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The Falwell connection
HOW THE REV. JERRY FALWELL AND A CALIFORNIA POLITICAL ORGANIZATION HELPED FINANCE AND ORCHESTRATE AN EXTENSIVE ANTI-CLINTON PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN.
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BY MURRAY WAAS
A conservative political organization with ties to the Rev. Jerry Falwell covertly paid more than $200,000 to individuals who made damaging allegations about President Clinton's personal conduct, Salon has learned.
The money was paid out over a three-year period, between l994 and l996, by Citizens for Honest Government, headquartered in Orange County, Calif. The payments are detailed in the organization's confidential accounting ledgers and other internal records, copies of which were obtained by Salon.
The payments and the allegations -- some of which were either fabricated or grossly exaggerated -- were part of a covert and sophisticated political propaganda effort to influence public opinion against President Clinton.
One of the allegations, that Clinton protected an Arkansas-based cocaine-smuggling operation when he was governor of that state, spread from local talk radio shows to propaganda videos to the mainstream media, and eventually prompted an exhaustive, multimillion-dollar investigation by the House Banking Committee in 1994. The investigation concluded Clinton had nothing to do with the drug operation.
In another instance, in March, 1995, the Arkansas represenative of Citizens for Honest Government signed a contract agreeing to pay two Arkansa state troopers who had made questionable allegations supporting the theory that the late White House Counsel Vincent Foster had been murdered. The troopers, Roger Perry and Larry Patteson, who had previously told news organizations about Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs, had provided information about Foster's death to Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel.
The drug smuggling and Vincent Foster allegations were prominently featured in "The Clinton Chronicles," a video produced by Citizens for Honest Government and co-financed, publicized and distributed by Falwell. The notorious 1994 video also insinuated that Clinton's political adversaries often met untimely and suspicious deaths.
Citizens for Honest Government also covertly paid individuals who provided information to media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the American Spectator magazine, which named them as sources. Publicists hired by Citizens helped these people get numerous appearances on right-wing talk radio shows.
Almost all of the people named as recipients of Citizens for Honest Government funds in the group's accounting ledgers confirmed to Salon that they had been paid by the organization. The ledgers listed them as "expert witnesses."
Patrick Matrisciana, president of Citizens for Honest Government, acknowledged that his organization had paid the individuals but denied they were encouraged to tell stories to the press and public that were untrue.
"We did not pay people to tell lies," Matrisciana told Salon. "We paid people so that they would no longer have to be afraid to tell the truth. Most of the folks whom we have paid money have been the victims of political persecution and political oppression. These people [told] ... the truth, and we wanted to compensate them for that."
A number of the people who received payments from Citizens for Honest Government also appeared in "The Clinton Chronicles," according to the organization's records.
A spokesman for Falwell, Mark Demoss, said in an interview that Falwell was unaware of the payments made by Citizens to its "expert witnesses." Matrisciana also said in an interview that he did not inform Falwell or anyone else in Falwell's organization about the various payments.
In an interview with Salon lasting several hours, Matrisciana insisted that Falwell had no role in Citizens' payments to people who have made allegations about the president. "I have not had contact with anyone associated with Rev. Falwell for at least a couple of years," he said. However, telephone records obtained by Salon show that shortly before meeting the Salon reporter that very same day, Matrisciana had a lengthy telephone conversation with an official in Falwell's organization.
Asked about that, Matrisciana said: "I guess I'm only a bit player in all of this, but that's all I am going to say."
Demoss gave conflicting accounts of Falwell's relationship with Matrisciana and Citizens for Honest Government. Initially, he said, "The Rev. Falwell and Pat Matrisciana have had a relationship for over 20 years, and Rev. Falwell thought that there might be merit to what Pat had produced." But in a subsequent interview, Demoss said that Falwell and Matrisciana had only "met each other about twice" in their lives.
According to Demoss and Matrisciana, the two men agreed that Falwell would promote "The Clinton Chronicles" on Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" television show, as well as for a special half-hour infomercial.
"We had no involvement with the video until long after the fact," said Demoss. "The only role of Rev. Falwell was to tell the American people about it."
However, a direct-mail fund-raising appeal by Falwell suggests that Falwell was indeed involved with the video much earlier than he has acknowledged. The fund-raising appeal also shows that Falwell subsidized the production of the video as well. In the August 1994 direct-mail solicitation, Falwell asked supporters to "help me produce a national television documentary which will expose shocking new facts about Bill Clinton." The letter stated that Falwell was ready to make it available "as soon a I can raise approximately $40,000 needed to produce this video."
Despite being widely discredited, "The Clinton Chronicles," which contained all the lurid anti-Clinton allegations of cocaine trafficking and murder, was an effective piece of propaganda. With its sophisticated production and its adept film editing, the video imitates the style of an evening news program or television documentary. The video ends with former Republican Rep. William Dannemeyer urging that President Clinton be impeached, while a message flashes across the screen warning: "If any additional harm comes to anyone connected to this film or their families, the people of America will hold Bill Clinton personally responsible."
More than 150,000 copies of the video have been sold, according to Matrisciana. As many as double that number are reportedly in circulation.
The video's commercial success is due in large part to its promotion on Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour," as well as in an infomercial for the video, which viewers could order through Falwell's Liberty Alliance.
During the infomercial, Falwell interviews a silhouetted individual whom he identifies only as an "investigative reporter."
"Could you please tell me and the American people why you think that your life and the lives of the others on this video are in danger?" Falwell asks the man.
"Jerry, two weeks ago we had an interview with a man who was an insider," the mystery man replies. "His plane crashed and he was killed an hour before the interview. You may say this is just a coincidence, but there was another fellow that we were also going to interview, and he was killed in a plane crash. Jerry, are these coincidences? I don't think so."
Falwell reassured the man: "Be assured, we will be praying for your safety."
During Salon's interview with Matrisciana, a reporter told him that his voice sounded familiar. When the reporter told Matrisciana that he sounded like the man in silhouette, Matrisciana acknowledged that he was the mystery man.
"Obviously, I'm not an investigative reporter," Matrisciana admitted, "and I doubt our lives were actually ever in any real danger. That was Jerry's idea to do that ... He thought that would be dramatic."
N E X T+P A G E+| "We were never a front for Falwell"