Doubling Down
Regarding the Bruce Babbitt/Paul Eckstein "Indian gambling" accusations ("Babbitt's Department of Ulterior," Michael Lacey, November 20), supposing the Department of the Interior decision had gone the other way? Then Eckstein could be portrayed as "the high-paid mouthpiece for gambling interests exploiting impoverished Indians to justify locating a casino far from their reservations in the middle of a town torn by controversy over the prospects of gambling corruption in their midst."

Eckstein could be accused of "trading on personal friendship to invade the office of his closest friend, Secretary [of the Interior Bruce] Babbitt, to cajole, bribe and possibly blackmail a win for a shady multibillion-dollar special interest." Another chain of circumstantial evidence could be resurrected from campaign contributions and lobbyists trading on friendships, which is a pervasive activity infecting all sides of any pending decision involving serious money. And of course some difference could be highlighted in recollections of two-year-old conversations.

Accusations could be trumpeted as "proof," and two good men could be ruined--Eckstein as well as Babbitt, instead of merely Babbitt. The press would have a "two fer the price of one."

Most of Lacey's column portrays games of greed played by contributors and lobbyists deluding themselves into thinking they influence administration policy. It's all kept quite separate from the approval process by career people deep within departments like Interior. Otherwise, there'd be a scandal a minute. Significantly, the partisan Thompson Committee ignored the sworn testimony of career decision makers. And for all their scandal-mongering, the media also failed to prove a breach in the critical barrier between money and policy.

Whether Janet Reno finally finds evidence in this case, the shortage of real scandal in the Clinton administration is seldom noted, only the five-year barrage of accusations spiced with occasional personal embarrassments and unjustly clouded reputations. Reality doesn't match headlines. It's significant that President Clinton has long favored reforming the rotten campaign-finance system while his Republican foes revel in it. That's the real scandal.

Bill Searle

Michael Lacey's Bruce Babbitt column smells. There are more than 350 paragraphs by my count: Which one of them provides any hard evidence that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt made an illegal decision in the Hudson casino case? I have found dozens of paragraphs detailing some amusing anecdotes of the antics of small-Midwestern-town officials. I have found some not-very-interesting stuff about some Washington lobbyists, who (we are shocked to learn) resort to all sorts of tricks and pressures to get what they want.

I have found some lame character-assassination material about Bruce Babbitt. My gosh, he has acted in a "politically expedient" manner at times, and he even fired an associate for getting drunk in public. What a reprobate that Bruce Babbitt must be! I found a paragraph, curiously placed at the end, which states that there is no evidence that Harold Ickes actually influenced the Hudson decision in an improper way; why wasn't this the lead paragraph? It could have saved me a lot of tedious reading.

The column especially smells because it does not answer any hard, specific questions, not the least of which is this one: Why would Bruce Babbitt, who has led a life of seeming personal and professional integrity, suddenly decide to roll over on an Indian gaming matter, and expose himself to this kind of bashing?

Answer: He probably wouldn't. There is no motive for this "crime." It makes no sense whatsoever.

What does make sense is that New Times, the tabloid that ran the famous Grant Woods in Front of the Jail Buying a Hot Dog From a Fugitive photo on its cover, absent its recent favorite target, the Fifester, who is now so uninteresting that it can no longer use his photo on the cover to attract interest, has come up with the Babbitt story, and is milking it for all it is worth.

The problem is, it has the look and feel of a nonstory. It has the appearance of the Vince Foster Was Murdered story. Michael Lacey has provided a lot of dots (I guess this is what passes for investigative reporting nowadays) but does not connect any of them. As for the investigative reporting, most of the material directly related to Babbitt, except for the gratuitous insults that Lacey made up and tossed in for flavor and color, is material that I have already read somewhere else.

I watched the Babbitt testimony in the Thompson hearings. Most of the time was spent arguing over Babbitt's recollection, or nonrecollection, of a remark he made to his friend as the two were ending a meeting. The remark, even if made exactly as described, does not support any conclusion that there was impropriety in the Hudson case. Why didn't the committee press Babbitt on the facts of the Hudson case itself?

A good investigative reporter ought to be able to figure out the answer: There wasn't any there. The whole thing was theatrical from start to finish. Knowing that Babbitt was embarrassed by the incident, the senators played the embarrassment for all it was worth, which is going to turn out to be not very much. The senators had no time for pursuing hard evidence of a crime, because doing so would have exposed their charade.

Lacey may or may not know that New Times has an extremely low credibility rating out here in Readerland. Snide ad hominem and subjective attacks, stories expanded with filler and innuendo, and just plain poor investigative reporting are not going to improve that rating. New Times can do better work than this.

Paul S. Gooding

Play Fair
Boy, Robrt L. Pela has his facts wrong yet again ("Saving Faith," November 20)! Arizona Jewish Theatre Company receives general operating support from the Arizona Commission on the Arts (which, in turn, receives some of it from the National Endowment for the Arts), as do Phoenix Theatre and probably Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Both Phoenix Theatre and AJTC receive general operating funding from the Phoenix Arts Commission as well.

Needless to say, we receive a small fraction of the funding Phoenix Theatre receives. We are required by the commissions to give them credit in all of our programs, which we are happy to do. We received no special funding for Little Footsteps. All of this information is public record, and Pela could have checked it before he wrote his review.

I'll tell Pela what--since it pains him so to come to our theater, why doesn't he just not come? I think that will make us both much happier!

Janet Arnold
producing director


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