Magazine article American Journalism Review

The Long Attention Span of Richard V. Allen

Magazine article American Journalism Review

The Long Attention Span of Richard V. Allen

Article excerpt

By late 1984, two years after he resigned as President Reagan's first national security advisor, Richard V. Allen thought he had put an end to it. The implication that he was a sleazeball. The corrections and apologies that followed from various news outlets. The same accusations, again, sometimes in the same places.

Yet today, more than ten years after he left the White House, Allen is still battling to correct what he considers unconscionable errors, the most recent of which appeared in March in the Washington Post.

The popular lore goes like this: Allen, now 57 and head of a Washington consulting firm that bears his name, resigned in disgrace in January 1982 after accepting three $135 wristwatches and $1,000 cash to arrange an interview with Nancy Reagan for a Japanese magazine.

Allen says he resigned not because of any misdeeds but because his relationship with President Reagan had been sabotaged by political infighting. For that reason, and because he was cleared of wrongdoing, Allen insists it's unfair to link his departure to the ethics charges.

More importantly, he says it is incorrect to mention his name in the same breath as other Reagan appointees accused of misdeeds. "I am not Meese, Deaver, Nofziger, McFarlane or Poindexter," he has said. Two Justice Department probes concluded that the watches had been given to Allen and his wife by old friends before he took his government job, that he had not arranged the interview and that he had properly ordered that the "honorarium" offered to Mrs. Reagan be sent to the U.S. Treasury.

We first reported on the beginnings of Allen's crusade to protect his reputation in December 1984, after errors had appeared in at least two newspapers, three syndicated columns and on ABC's "World News Tonight." Such mistakes now appear less frequently. Still, Allen shows the same vigor attacking them as he did in the fail of 1984, when he distributed his first 200 "slander packs"--cross-tabbed bundles of apologies and corrections, red-flag "actionable by law" warnings and the Justice Department reports. The pack now weighs 3.5 pounds.

"The weight of the package, both physically and qualitatively, forces people to take notice," Allen says. "Because although they protest to the contrary, newspeople are absolutely prone to slough it off. They truly do not care."

The Washington Post, which reported the original leaks about the watches in November 1981, has linked Allen to misdeeds and corrected itself four times since (including the same-day correction of a Doonesbury comic in 1986). The most recent correction, five inches in length, appeared on March 19. In a story the week before describing a Japanese political scandal, Tokyo correspondent T.R. Reid had written that Allen quit in 1982 "after charges that he received a gift from a Japanese group for helping to arrange an interview for them with Nancy Reagan. …

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