While the president has been out lobbying weather forecasters about the alleged threat of global warming, his interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt has been attacking energy companies for criticizing administration scare‐mongering. Mr. Babbitt charged the firms with attempting “to distort the facts and to mislead,” adding: “I think that the energy companies need to be called to account, because what they are doing is un‐American in the most basic sense.” He left unsaid how he would call such “un‐American” businesses “to account,” but climate scientists report that the administration has long used its control of grants to punish researchers who question the climatic Chicken Littles.
Mr. Babbitt’s implicit threat unfortunately reflects the administration norm. In many cases, Clinton officials have directly targeted critics. More generally, warns Timothy Lynch, assistant director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies: “Although President Clinton has expressed support for an ‘expansive’ view of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he has actually weakened a number of fundamental guarantees.”
The administration has politicized the FBI, using it to justify the White House Travel Office purge. Presidential aides snooped through FBI files on potential administration opponents. The IRS is auditing not only Paula Jones, who has accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, but a suspiciously large number of conservative foundations and groups. No liberal organizations are undergoing similar reviews. The White House pressured the Treasury Department over the latter’s probe of Madison Guaranty, which financed the Clintons’ Whitewater investment.
Early in the first Clinton term, the Department of Housing and Urban Development launched dozens of investigations of local activists who opposed federally subsidized housing projects. HUD subpoenaed copies of organization membership lists and financial information, people’s diaries, and other records, demanded cessation of public criticism, and threatened protestors with prosecution for speaking out.
Similarly, in 1995 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued subpoenas to leaders of two anti‐immigration groups. The commission, whose chairman and staff director were appointed by President Clinton, wanted computer printouts, internal documents, reports and other information. Both HUD and the commission retreated only under public pressure.
The Justice Department supported draconian restrictions on abortion protestors, including a prohibition on the display of any “images” that could be “observed” within abortion clinics. The Defense Department attempted to gag millitary chaplains, preventing them from discussing the Catholic Church’s Life Postcard Campaign regarding the president’s veto of legislation banning partial‐birth abortion. More recently, the administration has threatened to prosecute any physician who provides a prescription for marijuana under state law.
Intimidation has been a persistent administration tactic elsewhere. In 1994, President Clinton expressed outrage that radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh could get on the air and “have three hours to say whatever he wants. And I won’t have an opportunity to respond.” White House Communications Director Mark Gearan called for radio talk shows to put on opposition–meaning administration guests. Senior adviser George Stephanopoulos suggested resurrecting the misnamed “Fairness Doctrine” to be enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, to regulate political broadcasts.
The Energy Department created a press rating system. Reporters and sources were judged based on their opinion of the department. Department press secretary Barbara Semedo explained that a low rating “meant we weren’t getting our message across, that we needed to work on this person a little.” Of course, getting the message meant spouting the department’s line.
Advertising, too, has been an administration target. The Food and Drug Administration even sought to prohibit the use of brand names on non‐tobacco products (such as lighters and T‐shirts) and the use of non‐tobacco brand names on tobacco products. The administration supported labeling restrictions, deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, on beer producers. The president backed FCC Chairman Reed Hundt’s campaign to bar the advertising of distilled spirits on television.