knowlton's inconvenient recollections were merely glossed over in Starr's official record. Steered that way by the prosecution, the grand jury apparently brushed Knowlton off as not the responsible citizen who insisted on doing the right thing, but as a passing kook who might be out to capitalize on a few minutes of fame. If reasons of state required that this one person had to be psychologically roughed up a bit and his reputation damaged, so be it.
But in a larger sense, the strategy was a colossal failure. It backfired. Remember the words of Jean-Denis Bredin, " But the Dreyfus Affair...is not fixed in space and time. The combat of the individual against society, truth against deception, is specific neither to France nor to the end of the nineteenth century." The campaign to intimidate and discredit Patrick Knowlton did not work where it mattered the most; it did not work on this most important individual. It did not work on Patrick Knowlton. He did not change; no, he did not waver from his story. "I saw what I saw," he told his interrogators over and over, as he has told anyone who would listen ever since. The record shows that at least four other early witnesses remembered the Japanese car they saw in the Fort Marcy lot as brown, but they have not been so unshakeable as Knowlton.
Where Robert Fiske had reported that the brown Honda with Arkansas tags did not, according to the unnamed Knowlton, look like the pictures of the Foster car he was shown, and had left it at that, Kenneth Starr went Fiske one better, merely stating that Knowlton recalled seeing a "rust brown colored car with Arkansas license plates," leaving readers with the unambiguous impression that it was Foster's car he saw. One has to be very sharp to remember that three pages before Starr had written, "On the morning of Tuesday, July 20, 1993, six months into the Clinton Administration, Mr. Foster drove his gray Honda Accord to the White House from the house in Georgetown where he and his family were living." (emphasis obviously supplied)
So much for the failed intimidation. So the witness would not change his story. That damage could be controlled with verbal sleight of hand, but the failed discrediting was another matter. It simply made Knowlton mad enough to sue, and, as luck would have it, he had a young neighbor and acquaintance who also happened to be a very good and very courageous lawyer, John Clarke. Clarke brought suit for Knowlton under 42 U.S.C. 1985 (2), "Obstructing justice; intimidating party, witness, or juror."
A horrible miscalculation had been made. As much spin had to be applied to Knowlton's story as would have been the case had no pressure been put on him, and now another unique adversary in the person of the lawyer Clarke had been acquired, and the judicial branch had been brought into the case in a very active way. The authorities, and with them the media, would now have to work much harder than before to keep the lid on the case. The significance of the involvement of the courts, too, can hardly be understated, and here another reminder of the relevance of the Dreyfus Affair is in order.
We have been told many times by defenders of the government of all the Foster death investigations that have been done. In reality, there have been three: The Park Police investigation, the Fiske investigation, and the Starr investigation. The Senate Banking Committee in the summer of 1994 had no mandate to rule on the nature of Foster's death, and they did not do so. Their half day of public hearings were no more than perfunctory. The office of Rep. William Clinger did little more than go over the Fiske Report and endorse it. A major contribution of the lawyer Clarke has been his demonstration of the heavy involvement of the FBI in the investigation of the Park Police, and we have seen that on August 10, 1993, when the press conference was held to first announce the official suicide conclusion, the government spokesmen were from the Park Police, the Justice Department, and the FBI. Another contribution of Clarke is his observation that the whole idea of an independent counsel is subverted when that counsel, appointed by judges so as to appear independent of the law enforcement arm of the executive branch, turns around and uses FBI agents for his investigation. The FBI is part of the Justice Department. Both its director and the Attorney General are appointed by the President. Kenneth Starr made matters worse by using the same FBI agents that the Janet Reno-appointed Fiske had used. The three investigations had been, if effect, all in-house investigations, and that house was the FBI.
In the Dreyfus Affair, there were not just three investigations, there were three formal trials. First, there was the secret trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The verdict was guilty. Then there was the trial of the actual traitor, Major Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy. The verdict was innocent. It was that travesty of justice that prompted the famous J'Accuse letter of Emile Zola. Then, after the uncovering of the forgery of the Panizzardi telegram, Dreyfus was brought back from Devil's Island for another trial. Amazingly, and this time to widespread consternation, he was found guilty again, but with extenuating circumstances and he was released from prison. The constant factor throughout was that the trials were conducted by the French Army. Eventually, after a change of government, the Court of Cassation, the French equivalent to our Supreme Court, would become involved, and Dreyfus would be exonerated completely.
Now, with the Knowlton lawsuit, America's judicial branch had become involved in the Foster mess. On November 12, 1996, Clarke and Knowlton held a Washington, DC news conference in front of the U.S. District Court building announcing the unsealing of their suit. All the major print and broadcast media were there, but what we had was a virtual replay of the aftermath of the announcement of the forgery finding by the three handwriting experts. Only the Washington Times reported on the press conference, and they did it with a short, skeptical, inaccurate and incomplete story on an inside page, with no follow-up. Particularly conspicuous by his absence from the event this time, in contrast to the handwriting conference which he actually orchestrated, was the reporter Christopher Ruddy. The news suppression was getting worse.
The unanimous press approval of the thin, flawed Fiske Report; the ignoring of the finding of forgery by the three handwriting experts; and the press neglect of the Knowlton harassment and resulting lawsuit were but dress rehearsals for the most revealing and brazen act by America's press yet. It ought to be remembered as the "Great Suppression of `97." That is the complete silence of the news media about the fact that the three-judge panel that appointed Kenneth Starr included with the report of the special counsel (that tellingly lacked anyone's name upon it) twenty pages of comments by Knowlton's lawyer, John Clarke, that completely undermined the conclusion of suicide in Fort Marcy Park.
This was stupendous news, not just for what was in the Clarke letter, but that the three federal judges, David B. Sentelle, John C. Butzner, and Peter T. Fay had seen fit to include all twenty pages with the report. They had no real obligation to do so. The submission of the letter in the first place was not technically related to the fact that Knowlton had filed suit against many of the people involved in the investigation. His opening came from the fact that the law that created the independent counsel permitted, in the interests of fairness, comments by any persons "named" in the report of the independent counsel. The judges might have, on firm legal grounds, ruled Knowlton out because he is not actually named in the report. He is identified simply as "C2."
Had the judges adhered most closely to the letter and the spirit of the law and to what, in other circumstances, would seem to be simple common sense, they would have allowed Knowlton to comment only upon those things that directly relate to Knowlton; that is, just on what the report has to say about the actions and words of C2, the only parts of the report that he was allowed to see before the public release date of October 10. In fact, the 20 pages go far beyond that. They are a condensation of the case against suicide in Fort Marcy Park, presented a good deal more convincingly than Starr's 114-page affirmative case.
How far afield the Knowlton/Clarke submission wandered from matters directly relating to Knowlton is seen by looking at their five attached exhibits which together make six main points that relate to the Foster death, as opposed to the Knowlton harassment:
1. The widow, Lisa Foster, could not identify as Vince's the black gun found in Vince's hand shown to her initially by the Park Police. She did later make a tentative positive identification of a gun shown to her by the FBI, but they, from every indication, showed her a silver gun misrepresented as the gun that had been found in Foster's hand.
2. According to the autopsy Foster had eaten a meal 2 to 3 hours before his death, and witnesses had seen him finish his lunch no later than 1 p.m. Emergency workers examining the body at around 6:10 p.m. estimated he had been dead for between 2 and 4 hours. These facts together reinforce the conclusion that Foster died between 2:10 and 4:10 p.m. Knowlton arrived at the park at 4:30 p.m. In all likelihood Foster was already dead by that time.
3. Knowlton is absolutely certain the car with the Arkansas tags he saw was brown and of an older model than Foster's car. His recollection as to the color, age, and location of the car in the lot is supported by the initial recorded testimony of other early witnesses.
4. The neck wound that Robert Fiske and the autopsy doctor, James Beyer, insist did not exist is verified by the report of the Virginia Medical Examiner, Donald Haut, discovered in the National Archives after Starr completed his report and turned it over to the judges.
5. Many crime scene photographs have disappeared.
6. Autopsy X-rays that were apparently taken, contrary to the insistence of Dr. Beyer, have also disappeared.
Of the six items, only nos. 2 and 3 have any relation at all to the testimony of Patrick Knowlton. The judges, by allowing in the entire 20-page submission were showing in the only way they could their great displeasure with the work of Starr. They were also sending a message to the federal judge with whom Knowlton had filed his suit. The panel, you see, had seen not just the twenty pages of comments. Clarke had shared with them the entire suit in a successful rebuff of Starr's effort to have the Knowlton/Clarke letter excluded. What better way could they demonstrate their belief that the suit had merit than by very nearly bending the law to allow onto the official record the Knowlton/Clarke Addendum?
Now there has developed a popular notion, encouraged in no small part by the opinion molders in the mainstream press, that those who treat various official pronouncements with skepticism are simply "anti- government." Such people may be contrasted with the media people themselves who show us how "responsible" they are by only giving us "the facts," as long as those facts bear an officially-approved label. But here we have a case of one official government body, the three-judge federal panel, administering a slap in the face to another official government body, the Office of the Independent Counsel. Certainly citizen critics who applaud the action of the judges can hardly be called "anti-government," nor can the nation's press, who unanimously covered up the fact of the judges' inclusion of the Knowlton/Clarke Addendum, be called anything that resembles "responsible." The adjective that comes to my mind is "corrupt."
The very fact that the press would go to such an extreme as to ignore completely the existence of the Knowlton/Clarke Addendum in itself tells us more than anything that is in either the main body of the report or the addendum. Most telling is that even those press figures who found the Starr Report lacking neglected to tell us about the addendum in their initial reaction. These included Christopher Ruddy in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sam Smith in his Progressive Review, and Phillip Weiss in the New York Observer. Curiously, the "liberal" Smith based all of his objections to the findings of the Starr Report upon the argument put forward by the "conservative" Ruddy, thereby building him up and making him look better. The suppression also reached far beyond the Washington-New York-Los Angeles nodes of power. As luck would have it, the tireless Foster researcher, Hugh Turley, was in his native St. Paul, Minnesota on the day the Starr Report was released. He went down to the offices of the "conservative" St. Paul Pioneer Press and obtained an audience with national editor, Martha Malan. At that time he laid in her lap the scoop of the inclusion of the Knowton/Clarke Addendum and even gave her a copy of the addendum, which he had helped prepare, and a copy of the entire Knowlton suit against the FBI. There in her building's lobby, Turley explained to Malan the significance of everything he was giving her. The next day the Pioneer Press carried only the Knight-Ridder wire service article that extolled the virtues of Starr's exhaustive investigation that had left no stone unturned in its fair-minded quest to solve the mystery of the death of Vincent Foster.
This emblematic act by Ms. Malan and her newspaper prompted one Internet contributor, P.J. Gladnick, to coin the term "malanize," which he would define as "suppression of the news by reporting it incompletely." So prevalent has the practice become that one would think the expression stands a good chance to make it into the national vocabulary.
Some Internet defenders of Starr and of the press have made the argument that the addendum inclusion was really not newsworthy, that it is nothing more than gratuitous opinion that the judges had no choice but to include on account of the way the law is written. The argument has a surface plausibility, especially to those unfamiliar with the actual facts who might, amazingly enough, still have a predisposition to believe that whatever is newsworthy gets reported as a matter of course. We have shown that this argument is wholly without merit. It is interesting to note, furthermore, that it has not even been attempted by anyone in the press. To do so would require that the cat be let out of the bag about the Great Suppression.
Starr's report is much like Fiske's in that it goes very heavy on the voice of authority, though it eschews the transparent Fiske expedient of fattening up the document with the resumes of its new collection of experts. Before we treat the question of these men and their work, a big new embarrassment to Starr in his report should be mentioned. Though the Medical Examiner, Dr. Haut, had been trotted out by Mike Wallace to change his story and give the lie to the reporter Ruddy on 60 Minutes concerning the blood around Foster's body, as we have noted previously, his actual contemporaneous written report had been missing from the Senate documents that the independent Foster researchers had pored over and critiqued, and Robert Fiske had made no mention of it. But for intervening developments, the following footnote on page 27 of the report would have constituted something of a coup for Starr:
Dr. Haut completed a "Report of Investigation by Medical Examiner" after the incident; the report is stamped with the date July 30, 1993. OIC Doc. No. DC- 106A-1 to 106A-2. The report states that the cause of death was "perforating gunshot wound mouth- head" and the means of death was "38 caliber handgun." Id. It states that the manner of death was "suicide," Id. Dr. Haut signed the death certificate. It states that the cause of death was "perforating gunshot wound mouth - head" and that the manner of death was "suicide" by "self-inflicted gunshot wound mouth to head."
Actually, this last sentence is not wholly true. The second page of the Haut document, as we have seen, is the only place where the preposition "to" follows "mouth" and it reads "self-inflicted gunshot wound mouth to neck." Starr was apparently unaware that whoever had blotted out the "NECK" on the first page and replaced it with "HEAD" had slipped up and failed to do so on the second page, where it is easy to miss as a part of a longer narrative sentence. He ends up with a quote of the wished-for falsified version of the Haut report, not a quote of the actual one. With the whole charade having been exposed a few days after his report had passed out of his hands and into the hands of the judges, he was helpless to remove the egg from his face.
The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that the reader can turn to Exhibit 5 of the accompanying Clarke/Knowlton letter and find there a photo-copy of the crucial passage of the actual Haut report with the notation that it was discovered on July 17, 1997 at the National Archives. Following it is an excerpt from the Senate deposition of emergency worker Richard Arthur in which he says that he saw a bullet hole in the neck with blood coming from it. Pretty good work for guys who had not been permitted to see the related portion of the Starr Report.
Now we return to the new stable of experts, whose aura of respectability is supposed to, almost by itself, turn the sow's ear that Starr inherited from Robert Fiske into a silk purse. They are, Brian D. Blackbourne, M.D., Medical Examiner for San Diego County, California; Henry Lee, Ph.D., Director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory; Alan L. Berman, Ph. D.,Executive Director of the American Association of Suicidology; and Gus R. Lesnevich, described as an "independent handwriting expert," but acknowledged to have been formerly employed in an investigative capacity with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Secret Service and most recently employed as a government expert in six cases in the Iran-Contra matter.
Each does what is expected of him. Lesnevich concludes that the note supposedly found in Foster's briefcase is authentic. Lee concludes, quite cautiously, that the death is "consistent with a suicide." Blackbourne is surer, saying that Vincent Foster "committed suicide on July 20, 1993 in Ft. Marcy Park by placing a .38 caliber revolver in his mouth and pulling the trigger." Dr. Berman, exclusively through the miracle of modern psychology, is the surest of all, saying that "to a 100% degree of medical certainty, the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide."
Backing them up we are told is a lengthy report that each has prepared, and the overall report is sprinkled with footnotes referring to the experts' reports. Unfortunately, what's missing here are the reports themselves. All we are left with beyond a restatement of the Fiske Report is mainly a description of curious new evidence that Dr. Lee, at his creative best, has somehow teased out of the official record and conveniently changed stories, thanks mainly to the FBI, which has ways with such things. As of this writing, the underlying reports had not been made public, so a truly thorough Hugh-Sprunt-style critique of this latest government effort is as yet impossible. This omission, as one has come to expect by now, went uncommented upon, and therefore uncriticized, by the press. What would one expect them to do with the reports, anyway, actually read and critically analyze them? As we have seen, the likelihood of that is rather small.
Were they so inclined there is more than enough in Starr's report upon which they might have exercised their critical skills. We have already shown the verbal trickery by which it was made to appear that the car that Patrick Knowlton saw at Fort Marcy Park was Foster's, which, if true, would have obviated the need for his harassment and intimidation, and the utterly dishonest representation of the Medical Examiner's Report concerning the faked-up mouth-to-head wound observation. Internet readers or those fortunate enough to get the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in which Christopher Ruddy writes or to have caught the Accuracy in Media panel discussion on C- Span that had Ruddy, Knowlton, Clarke, Weiss, and Sprunt with Reed Irvine moderating will also know already about the oven mitt that Dr. Lee claims was discovered in the glove compartment of Foster's car. That mitt, said Dr. Lee, had traces of lead in it such as would have rubbed off from the muzzle of the .38 revolver, which suggests to Lee that this was the medium for transportation of the revolver from Foster's home. Not explained is why a detailed Park Police inventory of the contents of Foster's car at the park made no mention of such an oven mitt or why chief Park Police investigator had reported that there was "nothing unusual" in the glove compartment.
A critically-inclined reporter might also have looked at how Starr treats the matter of the missing X-rays. "Dr. Beyer has stated that either he did not take x-rays because the machine was not functioning properly at that time, or that if he attempted to take x-rays, they did not turn out," Starr begins. Never is it made clear which it was, though an anonymous assistant says it was the latter and Beyer, the assistant, and the "administrative manager of the Medical Examiner's Office recalled `numerous problems' with the x-ray machine in 1993 (which, according to records, had been delivered in June,1993)." Once again, John Clarke plays the role of the spoiler. Exhibit 5 of his appended letter has the following affidavit from Reed Irvine: "Virginia Beach, Va. I succeeded in located (sic) the technician who was responsible for installing and servicing this machine, Mr. Jesse Poor. Mr. Poor denied that there had been any trouble with the machine, which he had installed in June 1993. He checked his records and reported that the machine was installed on June 15, 1993 and that the first service call was on Oct. 29, 1993 to make an adjustment to make the pictures darker."
Since the document is now public and has been widely commented upon--outside the "mainstream" of course--Starr, unlike Fiske, does acknowledge in a footnote that Park Police Detective James Morrissette, who attended the autopsy, wrote in his report "Dr. Byer (sic) stated that X-rays indicated that there was no evidence of bullet fragments in the head." Then Starr merely says blandly, "As explained above, however, Dr. Beyer made that statement and reached that conclusion without x-rays." So, just as Dr. Beyer had mischecked that he took X-rays, Morrissette had misheard Beyer say that he took X-rays, but Beyer was still sure there were no bullet fragments even without the X-rays. Somehow this explanation lacks persuasiveness. The skeptic cannot help but notice how convenient it is that the autopsy conclusions about the wounds, which not only conflict with the observations of the emergency workers at the park, but are now seen to conflict with the on-site, incompletely falsified report of the Medical Examiner, are neither gainsaid by X-rays or by crime-scene photographs, a good number of which have turned up missing or are said to have been botched (The missing photographs are also documented in Clarke's information-packed Exhibit 5.). How much more forthright it would have been to clear up the confusion by simply exhuming the body and conducting another autopsy under rigidly-supervised conditions!
Next to the telling suppression of the Knowlton/Clarke addendum, the withholding of the supporting documents, and the long delay in producing the summary report itself, the fundamental weakness of the Starr effort is demonstrated by heavy dependence on the wholly-unsupported assertion that this "Rock-of- Gibraltar," this tough court-room litigator, this responsible family man who was "always on top of things" as a lifelong friend of Vince's from Hope, Arkansas, and fellow Davidson College graduate put it to me, was so depressed as to slink off to a hidden corner of an obscure Virginia park in the middle of a work day and blow his brains out (though, strangely, the brains had apparently not been blown out). Ruddy's failure to slay the depression dragon once and for all by failing to use the best evidence available made Starr's task here somewhat easier. What we have here is much more than the "suicidologist" Berman's "100% degree of medical certainty," too. The third paragraph of the introduction reads as follows:
The police later learned that Mr. Foster had called a family doctor for antidepressant medication the day before his death. He had told his sister four days before his death that he was depressed, and she had given him the names of three psychiatrists. He had written in the days or weeks before his death that he "was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here, ruining people is considered sport."
As this writer has made clear, and the reporter Ruddy inexplicably fails to do in his book, though he had previously reviewed a draft of my work, virtually every word of this statement is unsupported by the evidence. No telephone records have ever been produced to support the claim of the drug prescription, and the doctor did not come forward when White House spokesperson, Dee Dee Myers was issuing statements saying "the family says with certainty that he had not been treated (for depression). (Washington Times, Saturday, July 24, 1993). The sister's husband, Beryl Anthony, angrily denied the story about their being consulted about psychiatrists when it was first mentioned to him (same Washington Times issue as above), but radically changed his story nine days later, and there are numerous irregularities in the story about the list of psychiatrists such as where it was found, how many names were on the list, who wrote the names, and why the handwriting of the person who wrote the first name is so different from that of whoever wrote the other two names. Ruddy notes only that the level of dosage of the antidepressant, even in the doctor's own words, was enough only for insomnia, not for depression, and that the pitiful "not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington" line was in all likelihood forged.
Ah yes, the forgery. The authenticity of the torn-up note belatedly "found" in Foster's previously emptied out and inventoried briefcase is, as we see from the passage above, essential to the depression conclusion. Starr does not even attempt an explanation as to how Foster might have torn it into 28 pieces and left no fingerprints, but he does make quite an effort to prove to us that the note was written by Foster. In so doing he illustrates why the work of the three respected handwriting experts who declared the note a forgery back on October 25, 1995, were never much of a threat to him. Here, one more time, the precedent of the Dreyfus Affair is instructive. The revelation that parts of the Panizzardi telegram were forged, the reader will recall, was not the work of handwriting experts. No judgment was required as to whether the letter strokes were characteristic of Captain Dreyfus or not. The discovery was made that the document was made up of two separate documents because the lines of the paper did not match one another throughout. For their part, the work of official "handwriting experts" was uniformly dismal throughout the Dreyfus Affair. The government was able to find such experts to assert unanimously at the Dreyfus trial that he had, indeed, written, the bordereau, the crucial list containing artillery information bound for the Germans, and at the Walsin-Esterhazy trial experts who said that the true author, Walsin-Esterhazy, had not written it. In this case, furthermore, no forgery of Dreyfus' style had even been attempted. In each case, the experts backed up their conclusions with elaborate explanations. We need to keep this history lesson in mind as we read:
Mr. Lesnevich concluded that the written text on the note "contained normal, natural and spontaneous writing variations. These normal, natural and spontaneous writing variations could be found in the letter formations, beginning strokes, ending strokes, connecting strokes, etc." Lesnevich Report at 2. He further concluded that "examination and comparison of the questioned written text appearing on the note with the known writing on the (known) documents has revealed that the author of the known documents wrote the note." Id. (reference numbers omitted). Mr. Lesnevich prepared a thorough 51-page comparison chart "that points out and illustrates a number of the normal, natural and spontaneous writing habits that were found common between the written text appearing on the questioned note and the known handwriting of Vincent Foster found on the (submitted known) documents." Id. at 3.
The number of examinations, the experience and expertise of the many different examiners, the variety and quantity of known-sample documents, the fact that the examinations commissioned by the OIC and Mr. Fiske's Office were conducted with original documents (as opposed to photocopies), and the unanimity of the examiners in their conclusions together lead clearly to the conclusion that Mr. Foster wrote the note.
Was there ever any doubt that Starr would be able to find his Gus Lesnevich? Does anyone really believe that we are so much better than the French were a hundred years ago? Anyone familiar with the mercenary class of "expert witnesses" in our system of jurisprudence would certainly not believe it for a minute. Notice, too, the Catch 22 in Starr's statement. His expert used originals and not photocopies like the unmentioned three others did, which makes his conclusions more believable (though he won't show us the man's "thorough 51-page comparison chart"). But no truly independent "expert" is permitted to see the original, and apparently even the photocopy got out only by accident, so the deck has been stacked in this game so that it is impossible for Starr and the government to lose.
Speaking of the ever-flexible "expert witness" breed, though Dr. Lee certainly did yeoman's work for the legal team representing O.J. Simpson, no group has demonstrated a greater readiness to please a well-heeled or powerful client than have the members of the psychology profession. It is never very hard to find one ready to defy common sense with jargon and references to the psychology literature, the modern version of the soothsayer's incantations. It is altogether fitting then that Starr should vest so much importance in the work of the "suicidologist" Berman, letting him bat last, or "cleanup," as it were, in his report. Berman does not disappoint. He dismisses the fact that the "suicidally depressed" Foster ate a hearty final meal by telling us that "there is no study in the professional literature that has examined eating behavior prior to suicide" and that "even death row inmates, knowing they are to die within a short time, eat a last meal." So much for gumption and introspection. The absence of a study--upon which we are forced to take Dr. Berman's word--is here glibly equated with the absence of the phenomenon itself, and impending execution of a psychologically normal person is equated with a bout of clinical depression so acute that it results in suicide. It must be nice to be an expert.
At this point, Starr weighs in with brand, spanking new, never before seen evidence from Dr. Watkins in Little Rock (somewhat like the new evidence that Vince actually cried over dinner on the Friday before his death, which would have had to be at the Tidewater Inn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a fact of which Starr does not remind us). First we had silence from Watkins. Then we had the prescription of trazadone (brand name Desyrel) for insomnia, not depression, as reported in the Fiske Report. Now, out of the blue, we are told he typed up notes on July 21 (which he inexplicably kept to himself for who knows how long) and they say this:
I talked to Vince on 7/19/93, at which time he complained of anorexia and insomnia. He had no GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms. We discussed the possibility of taking Axid or Zantac to help with any ulcer symptoms as he was under a lot of stress. He was concerned about the criticism they were getting and the long hours he was working at the White House. He did feel that he had some mild depression. I started him on Desyrel, 50 mg. He was to start with one at bedtime and move up to three....I receive word at 10:20 p.m. on 7/20/93 that he had committed suicide.
Isn't it curious that Dr. Watkins would go to the trouble to write this down the day after he heard of Foster's death and two days after he supposedly made the prescription, but apparently would not bother to tell key officials about it? We have been told on the record that he was brought into the case more than a week later when a note was found in Foster's office mentioning a return of a Foster call by Watkins. This is almost as curious as the list of psychiatrists appearing in Park Police records for the first time on July 27, though the contents of Foster's car and wallet were gone through thoroughly and inventoried on the night of July 20.
But forget about such skepticism for the moment. Let's return to the world of shrink talk, where a rock-solid, highly successful lawyer can be unrecognizably transformed to suit the client:
Dr. Berman reported that "[m]istakes, real or perceived, posed a profound threat to his self- esteem/self/worth and represented evidence for a lack of control over his environment. Feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, and guilt followed and were difficult for him to tolerate. There are signs of an intense and profound anguish, harsh self-evaluation, shame, and chronic fear. All these on top of an evident clinical depression and his separation from the comforts and security of Little Rock. He, furthermore, faced a feared humiliation should he resign and return to Little Rock." The torn note "highlights his preoccupation with themes of guilt, anger, and his need to protect others." (by killing himself? ed.)
If that doesn't convince you try this:
In his report, Dr. Berman first noted that "[d]escriptors used by interviewees with regard to Vincent Foster's basic personality were extraordinarily consistent in describing a controlled, private, perfectionistic character whose public persona as a man of integrity, honesty, and unimpeachable reputation was of utmost importance."
What he does not tell us is that interviewees, on the record, were also quite consistent in describing a man who seemed perfectly normal in every way, but what does such an apparently admirable "basic personality" have to do with suicide, anyway? Well, at this point we have a footnote:
Dr. Berman noted that "[r]ecent studies...have documented a significant relationship between perfectionism and both depression and suicidality, particularly when mediated by stress."
It is a real shame that the Berman Report has not been made publicly available, because there is a very high probability that what we have here is a classic case of circular reasoning:
1. Vince Foster killed himself because he was a perfectionist.
2. Perfectionists tend to kill themselves.
3. We know perfectionists tend to kill themselves because the perfectionist, Vince Foster, killed himself.
Actually, it's probably even worse than circular reasoning because Dr. Berman seems to have made a bit of a leap to make a warped Felix Ungar-type out of a man who simply exhibited high standards. The likely circular reasoning is explained by a letter that I sent to the student newspaper of Yale University on February 8, 1996, with an information copy to the psychologist whose work is the subject of the letter. It was not printed, but I did get a response from the psychologist who simply thanked me for the information. I reproduce the letter to the editor here almost in its entirety. As you read it, bear in mind as well the opening quote from Edward Zehr. It is not just the propagandistic press that concerns him, but the "decay of our basic institutions."
I might also note that while this long essay began with comparisons between current developments in the United States and those in France a century ago, comparisons to our late lamented cold war superpower rival can hardly be avoided.
I trust that the final failure and collapse of that great experiment in large- scale planning called the Soviet Union will not lead to the rapid withering away of academic programs in Sovietology. There is much to be learned about human folly and treachery from the largest and longest such experiment in history. Take, for instance, the systematic corruption of that nation's institutions and professions, as all independent and objective standards were sacrificed for the perpetuation of the power of the state. Outstanding examples of such corruption were in the professions of journalism and psychiatry. We now know that to be a correspondent for Pravda or Izvestia was to be a member of the KGB, and we have all heard the tales of brave Soviet dissidents condemned to psychiatric hospitals and plied with mind-altering drugs because, after all, anyone who would challenge the state "must be crazy."
These things come to mind because I have just finished reading the innocuously-titled article "The Destructiveness of Perfectionism, Implications for the Treatment of Depression" in the December, 1995, issue of the American Psychologist by Professor Sidney J. Blatt of the Yale University Department of Psychology. Ostensibly an examination of the motivation behind the recent suicide deaths of three prominent and successful men, it turns out to be something quite different upon closer examination. One of the three men, you see, and the one enjoying the prominent lead place in the article, was Vincent W. Foster, Jr., Deputy White House Counsel.
Psychoanalysis, itself, is not without its serious detractors, but when it is done long distance and post mortem, the reason for skepticism is increased. When the analyst relies almost completely upon secondary sources for his information about the subject's mental state, the validity of the inquiry results become all the more questionable. When those secondary sources are only newspapers, and the newspapers are only The New York Times and The Washington Post, then the whole exercise is little better than a sick joke.
Do I exaggerate? Let's look at the facts. Professor Blatt deduces much about Foster's thought processes from the text of one of the few primary sources he presumably thinks he has, the fingerprintless, torn-up note which mysteriously materialized in Foster's briefcase some days after it was searched and thought to be empty. He is able to invest such confidence in the authenticity of the note because his twin bibles failed to carry the October 25, 1995, Reuters dispatch reporting that three certified handwriting experts, one of whom is renowned literary document authenticator, Reginald Alton of Oxford University, had, independently and unanimously, with extensive supporting explanation, pronounced the note a mediocre forgery. Scholars like to invoke the authority of the best source available, and, to date, these are it. Therefore, the best conclusion a reputable scholar can draw about the sentiments expressed in the torn-up note is that they represent what someone, who we may presume to be Foster's murderer, wants us to think Foster was thinking, not a very good basis for Foster's psychoanalysis.
Citing a New York Times opinion column, which is really no better than a tertiary source, Blatt tells us that Foster "did not seem to be his usual self, (his)...mood seemed low, (he)...spent weekends in bed with the shades drawn...recently lost 15 pounds, and...sent out signals of pessimism that alarmed close friends and colleagues."
Virtually every word of that statement evaporates upon close examination. Had Blatt done the responsible thing and at least consulted the writings of Foster- case investigator Christopher Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, he would have discovered that, at the time of his physical examination on December 31, 1992, Foster weighed 194 pounds and that his body when autopsied on July 21, 1993, weighed 197 pounds after having lost blood and dried out in the sun for some hours. This fact was originally discovered by independent investigator Hugh Sprunt using Senate Banking Committee hearing documents. Those documents, which include the testimony of all of Foster's close associates, turn up no one whose observations about Foster's behavior fit, even loosely, Blatt's quote. They all say he seemed his normal self to them. Furthermore, White House spokesperson, Dee Dee Myers, says in the Washington Times of July 30, 1993, that the story about Foster working in the bed on weekends with the blinds drawn is not true, and no corroboration for it turns up in the record.
Ultimately, every source, including the torn-up note, that Professor Blatt has used to support his premise that Foster was in a suicidal frame of mind is anonymous. There are, as it happens, somewhat better, attributable sources. But before he gets too excited about looking for them to invoke against me, I must inform him that these are all people who have, on the record, changed their stories at one time or another.
Perhaps Professor Blatt deserves the benefit of the doubt and did not realize just how contrived is the press case upon which he depends so completely. However, that requires imputing to him a degree of credulity that ill becomes a serious scholar. Is it not almost as easy to believe that what he has produced is not really a work of scholarship, but of propaganda?
In the case of this most recent report of the misleadingly-named Office of the Independent Counsel, as with the newspapers that reported on it, it is certainly a good deal easier to believe.
All Rights Reserved
November 23, 1997
Recommended reading on both the original Dreyfus Affair and the current American version, in addition to sources mentioned in previous "Dreyfus" installments:
1. David Levering Lewis, Prisoners of Honor, the Dreyfus Affair (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1973).
Professor Lewis holds the Martin Luther King Chair of History at Rutgers University. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his biography of W.E.B. Dubois, his rendering of the Dreyfus Affair is one of the most readable and interesting available. He does a very good job of conveying to us the reasons why and the extent to which emotions in France still run surprisingly high over the drawn-out episode.
2. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton (Washington, DC, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1997).
Evans-Pritchard, formerly Washington correspondent for London's Sunday Telegraph who was mentioned in the two previous installments of this article, writes thoroughly and well about the Foster case, but his book has a good deal more in it to dismay the concerned citizen. My opening quote from the funeral oration for Glenn Wilburn is from page 107 of this book. Glenn Wilburn was the grandfather of two small children killed in the bomb blast that destroyed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. He had led an independent investigation to discover who was behind the entire operation, something that the federal government has seemed determined not to do. He died on July 15, 1997, of cancer of the pancreas. He was 46.