Magazine article The Spectator

For Woodward-Bernstein, Read Evans-Pritchard

Magazine article The Spectator

For Woodward-Bernstein, Read Evans-Pritchard

Article excerpt

It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the destruction of President Clinton - if and when it happens should certainly result in some major press award for the Daily Telegraph's one and only Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. For more than any other Washington correspondent - American as well as everybody else he has been responsible for bringing Bill Clinton to book. He was on the job from the beginning, long before Kenneth Starr, and in spite of all attempts by the White House to frighten him off and blacken his reputation, he has never given up. One would like to think that it can only be a matter of time before the Telegraph's man is the hero, played by Robert Redford, of an award-winning Hollywood blockbuster.

Nevertheless, in all likelihood Ambrose's achievement is most unlikely to get the recognition it deserves. My guess is that he will now come in for more press brickbats, which are already beginning to fly, than bouquets, which so far have been conspicuously slow in arriving. Indeed I would wager a football star's transfer fee that, instead of becoming a glamorous rolemodel for the next generation of journalists - as did Woodward and Bernstein - he will be remembered, if at all, as an eccentric and slightly disreputable Welsh maverick whose sense of proportion left much to be desired.

The reason, I fear, is all too obvious. In the eyes of those here and in America who make or break journalistic reputations, the successful pursuit of a Democratic president ranks far lower in the scales of gallantry than does the successful pursuit of a Republican one. It is as simple as that. I know it will be argued that President Nixon's delinquencies, being political and public, deserved to be pursued relentlessly, while Clinton's, being private and sexual, did not. Seen from this perspective, Ambrose is made to look like a seedy voyeur or unbalanced puritan who compares ill with the noble patriots who did for Richard Nixon. But in truth there is no justification for viewing him in that light since Whitewater, when it first aroused Ambrose's suspicion, was not primarily about sex. It was primarily about corruption, intimidation, abuse of power and all sorts of even more serious crimes, with sex no more than the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, it was only because it proved difficult to nail Clinton on these other more serious crimes that Ambrose, followed subsequently by Kenneth Starr, turned to sex in much the same way as the FBI turned to incometax evasion when unable to nail Al Capone on anything else.

No, the glorification of Woodward and Bernstein and the lack of glorification, indeed denigration, of Ambrose has nothing to do with any difference in culpability of the two presidential targets, and everything to do with the way the press, on both sides of the Atlantic, is prepared to lean over backwards to give a liberal president the benefit of the doubt - at least until the bitter end - while wholly unwilling to give an anti-liberal president any comparable level of merciful indulgence. In the end, of course, even the liberal press has turned against Clinton. But whereas the journalistic messengers who insisted on bringing the public the incriminating news about Nixon were praised and rewarded, it is most unlikely that the messenger who has done most to bring the bad news about Clinton will go on to any comparable fame or fortune.

I say this without prejudice, as the lawyers say. For in my view neither Woodward nor Bernstein nor Evans-Pritchard deserve praise or reward. …

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