When he announced the indictment of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald included a homily on the importance of truth. And in truth it sounded a bit quaint, like someone trying to recite the Sermon on the Mount on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. But of course Fitzgerald was right. When lying becomes the accepted currency, you haven’t got the rule of law but a criminal conspiracy.
All governments lie, but Ronald Reagan and his crew raised the bar. From about 1978 on, when the drive to put Reagan in the White House gathered speed, lying was the standard mode for Reagan, his handlers and a press quite happy to retail all the bilge, from the Soviet Union’s supposed military superiority to the millionaire welfare queens on Chicago’s South Side. The press went along with it. Year after year, on the campaign trail and then in the White House, the press corps reported Reagan’s news conferences without remarking that the Commander in Chief dwelt mostly in a twilit world of comic-book fables and old movie clips.
Lying about Reagan’s frail grip on reality was only part of the journalistic surrender. For those who see Judith Miller’s complicity in the lying sprees of the neocons as a signal of the decline of the New York Times from some previous plateau of objectivity and competence, I suggest a review of its sometime defense correspondent Richard Burt in the late Carter years, as Al Haig’s agent in place. Burt relayed truckloads of threat-inflating nonsense about the military balance in the cold war, particularly in the European theater, most of it on a level of fantasy matching the lies Miller got from Chalabi’s disinformers and trundled into print. When the Reaganites seized power in 1981, Burt promptly threw down his press badge and went to work in the State Department as Director of Politico-Military Affairs, a post previously held by another former Times man, Leslie Gelb, no garden rose but not a two-timer on the order of Burt.
Many of the associates of Libby and of his boss, now threatened by Fitzgerald, are veterans of that Reagan culture and hardened survivors of the crisis that ultimately threatened several of them with legal sanction and lengthy terms in prison. That crisis was the Iran/contra scandal, which burst upon the nation October 6, 1986–the day Eugene Hasenfus successfully parachuted from a CIA-piloted plane illegally shuttling arms to the contras.
Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a federal judge from Oklahoma City, began his investigation. In the probe that stretched through the rest of Reagan-time and the entire presidency of G.H.W. Bush, Walsh made his most effective headway by bringing charges for lying to Congress. This is how he nailed Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George and Robert McFarlane. They all either pleaded guilty to what Libby was just indicted for–obstruction of justice and making false statements–or were convicted of same.