Vince, We Hardly Knew Ye
Being a recap of the death, and various ongoing investigations into same, of White House aide Vincent Foster, jr.
(With apologies to his family, who prefer to "let sleeping Fosters lie.")
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With the U.S. about to invade Bosnia in order to promote peace ("War is peace"); with things getting a little hot in Washington (and not just the weather) for that big, lovable clown from Arkansas; with investigations heating up; with the "special people" beginning to panic -- how convenient for the comfortable classes that the situation in Bosnia should heat up just about now.
So that the commissar class doesn't get too comfortable, I thought I'd offer a bit of a history lesson on the death, as well as the on-and-off investigations into same, of Vincent Foster, jr.
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Editor & Publisher Magazine September 17, 1994
SECTION: Legal; Pg. 12
HEADLINE: $ 2 million libel suit filed over Foster report; U.S. Park Police officer sues former New York Post reporter, newsletter, journalism watchdog organization
BYLINE: Debra Gersh Hernandez
A U.S. PARK Police officer has filed a $ 2 million libel lawsuit over a report alleging a cover up in the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster.
Officer Kevin Brian Fornshill filed suit against former New York Post writer and now free-lance journalist Christopher Ruddy; Strategic Investment, a Baltimore-based newsletter that published excerpts from the report and sold copies of the full report to its readers; and the Western Journalism Center, headed by former newspaperman Joseph Farah, which is offering copies of Ruddy's report through newspaper advertisements.
On July 20, 1993, Foster's body was discovered in Fort Marcy Park, just outside Washington, D.C. Fornshill was among those who first responded to the scene and found the body. Foster's death was ruled a suicide.
The case drew accusations of foul play - including allegations that Foster may have been killed elsewhere and was moved to the park, where a suicide was staged - and talk of a subsequent cover up during the investigation.
Independent counsel Robert Fiske Jr. was appointed to investigate the death and other issues in the Whitewater case.
Fiske issued a report on June 30 concluding that Foster had shot and killed himself with his own gun in the park where he was found. A U.S. Senate committeeinvestigating the Whitewater matter came to the same conclusion.
Ruddy's report challenges the findings and argues that there are numerous questions about Foster's death left unanswered.
Ruddy did not respond to a telephone message seeking a comment on the lawsuit, but a copy of his report was made available to E&P.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Maryland's Circuit Court for Montgomery County, where Fornshill is based, Ruddy's report accuses Fornshill of lying about where he found the body, participating in the cover up by changing the location of Foster's body and intentionally misleading federal investigators.
The suit notes that Ruddy mailed copies of his report to the media, members of Congress and others.
Fornshill's attorney, Philip Matthew Stinson Sr., said he did not want to get into the specifics of what has happened to his client since the Ruddy report, but he said "not a day goes by that he does not face ridicule" and his "integrity is questioned."
Stinson also said Fornshill's career advancement has been hurt. Specifically, a potential job with another government agency has been put on hold.
When the Ruddy report was first circulated, Stinson said Fornshill was going to write it off and wait to see if anyone picked it up. They did.
Among those writing about the report was the London-based Sunday Telegraph, whose Washington correspondent referred to the "Ruddy Memorandum" in an article about the investigation.
The Telegraph was not named in the suit because the article did not mention Fornshill by name and because Stinson plans to call on staffers there to testifyabout how they got the report and how it was being circulated in Washington, specifically whether it was "part of a malicious pattern to go after Kevin Fornshill."
The New York Post, which earlier this year ran several articles by Ruddy questioning the suicide ruling, was not named in the suit because it did not print Ruddy's report, which is the focus of the libel action, Stinson explained.
"We've got other problems with his articles in the New York Post," Stinson said. "These (in the lawsuit) libel Officer Fornshill."
Post editor Ken Chandler said Ruddy had been a staffer there until he left at the beginning of September for other opportunities.
The Post did not publish excerpts from Ruddy's latest report, Chandler said, because "we felt we'd covered the story intensively six months ago. We really reported all we had to report on this issue. There really wasn't anything new in it for us."
Chandler also categorically denied allegations that the paper did not run the report because of political pressure - specifically regarding owner Rupert Murdoch's broadcast holdings and the Federal Communications Commission.
"It's hard to imagine a situation where pressure like that would affect one's news judgment," he said. "Chris left us because he had other opportunities to pursue. He left with a good relationship with us."
Chandler also noted, "This whole story of Whitewater and Vince Foster's death, it's a very political story and people took political sides on it. My position is, there were a lot of unanswered questions at the time and an obvious reluctance of people in the administration to answer them.
"It is the job of a newspaper to ask questions and raise issues," Chandler added, noting he makes "no apologies" for the paper's reporting.
"The truth is, Chris Ruddy trod where others fear to tread. When you do that, you get criticism and scorn heaped upon you. When you're writing about something you can't get answers to, you have to keep pushing, and he did," Chandler said.
Strategic Investment did publish excerpts and offered to sell copies of the entire report to its readers. The Western Center for Journalism also offered copies of Ruddy's special report through a full-page ad on the back of the Week in Review section of the Sunday, Aug. 28, New York Times.
Strategic Investment co-editor James Dale Davidson said he believes the lawsuit is "part of an attempt to really prevent a free flow of information and inquiry into a public issue.
"There were good reasons why Fiske investigated Foster's death," he said, calling the independent counsel's report "woefully shy of the mark. It did not answer the questions important in the first place. They're like gigantic lumps swept under the carpet." Davidson said his newsletter, which has a controlled circulation of 130,000 worldwide, was interested in the story because of the potential impact on financial markets.
Strategic Investment analyzes "stories that will be big news in the future" for investors, brokers and others who follow the markets.
If new information does come from an investigation by the second independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, Davidson said there "is going to be a major surprise, a left hook coming out of nowhere that's going to hit the stock market on the chin. A major downfall in the market came when it was reported that Foster killed himself. The market fell quite sharply . . . . What happens when the realstory comes out? Obviously this has a potential to be extremely significant to the markets."
Ruddy charges there are about 40 shortcomings and discrepancies in the Fiske report, such as different reports about where and in what position the body was found, shoddy forensic work, a lack of photographs of the entire crime scene, and an assumption that the death was by suicide before ruling out murder.
"All these things are exactly what an investigative newsletter like ours is obliged to tell," Davidson said. "We don't make up the news, just alert people to the logical consequences."
According to Davidson, shortly after Foster's body was found, he heard from one of his sources that the word in the intelligence community was that the White House aide had been murdered.
At the time, Davidson had no real proof and did not publish it, but after he saw the stories in the Post, he realized he "blew it" and went back to the source.
The source pointed Davidson to Ruddy, and the newsletter obtained a copy of his report. Davidson said he looked into Ruddy's reporting credentials and the facts of the report and was satisfied with both.
Other reporters, Davidson said, have not followed up on the story because they "honest to goodness are afraid for their lives," because of "pure laziness," and because they do not want to look like they are in bed with the anti-Clinton Christian right.
A lot of information has been passed through the talk radio circuit and on the Internet, Davidson added, noting, "That is why, ultimately, we felt we had an obligation to tell this tale."
The newsletter also felt an obligation to give its readers the opportunity to read the entire report and offered it for sale to them. Only several hundred ordered copies, he said, noting, "We told them most of what was in it."
The issue, he said, "comes down to the basic essence of freedom of the press and publishing . . . . We feel there is an element of intimidation that has been discouraging people from raising these questions."
Davidson pointed out that Fornshill's name is not even mentioned in Strategic Investment, and he is named in the Ruddy report only to note he was at the scene.
"Fornshill is a pimple on the face of the story," Davidson said of the officer's small role. "I do not mean that as a criticism of him. I'm sure he's done exactly what he was told to do. This story is not about Fornshill. It is about the mishandled investigation of a top government official who died under mysterious circumstances."
Michael Geltner, attorney for Strategic Investment, said he believes Fornshill is a public figure and will have to meet the more difficult libel standard of actual malice.
"My first impression is, it doesn't really pass the constitutional standards," Geltner said. "I don't think the complaint or the lawsuit can be reconciled with New York Times v. Sullivan."
But Fornshill's attorney, Stinson, said his client is a private figure who was inadvertently thrust into the limelight, which protects his private status.
Even if the court were to rule Fornshill a public figure, Stinson said the Fiske report and congressional findings for suicide create a reasonable doubt, and Ruddy's continued circulation of his report "gets us to actual malice."
Further, Stinson notes that Fornshill is mentioned by name in the Ruddy report, specifically after allegations that the body was moved.
"It's obvious they're talking about Kevin Fornshill (in the report)," Stinson said, noting that looking at the body of work as a whole leads to that conclusion.
He agreed that Strategic Investment did not name Fornshill, but said the newsletter furthered the libel by selling the report.
Stinson also said the allegation by Davidson that there was a drop gun "is scandalous at best."
A drop gun is an extra gun carried by an officer and placed in the hand of a shooting victim to back an officer's claim that the victim had a gun.
Of Ruddy's charges of Park Police misconduct, Stinson said, "If he's got some proof . . . I'd like to see it."
Joseph Farah, executive director of the Western Journalism Center, said the suit seems "frivolous to us. Officer Fornshill is barely mentioned in the reportthat we are distributing by Mr. Ruddy. There certainly is no effort to defame him in any way, shape or form. Essentially, the report says somebody is lying about Foster. Mr. Fornshill believes it's him (who is being referred to).
"There's just nothing there. No hint of libel," he added. "It says nothing about Mr. Fornshill. It makes no judgments. When his name is mentioned, it's as a matter of fact that he was there. Period.
"We do make some conclusions about the Park Police role. He has taken it personally," said Farah, a former editor at the Sacramento Union and Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
Farah said he did not know how many requests for copies of the report had come in from the Times ad and subsequent radio interviews, but estimated it was "in the thousands."
The WJC, also known as the Western Center for Journalism, received a copy of Ruddy's report in the mail, Farah said, adding that he had been following the earlier Post reports.
The Times ad, he said, "was the first real formal connection with him and his work. It was intended to announce to the public we were behind this reporterand his work and that we would continue to sponsor him since he left the Post."
Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"