The Corner

Linda Douglass Joins Obama

Marc Ambinder reports the National Journal’s Linda Douglass, the former CBS and ABC News correspondent, is joining the Obama campaign as a senior strategist and spokeswoman. Ben Smith suggests that “the Clinton campaign — and Fox News — is going to have a field day with this.”

At the risk of having a field day myself, Douglass’ move brings to mind a story I did about her for the American Spectator back in 1998. (Not available on the web, as far as I know.) It seems she sometimes found it difficult to draw the line between reporter and source back then:

On March 14, 1994, the CBS Evening News began with word of a big shake- up in the Clinton administration. “Another high-ranking member of the Clinton team was pulled down tonight in the spreading undertow of Whitewater,” anchorwoman Connie Chung announced. “The latest to resign: Webster Hubbell, a high-ranking official at the Justice Department with close ties to the president and Mrs. Clinton.” Chung tossed to correspondent Rita Braver, who reported the story from Detroit, where President Clinton was attending a jobs conference; then to Bob Schieffer, who covered reaction on Capitol Hill, and finally to Linda Douglass, who was traveling with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Colorado.

Douglass reported that Mrs. Clinton was trying to keep the focus on her health care initiative–and away from Whitewater. But she wasn’t having much luck; everywhere she turned, journalists seemed more interested in her role in the Arkansas land deal. The experience was clearly troubling for the first lady, Douglass reported, and Douglass herself seemed almost saddened by the turn of events in Washington. She concluded her report on a faintly elegiac note: “This was a difficult day for Mrs. Clinton as she watched another close friend, Webster Hubbell, forced from public life,” Douglass said. “She had urged him and other friends to join her to serve in Washington; yet despite her power, she’s had to watch some of them fall and has been unable to protect them. Linda Douglass, CBS News, Denver.”

What CBS viewers could not have known was that Webb Hubbell– who later pleaded guilty to stealing $400,000 from his old law firm and cheating on his taxes–was not just the first lady’s friend. He was also a friend of Linda Douglass. From the earliest days of the Clinton administration, Douglass and her husband, an influential public interest lawyer named John Phillips, socialized often with Hubbell and his wife Suzy. Within weeks of Hubbell’s resignation, Phillips put together a deal by which a California non-profit group paid Hubbell $45,000 to write a series of articles on the idea of public service. Later, Phillips and Douglass picked up much of the tab when they and the Hubbells flew to Greece for a ten-day vacation cruising the Aegean Sea. They stayed in touch after Hubbell pleaded guilty–and even after Hubbell went to prison….

Douglass says she told network management about the friendship and recused herself from covering matters involving Hubbell (as she had done earlier with respect to her friend Mickey Kantor). “I am absolutely scrupulous on this issue,” Douglass says. “I pride myself on taking great care to try to avoid those situations.” Once she became close to Hubbell, Douglass says, “I certainly never covered anything having to do with Webb, never covered anything having to do with his problems. I recused myself from that whole story.”

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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