Politics & Policy

Alan Dershowitz: McCarthyite; Fair’s Fair


Last Friday night I had the privilege of having a conversation with Alan Dershowitz. Considering the fact I am not in need of an attorney to appeal my murder conviction, it was a real treat.

Mr. Dershowitz has made a brilliant career out of defending guilty people by attacking the process that tries to bring these murderers and rapists to justice- all at a healthy profit. He is writing a book about the Lewinsky scandal- it’s a media event so why wouldn’t he?-which is due out soon enough. It seems the irony is lost on him that he has become a surrogate lawyer for, and leading defender of, the President. Now Bill Clinton joins the ranks of Mike Tyson, Claus von Bulow, O.J. Simpson, and other “victims” in need of defending by Mr. Dershowitz.

Dershowitz is a very sanctimonious man. That is not news. Dershowitz is a committed liberal; that is neither news nor is it necessarily something bad- the ranks of liberalism are teeming with decent people. Alas, I’m not sure they can count Mr. Dershowitz in their number.

Mr. Dershowitz delivered an impassioned warning against the perils of “sexual McCarthyism” last Friday on Larry King Live. I have written on this page before that I think this term is clever to the point of meaninglessness. In short, I have argued, something can be bad and not necessarily be McCarthyistic, or Fascist, etc. Indeed, I think Ken Starr has generally done a fine job. But it is not unreasonable to argue otherwise-after all the Independent Counsel law is a bad one and can make even honest men’s actions seem dishonorable. But liberals who charge this decent man with being a “fascist” or a “Nazi” prove themselves know-nothings or intentional hate-mongers. They do violence to those who have truly suffered under such conditions and smear duly appointed and charged civil servants.

Similarly with McCarthyism. The pernicious essence of McCarthyism is the practice of accusing people of things that are not true and or alleging guilt by ones associations. Here is Mr. Dershowitz’s highly convenient definition:

“. . .sexual McCarthyism that I remember J. Edgar Hoover using, and Joe McCarthy using when, by investigating the private sex lives of public officials, they tried to influence their conduct. That, to me, is the greatest fear that is posed by this investigation: a return to sexual McCarthyism.”

Putting aside Mr. Dershowitz’s “memory” of surely highly secretive affairs, there was nothing “McCarthyistic” about Mr. Hoover’s practices- except maybe that they were also tempered by the real threat of Communism. Nevertheless, Hoover’s actions were wrong. They were, more simply, blackmail- not nearly so sexy or clever a term as “sexual McCarthyism.”

But at the end of Larry King on Friday night we found an example of real McCarthyism, perpetrated by none other than Mr. Dershowitz himself.

At the end of the program, with the clock running out so as to preclude setting the record straight, Dershowitz brought up a hustler named David Marriot who had brought my mother- Literary Agent Lucianne Goldberg- some dubious tapes relating to the Claus von Bulow trial. My mother, recognizing the stink of Mr. Marriot, declined to represent the man.

Here is the exchange between Mr. Dershowitz and myself (the transcript is a rush version from CNN):

BLITZER: Well, let’s return to where we started tonight. Alan Dershowitz, Lucianne Goldberg allegedly bringing Linda Tripp to Ken Starr. What if that were true, is that any big deal? DERSHOWITZ: First of all, it’s not the first time. Lucianne Goldberg was involved in the Claus von Bulow case. She worked with a man named David Marriott who made tapes in order to try to sell a book about von Bulow.

J. GOLDBERG: David Marriott brought those tapes to us when I was…

DERSHOWITZ: I know, I know, I know, but wait a minute. The tapes turned out to be doctored. The tapes turned out to be fake and Lucianne Goldberg was in the background.

J. GOLDBERG: My mom never even represented h[im] and never used h[im] as a client. I mean, you represented a guy who killed somebody.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, I can tell you- he was found innocent- I can tell you that David Marriott said that he was put up to it by Lucianne Goldberg.

J. GOLDBERG: David Marriott’s a liar and a hustler and no one’s ever heard from him for 20 years.

DERSHOWITZ: Yes. No, I agree with you, but Lucianne Goldberg’s fingerprints go back a long time on book deals involving high-visibility cases. Let’s at least be clear on that.

J. GOLDBERG: You go back with high-visibility criminals.

DERSHOWITZ: Yes, I do and I’m very proud of it.

J. GOLDBERG: Well, ditto.

Admittedly this was a sand-box fight. Nevertheless, Mr. Dershowitz is exhibiting the modus operandi of good criminal defense attorneys- change the story. Mr. Dershowitz concedes that Marriot is a “liar and a hustler.” The von Bulow affair took place when I was still playing with Lego. And Mr. Dershowitz is trying to make the case that somehow this mitigates Bill Clinton’s guilt. (He also, by the way, is trying to claim that representing a millionaire who murders his wife is somehow morally superior to considering representing an author who writes about it). This sort of guilt-by-association and deliberate smearing may be considered good lawyering. When done in public, it’s awfully close to the alleged tactics of tail gunner Joe that Dershowitz woefully bemoans.


I am no fan of Bill Clinton’s. I think the argument for his resignation is overwhelming. But the argument for full-blown impeachment and removal from office, i.e. conviction in the Senate, is not overwhelming. It may turn out to be, which is why we need hearings. If we want the process to be fair-and every good conservative must insist that it be-then we should not countenance the same sort of rhetoric about Bill Clinton that some of his defenders level at Ken Starr. As I argued above, to call Ken Starr a Nazi is disgusting, both as a smear to Ken Starr and to the millions who suffered under Naziism. The same must hold true for people who compare Clinton to Stalin or Saddam Hussein. Clinton’s behavior is reprehensible but it is not genocidal; it is craven and disgusting but it is not barbaric.

I think Ross Perot is doing what he sees as his patriotic duty in calling for the President to resign and he should be praised for it. But overheated rhetoric comparing Clinton to a mass-murderer like Stalin only contributes to a climate that need not be any more dangerous or unhealthy than it already is.


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