Salon Bureau Chief Ousted Over Hyde Affair Story

Jay Thomas (
Tue, 29 Sep 1998 10:09:20 -0400

Bureau Chief Ousted Over Hyde Affair
Disagreement Rankles Salon Editor

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 1998; Page D01=20

Jonathan Broder, Washington bureau chief of Salon,
has been forced to
resign after criticizing the online magazine's
decision to disclose Rep. Henry
Hyde's 30-year-old affair.

Broder had argued in a memo that to publicize the
1960s extramarital affair
would make the magazine's staff look like
"sex-obsessed hypocrites."
Salon Editor David Talbot, the story's author,
demanded his resignation
after Broder responded to a call from The Washington
Post by saying: "I
objected to it on journalistic grounds, on grounds
of fairness and because
of the way Salon would be perceived."

Broder submitted a resignation letter yesterday. "I
thought I was showing
there could be healthy dissent within Salon and I
could help protect Salon's
credibility," he said in an interview. "My intention
was not to embarrass
anybody. . . . I truly felt that what they did was
over the top, and I had to
say that."

Said Talbot: "This was the hardest decision I ever
had to make about an
employee. It was just a legitimate journalistic
difference of opinion we had,
but it was so profound a difference that I thought
it was best for us to part

While he has "enormous respect" for Broder, Talbot
said, "Jon took a
strong stand against running the piece. We argued it
out. Once we made
the decision, we asked Jon not to go public with his

Broder said he initially offered to resign after
Talbot left what both men
describe as a "blistering" message on his answering
machine. When Broder
later suggested that he fly to Salon's San Francisco
office to see if the
relationship could be salvaged, Talbot told him not
to bother because his
resignation had been accepted.

A Salon editorial contended that the sex life of the
House Judiciary
Committee chairman is fair game because he would
head an impeachment
inquiry that involves President Clinton's affair
with Monica Lewinsky. The
Sept. 16 article in Salon, which has been a fierce
critic of independent
counsel Kenneth Starr, infuriated House Republicans,
who demanded an
FBI investigation of whether the White House helped
plant the story. The
administration denies any involvement.

Salon's on-the-record source was Norm Sommer, a
Florida retiree who is
friendly with the ex-husband of Hyde's former
mistress. Ironically, Sommer
called Talbot several months after trying to peddle
the story to Broder,
who brushed it off.

Broder says he was stunned by the editorial
acknowledging that the
magazine was "descending to the gutter tactics of
those we deplore. . . .
But ugly times call for ugly tactics."

" 'Ugly tactics' is not a phrase I associate with
responsible journalism,"
Broder said. "It smacks of agendas and advocacy, and
I don't want to be
part of that."

Some magazines have a history of fighting their
battles in public. In 1994,
when the New Republic published a controversial
article linking race and
intelligence, it also ran impassioned dissents by 19
staffers, with such
headlines as "Dumbskulls" and "Neo-Nazis."

Talbot says that Salon "has prided itself on having
a contentious staff that
speaks its mind." But the Hyde story was different,
he said, because it
triggered an unprecedented firestorm, including "fax
attacks" meant to
disable its office equipment. He questioned how a
Washington Post writer
who criticized the paper's Watergate coverage would
have been treated
when the Post company was under assault by the Nixon
White House.

Broder, a former foreign correspondent for the
Associated Press, Chicago
Tribune and San Francisco Examiner, says he'll do
some freelancing and
continue writing for the Jerusalem Report while he
ponders his next move.

The three-year-old Internet magazine gained a loyal
following for its
coverage of politics, culture and sex and for such
eclectic columnists as
Camille Paglia and sex expert Susie Bright. But
Salon has become
increasingly controversial in recent months for its
tendentious coverage of
the Whitewater affair, publishing allegations by
Broder and Murray Waas
that conservative money was funneled to a key
Whitewater witness. This
led to charges that Salon was in cahoots with the
Clintons, particularly after
Talbot and Broder chatted up the president and first
lady at a White House

In his memo to Talbot protesting the planned story
on Hyde, Broder said
he was already having trouble getting conservatives
to return his calls. He
said the Hyde story was out of bounds because no
public issue was
involved -- the woman had not been on the Illinois
Republican's payroll,
had not sued him and had made no public accusation.

"Deservedly or not," Broder wrote, "Salon already
has a pro-Clinton
reputation. With the story you are now planning to
run, which I do not
believe meets the journalistic threshold, Salon will
be indelibly stained as a
vicious Clinton attack dog. . . . There is no way in
the world that you and
Salon will escape broad censure as hypocritical
thugs. . . . We will become
the left-wing equivalent of the American Spectator."

But Talbot maintained yesterday that Salon had
"restored some sanity to
this debate" by demonstrating "how absurd it is to
have sex become

"There's a very strong pressure for a journalist to
conform in Washington,
to be part of the club," he said. "Salon is not in
that club. What we did was
in much more of a California-like spirit, in the
tradition of Rolling Stone or
Ramparts. We don't live by the Beltway codes. . . .
It was right for us to
pull Henry Hyde's pants down."=20

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