Home / General / Let Us Return To The Gloriously Bipartisan Government of the Late 90s

Let Us Return To The Gloriously Bipartisan Government of the Late 90s


Shorter Verbtim Bill Keller: “The president should announce that he has told the Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator with bulldog instincts and bipartisan credibility. The list of candidates could start with Kenneth Starr, who chased down the scandals, real and imagined, of the Clinton presidency.”

Atrios skimmed the cream from this unwitting parody, but this is almost as good:

The third reason for a special counsel is that the government has serious business to conduct, and the scandal circus on Capitol Hill is a terrible distraction. Oversight, so-called, is what we do these days instead of passing a budget, reforming the immigration system, or processing the countless government and judicial appointments awaiting confirmation. Handing off the I.R.S. problem to a special counsel and putting congressional hearings on hold would allow everyone, including journalists, to turn their attention to all that unfinished business.

Yes, if history has taught us anything, it’s that hiring Ken Starr as a special prosecutor will ensure that years aren’t wasted on partisan psuedoscandals instead of governing. And it is almost equally clear that in the absence of scandal a productive, bipartisan legislative agenda will proceed quickly through our highly functional Congress.

The whole column is amazing. It’s like the Trailblazers reflecting on drafting Bowie over Jordan and wishing that they could do it again since it worked out so well the first time. I look forward to Keller’s next column, about how Clinton v. Jones was the most prescient Supreme Court opinion in history.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • wjts

    The special counsel (that is the formal term) should be assured an all-access pass to the people and records he needs to determine whether the treatment of conservative groups seeking special tax status was a) a ham-handed shortcut by overworked and badly guided bureaucrats, b) a systematic persecution of political opponents, or c) some combination of the two.

    A new variation on the evergreen Jamesonian question: “Spider-Man: Threat, Menace, or Both?”

    • Scott Lemieux

      I’m thinking of the NASA press conference on The Simpsons. “No, really Bill, is this a joke?”

      • “No, Toby, and no more questions about whether this is a joke.” (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

        More importantly, does Keller realize he’s refuting himself when he says Starr chased down “imagined” scandals? Was he awake in the 90s?

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          apparently the editor has no editor – and then t hey’ve got the gall to complain about ‘unprofessional’ bloggers

          • What does Keller need an editor for? He’s quite well housebroken. Never offends the people that matter, hews to the accepted opinions for Serious People, and finds a way to cast some blame appropriately on both sides. What could an editor do that would improve a Bill Keller column?

        • Anonymous

          Has he followed Starr’s career since the 90s? Also, clearly, no.

        • EH

          Someone’s got some dirt on Keller, I just know it. It’s the simplest explanation for these moments of his.

          • grouchomarxist

            Or he just gets off on messing with our heads. And getting paid insanely well for it.

  • joe from Lowell

    Yes, if history has taught us anything, it’s that hiring Ken Starr as a special prosecutor will ensure that years aren’t wasted on partisan psuedoscandals instead of governing.

    Similarly, the Supreme Court has been totally vindicated in its ruling that compelling a sitting President to respond to a civil lawsuit will only take a few minutes and can’t conceivably result in any sort of distraction.

    • Breadbaker

      They were quoting John Marshall: It is emphatically the province of the Judicial Department to tell the President when and where he should show up for his deposition.

  • When I was little __B, I though I’d manage to get through my entire life without discussing blowjobs with my mother. Thanks to Ken Starr: sadly, no.

    • Hob

      I vividly remember this one moment when, sitting in front of a computer at my computer programming job, it hit me on some deep level— which I’d been anticipating ever since I got into science fiction as a kid— that I really was living in the future, a future that I, as a person born in the past, couldn’t possibly be ready for. And it wasn’t because I had this job doing Internet stuff that would’ve made no sense to anyone 20 years earlier; it was because what was on my computer screen was a 115,000-word volume of half-hearted pornography produced by the federal government… and distributed to me at my job free of charge… with the intention of making me angry.

      • Speaking Writing as someone who read a lot of Golden Age sci-fi as a child, this future is one that John Campbell would be very disappointed in.

      • R. Johnston

        Hob wins an internet.

      • JP Stormcrow

        It really was about the sleaziest thing I’ve ever read. I actually felt deep shame at the time.

        And for anyone associated with Baylor, you do realize that your University president is an ethically-challenged bully.

        Here’s an oldie but goodie from the Times, their (generally fatuous) in depth Sept. 1998 piece on Starr which ran in the Magazine.

        All this said, in the end Starr’s motives no longer matter. That is his victory, his measure of vindication. It no longer matters if malicious right-wingers consorted with his office to lay a trap for the President, if prudishness or ambition or even radio waves from outer space drove Ken Starr. The President has admitted misleading the American public. He lied. Through Starr’s doggedness, his relentless effort to amass every last fact, he has succeeded in making his investigation about Bill Clinton, not about Ken Starr.

        And I always loved this little tidbit, Although he sings hymns on his morning jog and keeps a calendar with daily Scripture verses at his private residence, he did not bring his religion into the workplace, they say.

  • Jonathan H. Adler

    A special counsel and an independent counsel (a la Ken Starr) are not the same thing. They don’t have the same legal and institutional status or constraints.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yes, that’s correct — the ability of a special counsel to engage in fishing expeditions after the initial scandal fizzled would be much more limited. Nonetheless, all of Keller’s premises (1)Ken Starr would produce judgments widely accepted across the partisan spectrum; 2)a special counsel would reduce the time Congress wasted on scandals and psuedoscandals; and 3)in the absence of scandal mongering Congress would be likely to pass an ambitious bipartisan agenda) are transparently wrong.

      • I believe Keller wrote this piece after he realized that Kinsley had completely scooped him on the austerian/non-austerian debate.

        After reading these pieces I can’t tell if I don’t take enough drugs, they need to take more drugs, or if they have been taking too many drugs and need 30 days of rehab before they can submit another column.

        Or it could just be as simple as Atrios says, we are ruled/led by fools/idiots/the worst people in the world.

  • rm

    Somehow this shocks more than even the most evil/stupid thing ever said by people like Sen. Inhofe. I have the politics-savvy person’s disdain for our even-the-liberal (conservative) press elite, but my God, how could he be this stupid? One expects a wingnut to say “you can’t explain how the tides work,” but this is a supposedly educated man.

    • Hogan


  • howard

    All i could think when i saw this earlier was this clown was the editor in chief….

  • I kind of think that the very phrase “The President Should…” should be stricken from the NYT editorial style lexicon.

    • JKTHs

      I think the WaPo needs that guideline more.

      • R. Johnston

        Nah. No guideline other than “go hang yourself in shame” is suitable for the Post.

  • Djur

    Bill Keller, longtime member of the “I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-Still-Employed” club. (ref.)

  • DocAmazing

    Look at it from Keller’s point of view. His job is to move newsprint. Ken Starr’s dipshit crusade sold a lot of papers; from a publisher’s point of view, he’s desirable.

    • Hob

      I guess we should be glad Keller didn’t suggest bringing back Ted Kaczynski too.

      • catclub

        No way, they had to publish him for free.

    • DocAmazing

      Also: I can’t help but ;augh childishly at the co-author of the Starr Report:


      • I am currently doing research on late-nineteenth-century tall buildings and have found an architect named Schmuck and one named Putzel. It grieves me to report, however, that they were not partners.

        • Breadbaker

          The sportswriter Peter Schmuck once interviewed relief pitcher J.J. Putz and couldn’t get him to laugh at the silliness of their surnames. Putz kept saying his name was, as it is, pronounced like Putts.

          • firefall

            Still not quite up to the majesty of cricket, Peter Willey of England bowling to batsman Michael Holding, or as the announcer put it,”the batsman’s Holding the bowlers Willey”

      • commie atheist

        Didn’t he have a brother named Rusty?

    • jkay

      Isn’t DocAmazing right? After all, how MUCH value Starr did bring NYT?

      Doesn’t he hafta’ve been as good for biz as their backing of the Iraq War, between the blowjob and the length of Starr’s stubbornness about keeping his paycheck.

    • njorl

      You’re on to something. Look at the potential news of the future. We’ll be out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The economy will improve, but not enough to get excited about. A Special Counsel for the Generation of Scandals is all he can hope for.

  • somethingblue

    I’m trying to think of some vastly long period that Keller could be Wanker of. Is there anything longer than a geologic eon?

    • R. Johnston

      Keller is Wanker of Marvin the Paranoid Android’s lifetime.

  • William Berry

    JHC! That was real!

    I was sure it was some kind of sick joke. There are no words in the language to describe the pathetical ridiculosity of this crap.

    • William Berry

      And I’m an NYT Digital subscriber. Embarrassing, I know, but anyway, full disclosure.

      • R. Johnston

        Firefox, NoScript plugin, disallow nytimes.com. You’ll get your money’s worth and not a penny more.

        • William Berry

          Yeah, I heard something about that somewhere. I might give it a try. Although I do find disabling/ enabling scripts to be annoying, maybe even worth 15$ a month.

          • William Berry

            Oh, right, a plug-in. Duh! I’ll give it a whirl. Thnx.

    • Manta

      Maybe Bill Keller has a killer sense of humor?

      • JP Stormcrow

        I have toyed with the thought that the whole NYTimes political coverage since 1992 has been an extended practical joke. Aside form the usual suspects, Frank Bruni? Elisabeth Bumiller*? Kit Seelye?

        *I think we were very deferential because … it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.

  • JP Stormcrow

    @jamisonfoser’s twitter rant on it is worth a read.

  • JP Stormcrow

    Next thing you know L. Jean Lewis will be popping up with “evidence”. … And actually for all I know she might still be chief of staff of the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office. If she is I’m going on the record as predicting it: L. Jean Lewis will feature in some attempt at an Obama administration scandal.

  • JP Stormcrow

    But looking on the bright side, no Justice Starr.

  • rea

    The obvious choice for special prosecutor would be someone like Rusty Sabich. Who better to track down an imaginary scandal than an imaginary prosecutor?

  • Oh Jesus Christ on a dirty beach cracker. Why not just call for the Witch Smeller Pursuivant?

    But this in particular makes me want to drop him into a pile of broken rusty sofa springs from a great height:

    Handing off the I.R.S. problem to a special counsel and putting congressional hearings on hold would allow everyone, including journalists, to turn their attention to all that unfinished business.

    [Deep breath]

    Where the fuck does one begin with this sort of shit? Since one has shit to do and one can barely resist the urge to seek out Mr. Can We Trade Him for the Keller Who Actually Accomplished Shit? and punch him in the balls, one will merely note that sentence contains every single mother-fucking thing that is wrong with pop. journalism in the U.S.

    I urge people to print out that sentence and keep it somewhere handy. Every time you read or listen to large outlet coverage of politics, re-read Mr. Keller’s words. This will remind you that the news is being presented through several filters of lazy, dishonest, idiocy and encourage you to seek information elsewhere. (Or you can just listen to Dirty Laundry.)


  • cpinva

    after reading that column, i’m not yet convinced he was being serious. maybe he was being unintentionally facetious, or maybe intentionally. it’s kind of hard to tell. given his past, it’s easy to see why someone would assume he’s being serious, but i’m not certain in this particular case.

    • catclub

      The problem with asking someone if what they said was satire is, they will most likely give deadpan answer of no. And then where are you?

      And if you respond as most of us are, he asks if you can take a joke.

    • JP Stormcrow

      From a @nytkeller tweet earlier this morning: (And fwiw, the Ken Starr part was tongue-in-cheek.)

      • Jay B.

        Yeah, bullshit. The entire article is Village wisdom and deadly earnest. It’s possible, I suppose that Keller was joking about Ken Starr, but it’s certainly not evident in any way, shape or form. Everything else he wrote about was exactly what you’d think they’d think.

  • R. Porrofatto

    Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that anyone sane (i.e., not a Teabagging Republican) would say “Let’s bring back Ken Starr as a special prosecutor” out loud or in print.
    And this bit is “Yes I’m totally off my meds” reasoning:

    The third reason for a special counsel is that the government has serious business to conduct, and the scandal circus on Capitol Hill is a terrible distraction.

    Keller actually thinks that an investigation by a special counsel — with all the attendant and/or fabricated leaks in the media — would put an end to the scandal circus so that the administration could govern without distraction. Fut the wuck?

    The second reason to bring in a special prosecutor is that it’s the surest way to get answers the public might trust.

    Does he even remember Robert Fiske, the first Whitewater special prosecutor whose investigation rightly cleared the Clintons of any wrongdoing, and who was replaced by Kenneth Starr for that very reason?

    Holy shit.

    • catclub

      I was thinking that bringing back Robert Fiske would be a great way to send the wingnuts totally off the reservation. Of course, for all I know Fiske has become a wingnut himself.
      Consider David Stockman. Not identical situation, but he recognized the lies of the Reagan admin and left it.

      also: ” Verbtim Bill Keller” is that like Nounfred Bob Jones?

  • “This whole Sudetenland crisis is a huge distraction, so we should just give it to Germany and let Europe get back to its peaceful business.”
    –Bill Keller, 1938

It is main inner container footer text