One-Day Stories

While the Impeachment-as-Government fiasco proceeds implacably on Capitol Hill, with the complete preoccupation of all the major U.S. media, it’s always instructive to consider what the press doesn’t report – or more often, reports in a momentary flash, before moving back to the important stuff: Monica’s Christmas presents and the mysterious Jane Doe No. 5.

Among the recently disappearing bulletins, for example – called by reporters “one-day stories” – was the news that Georgia Representative Bob Barr and Mississippi Senator Trent Lott had both spoken before a white supremacist organization known as the Council of Conservative Citizens (successor to the South’s notorious White Citizens’ Councils), and maintained friendly relationships with the group. Once exposed, Barr and Lott blustered and backpedaled, claimed ignorance, and were quietly allowed to put the controversy behind them. “[Lott] should have known better,” tsked Newsweek. “Now he does.”

Another such one-day story flashed the mainstream press on January 30, when The New Republic broke the story that Texas Congressman Tom DeLay had apparently lied under oath, in 1994, when DeLay was sued by a former partner in his Houston-based Albo Pest Control Company.

Apparently hoping to avoid liability, DeLay denied in a deposition that he was an officer of the business. But in his congressional financial disclosure documents – including one filed just three months after his deposition – DeLay listed himself as president or chairman of the board of Albo from 1985 through 1994. Like the testimony under oath, DeLay’s disclosure forms were no mere bureaucratic formality – any falsehood is subject to criminal or civil sanctions, up to a $10,000 fine and/or five years in prison.

Majority Whip DeLay, of course, has pressed the case for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, calling it a struggle between “relativism” and “absolute truth,” repeatedly blasted the President for lying under oath, and referred darkly to presidential crimes never made public but buried in the thousands of documents generated by prosecutor Ken Starr.

DeLay isn’t talking about the new revelations, but his spokesmen blamed his political enemies. The attorney for DeLay’s former partner had a blunter conclusion: “[DeLay] either lied in the deposition or lied when he filled out that disclosure form.” He suggested that the matter be pursued as a possible perjury case, but neither that nor a Congressional ethics investigation is likely – new congressional rules say only other Members can file complaints against their peers.

The details of the lawsuit, summarized by Ann Louise Bardach (The New Republic, February 15) have their own interest – essentially, DeLay and an associate acquired a company owned by Houstonian Robert Blankenship, may have used the company illegally as a DeLay campaign cash cow, and then muscled Blankenship out of the business. DeLay, warned by the judge that his defense was dubious, settled with Blankenship for an undisclosed sum.

The Albo lawsuit tale is not entirely new – it was thoroughly reported by Michael Berryhill in the weekly Houston Press a couple of years ago, to resounding silence in the mainstream media. The New Republic piece adds only the congressional disclosure angle, but Bardach comments that in the current impeachment context – in which civil-suit “perjury” has been anointed a Very High Crime Indeed – DeLay’s sworn contradictions might well require extremely strict scrutiny. She notes DeLay’s loud skepticism about Clinton’s perjury defense, and asks, “If he’s not willing to listen to lawyerly explanations about why an apparent untruth under oath isn’t a lie, why should anybody else?”

However, if you’re interesting in learning more about DeLay’s extermination of the truth, you had better grab Bardach’s article or surf the Web for Berryhill’s fine investigative piece. In the dailies and elsewhere, it’s been a one-day story, unlikely to receive further inquiry from the keepers of mainstream journalism – let alone a $50 million prosecutorial investigation of the business and legal history of the Bug Man from Sugar Land.

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Published at 12:00 am CST