Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Kristof's ugly smear. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof today charges that "liberal Web sites" are raising the possibility that Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone -- killed in a plane crash a week and a half ago -- was the victim of an assassination by his political enemies on the right. "The White House team that executed Vincent Foster must have struck again," Kristof sneers. His so-called point is that liberals are reacting to George W. Bush and the Republican Party with the same demented paranoia that marked conservatives' stance toward Bill Clinton and the Democrats.

Kristof's use of the word "liberal" suggests that mainstream Democrats are calling for an investigation into whether Bushies planted themselves on Minnesota's equivalent of the grassy knoll and shot down Wellstone's plane. But he offers no evidence in trying to make the case for moral equivalence. Cartoonist Ted Rall -- who's way to the left of liberal -- recently wrote a piece claiming that "some Democrats and progressive Americans" are raising questions about the Wellstone tragedy. But, like Kristof, Rall names no names, and in the end he concludes that the conspiracy theory is highly unlikely. There's also some chatter on the websites of the Independent Media Centers, which, frankly, are way to the left of Rall. Conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, writing in Salon.com, had to strain to find another nutty conspiracy theorist, a Dr. Michael I. Niman of Buffalo State College. And even Niman ends up admitting that Wellstone's death was probably just an accident.

It's not that no one is raising questions about Wellstone's death. It is, after all, not difficult to find websites that raise questions about whether the earth is round, or if people really did land on the moon. But Kristof's tone suggests that I should be able to read the latest on the Wellstone conspiracy at the website of, say, the Democratic National Committee. Please. When Clinton aide Vince Foster committed suicide, no fewer than two special prosecutors were ordered by congressional Republicans to look specifically into the question of whether the White House had him assassinated. Even the sex-crazed Ken Starr concluded that was ridiculous. As Times columnist Bill Keller pointed out on Saturday, Republican congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, a member of the House leadership team, once went so far as to shoot bullets into a watermelon in a twisted attempt to prove his Foster-was-murdered theory. (Presumably Burton would have used a cocoanut if he believed Foster had really killed himself.) Where are the Democrats calling for an investigation into the Wellstone "assassination"? The answer is that there aren't any.

Conservative paranoia during the Clinton years reached the highest levels of the Republican Party. By contrast, Kristof offers no evidence that anyone other than a few people on the far left believe the Bush White House had anything to do with Wellstone's tragic death. Kristof's charge amounts to a smear against Democrats and liberals, unsupported by facts.

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