Payload Payoff

Chatterbox does not normally look to the right-wing viper’s nest that is the Wall Street Journal editorial page as a source of inspiration. But when it comes to the sainted John Glenn, only the Journal’s vitriol-drenched edit writers have demonstrated (cliche alert) the right stuff. Tuesday’s lead editorial, “Glenn’s Reward,” bravely described the septuagenarian senator’s space spectacular as “one of the most cynical political transactions of the Clinton years.” What the Journal was referring to was Glenn’s all-but-forgotten 1997 efforts to scuttle Fred Thompson’s investigation of the Clinton fund-raising scandals. The Journal rightly suggests that Glenn’s Thursday liftoff has every appearance of a payoff for the lift that the Ohio Democrat gave the White House during the campaign hearings.

This is one rare case where the facts are even more one-sided than the Journal editorial. On July 6, 1997, the Sunday before Thompson hearings began, Glenn used his appearance on Meet the Press to publicly lobby for his last-hurrah launch into space. He was followed on the broadcast by NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin who purred, “I want to tell you John is an outstanding astronaut and a great American. He has a burning desire to go back into space. And we’re giving it very serious consideration, and we’ll see where this goes.” Where this went was toward a month of non-stop obstructive tactics by Glenn patently designed to block any serious examination of Clinton’s (John) Huang-way campaign fund-raising abuses. Chatterbox attended every day of the hearings, and this was one time when Glenn was anything but an American hero.

Like a money-for-access fund-raising transaction, no explicit quid pro quos were needed. While Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman won plaudits for his fair-minded approach to the hearings, Glenn willingly took the role of an aggressively partisan mouthpiece for the Clinton spin machine. After a quarter of century in politics, Glenn didn’t require any sign-on-the-dotted line promises from NASA. He knew all too well how the Washington favor-trading game is played.

What constantly amazes Chatterbox is the willful amnesia of our supposedly cynical press. A Nexis search revealed that, the Journal editorial aside, not a single story in any major publication has mentioned the Thompson hearings as part of the breathless buildup to Thursday’s launch. This is the week for heroism, and no one has temerity to suggest that our living patriotic statue is standing on a pedestal built out of Asian money transfers to the 1996 Clinton campaign. At this point, a Journal editorial page writer would be tempted to bring in the mysterious death of Vince Foster. But Chatterbox, a portrait in judicial restraint, has the good sense to end this irreverent item here.

Walter Shapiro