May 26, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: When George W. Bush first assumed the presidency word was he had moved into a White House in shambles. The W's had been removed from the White House computer keyboards, phone lines had been cut and worse. The late night comics had a field day. The New York Post dubbed it "Vandalgate."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Let's not dwell in the past, said the new administration, and the White House press corps for the most part didn't. One exception was the Kansas City Star. Two weeks after new W's had presumably been secured, the Star ran a story which said that there were almost no facts to back up all those rumors and unnamed sources. Last week an independent report requested by Republican Congressman Bob Barr found no evidence of vandalism in the White House. The Kansas City Star, unique among daily papers, immediately put this news on the front page in an effort to set the record straight. David Goldstein is the Washington correspondent for the Star who wrote both of those stories and he joins us now. Mr. Goldstein, welcome to OTM.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now for a story that had so few hard facts and no named sources behind it, it was just chockablock with juicy details.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Severed computer cables, phone lines, filing cabinets glued shut-- [LAUGHTER] switched telephone extensions, desks overturned, scrawled lewd graffiti, computer printers loaded with pornographic images and Air Force One absolutely trashed!
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: Absolutely trashed. I mean it sounded like a hurricane hit it or something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So where did all of these juicy details come from if not from the Bush administration?
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: I don't know. No one told me any of these things. I got in, I dropped in on the story sort of all after the fact to try and trace it down, and I could never find any White House aides that would own up to any of this, and when you tried to check into some of the things that were reported, for instance a column in U.S. News reported that thousands of dollars was being spent by the White House to repair phone lines, and so I call a White House aide -- I said check into this -- and he checked into it - said I couldn't find anything like that at all. I think, you know, and this is speculation on my part fed by other people I've talked to that were sort of on the inside and have some better knowledge of this than me, and that is that for some reason they must have found it to their advantage that this -- I think they thought this advanced President Bush's agenda.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It doesn't seem as if the Bush administration's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, did much to tamp the flames.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN:They did nothing to sort of dissuade people of the story in the beginning, and at the same time that they were sort of on the one hand saying one thing about it, on the other hand in private other aides were saying other things about it -- and then, you know, Ari Fleischer would say at one point he was cataloguing the problems but then the next day he, you know, he would start to backpedal a little bit and say well it was really just a single aide who was keeping track in his head about things and-- you wonder why they did this. Because I think it backfired on them. You know our first story about this came about because you know the story had been breaking, you know, and it seemed really bizarre. You know there was no verification of this, and our reader representative in Kansas City, you know, in the Star's main office started getting some calls from readers saying you know what is this about? You know is this stuff true? You know, you know we had been wondering about this to begin with and then we started getting calls from readers. They were interested in it, so we said well what's going on, and all it took -- I just made a call out to Andrews Air Force base and talked to one of the public affairs officials out there -- said is any of this stuff true? Because they have to catalogue everything they - you know - that comes back on the plane -the condition of the plane. He said you know there were some broken glasses and that was it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Isn't it interesting that-- it was a request from readers for actual facts--
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- that spurred your investigation. Does this say something about journalism in our time?
DAVID GOLDSTEIN:Well it's kind of refreshing. [LAUGHS] But it does say something. Yeah, it does. You know I think it's really distressing, I, I think it's also distressing that the followup story last week about the GSA Report was really buried by most of the, most of the major papers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You wrote that the GSA released its report without a hint of fanfare.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN:I was told when I, when I, when I was reporting this that, that there's not really like an official report -- there's a letter to Congressman Barr in which they sort of spell out what they found or did not find. So every couple of weeks or so I would call them to find out, you know, what's happening with this report -- are you done yet? Are you done yet?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You and-- probably no one else.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN:I wasn't aware that anyone else was. I mean you always like to be aware if someone else is following something that you're following, and it -- you know it was no great skill on my part to do that -- that's just making a couple of phone calls every couple of weeks or so. There's not a lot of deep investigation going on here. [LAUGHS] It was just some phone calls. You know you don't have to be either a Democrat or a Republican or whoever to recognize that you know this wasn't right! You could be the biggest Clinton-hater, you know, in all humanity and recognize that when faced with the facts this was just not right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you David Goldstein.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN: You're welcome. Any time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Goldstein is a Washington correspondent for the Kansas City Star.