JUNE 25, 1996
In the past two months, Arkansans have seen their state's political system rocked by the conviction of its governor and scrutinized by the national media. Tom Bearden reports on how Whitewater has affected the people of President Clinton's home state.
TOM BEARDEN: Bill Clinton's home town is a little shell-shocked these days. A dozen Arkansans have pleaded guilty or been convicted of charges brought by the Whitewater Independent Counsel, including the governor who was convicted of mail fraud.
JUNE 18: The Senate Whitewater committee issued its final report on their 14 month investigation.
MAY 29: An Arkansas jury returned guilty verdicts in the criminal trials of Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal.
A complete listing of NewsHour segments on Whitewater.
NEWS ANCHOR: It took the jury six and a half days to find Governor Tucker guilty of two felony counts, Jim McDougal guilty of eighteen counts and Susan McDougal guilty of four counts.
GOVERNOR TUCKER: My resignation will be effective on or before July 15th.
TOM BEARDEN: Along with Tucker, James McDougal, the former owner of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, and his former wife Susan McDougal were also convicted. Both had done business with the President and the First Lady in a real estate transaction that has become known as Whitewater. From the second trial now underway to the year long Senate Whitewater committee hearings, many Arkansans say the coverage of all this has been excessive.
BRENDA GULLETTE, Businesswoman: It's impossible to escape it. It has become somewhat overbearing because it's dominated the news and it's dominated talk on the street.
TOM BEARDEN: Some think Arkansas and Arkansas's favorite son are being picked on.
LOUIS BAKER, former Mayor of Dumas: I don't think that this would have ever happened if Bill Clinton hadn't been president, elected president at all.
TOM BEARDEN: People's reaction to Whitewater depends on how they feel about Clinton. Polls here show support for the President divides pretty much like the rest of the country--50 percent for Clinton and 35 percent for Dole.
ERNEST DUMAS, University of Central Arkansas: You have a very high percent of the population think Bill Clinton hung the moon. And a great many of the rest think he should be condemned to perdition.
TOM BEARDEN: Those who think Bill Clinton should be condemned are more likely to live in the scenic northern half of Arkansas. The original Whitewater development was supposed to attract retirees here, a sportsman's paradise where the White River meanders through rolling hills. Whitewater failed but a lot of retirees have discovered the area anyway and many of them are Republicans. Roger Schweger is one, a former General Motors executive and lifelong Republican whose passion is shooting skeet. (Schweger shooting skeet) He sees the convictions as only the latest episode in an ongoing scandal that began more than four years ago. Schweger thinks President Clinton's credibility has been destroyed.
ROGER SCHWEGER, Retiree: I think the man was an embarrassment to the state of Arkansas, and I think he's an embarrassment to the United States of America.
TOM BEARDEN: Why do you say that?
ROGER SCHWEGER: Well, first off, he's not truthful, and we've had enough untruthful Presidents. We, we don't need more than that, we need less. Uh, I do not agree with his personal life, the things that have come about what went on in the Governor's Mansion and other things. I find that abhorrent, frankly.
TOM BEARDEN: Roger Hayden agrees. He runs a body repair shop in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
ROGER HAYDEN, Businessman: The people here are basically honest people, hard working, blue-collar, retired from up North who, who have been honest with everybody, and they want people to be honest with them. And I think that is going to take the toll on the present administration, is the honesty.
TOM BEARDEN: In Little Rock, Annie Abrams is a longtime grassroots activist who has worked for Clinton campaigns in the past. She says the President is just as popular here as ever.
ANNIE ABRAMS: To give you an example, people still have not gotten away from calling him "Bill." People in the African-American community, in the religious community in the South, have to work at saying "Mr. President" when he comes home. The response of when he's coming home, of how many people will stand at the airport, who will be at the State House, or who will be at a Baptist church, or who will be at the fish fry, or who will be at any gathering, I haven't seen any reduction. In fact, it seems to be accelerated of their identity with him.
TOM BEARDEN: He's still a hometown hero?
ANNIE ABRAMS: Oh, yes, yes.
TOM BEARDEN: Further South, the fertile Mississippi Delta country has been a Democratic stronghold since the Civil War. Bobby Garner owns the Snow White Grill in Pine Bluff. He says the President is a frequent visitor when he's in the area, stopping by to chat with the local political figures who gather here every day.
BOBBY GARNER, Restaurant Owner: I think that the people have got the general idea that it's went on for so long, there's been a lot of money wasted in the investigation, and it's more political power than it is anything else.
TOM BEARDEN: Bill Burnham, one of the Snow White's regulars, says the longtime dominance of the Democratic Party is at the root of Whitewater.
BILL BURNHAM, Retiree: Part of it is our history, as I pointed out, of a one-party state. That's been one of our problems. Nobody ever looked into anything. The old boy network you know that you take care of me and I'll take care of you. And, uh, this has gotten out in the national media and, uh, that's how we got here.
TOM BEARDEN: And that's the rub. Many Arkansans resent what they consider a distorted view of Arkansas in the national press. Max Brantley edits the Little Rock weekly the Arkansas Times.
MAX BRANTLEY, The Arkansas Times: We've been laid out in the national press and media, we think somewhat unfairly, as an unprincipled, lawless place where, where anything goes, and more often than not, it's something bad.
TOM BEARDEN: Louis Baker is a retired small businessman and a lifelong Democrat.
LOUIS BAKER: I don't think they give anything a fair coverage of what is really happening or what has happened.
TOM BEARDEN: Is that particularly because Bill Clinton is from Arkansas, or is it separate from his connection to Arkansas?
LOUIS BAKER: I think it's because he's from Arkansas. See, a small rural state like us has never had a president before to come out, and since he climbed as fast as he did and as young a man as he was, well, they're trying to look up everything that they can to discredit him.
TOM BEARDEN: Resentment of the national press is nothing new. Ernest Dumas is a former newspaper editor who now teaches journalism at the University of Central Arkansas. He says Arkansas has long been an object of derision in the national press. He and many of his colleagues are highly critical of Whitewater coverage.
ERNEST DUMAS: There's a lot of inaccuracy in it I see, and a lot of it is kind of prosecutorial in nature. The reporters seem to be kind of bent on making a scandal, or magnifying the scandal, and I think that's unfortunate that so much of the coverage has been of that nature.
TOM BEARDEN: Max Brantley says the coverage has been so poor that reporters now have difficulty finding anyone close to the Clintons willing to be interviewed.
MAX BRANTLEY: They've been burned, they've seen their words taken out of the context, they've seen what they thought were nice things said about the Clintons come back to haunt them.
TOM BEARDEN: Unlike some of his Arkansas colleagues, Brantley doesn't think the national press has been particularly tough on Clinton.
MAX BRANTLEY: I think Bill Clinton has give the press reason not to trust him. Whether through outright lies, in some people's opinion, or through a reluctance to be open, in other people's opinion, there's a huge degree of mistrust in the national media toward him that's frankly understandable. And so they've been very hard on him, but I don't think that's any different really in the main than they've been toward other Presidents that they had reasons to distrust--Richard Nixon comes to mind.
TOM BEARDEN: Ernest Dumas and others, however, believe the Republican Party has latched on to the Whitewater story in order to launch a partisan witch hunt.
ERNEST DUMAS: It seems to me inarguable that there's a great deal of partisanship in it, because the special prosecutor is different from every state and federal prosecutor in America. Ordinarily, the job of the prosecutor is to solve crimes. There's been a crime committed. You go out and solve the crime and prosecute the wrongdoer. In this case nobody knows whether a crime has been committed, but the job of the special prosecutor is to find a crime somewhere, even remotely connected somehow with Bill Clinton or associates or past friends and business colleagues, and then find a crime that they might have committed, and that's what has happened, because so far the Whitewater indictments have virtually nothing to do with Bill Clinton.
TOM BEARDEN: John Robert Starr is a columnist with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He says Whitewater is not a partisan witch hunt.
JOHN ROBERT STARR, Arkansas Democrat Gazette: If it were a witch hunt, I think he would have found something to charge Mr. Clinton with. He could have charged him anyhow. What the heck. It didn't cost anything to charge somebody. And he didn't do that.
TOM BEARDEN: Partisan witch hunt or not, most observers think Whitewater and the conviction of Governor Tucker will dramatically change the political landscape in Arkansas. The new governor, Mike Huckabee, is a Republican, and a former baptist minister.
MIKE HUCKABEE: We are unexpectedly confronted with a constitutional crisis and as a result, I will become our state's 44th governor in its 160-year history.
TOM BEARDEN: And only the fourth Republican to become governor. Starr thinks Huckabee could open the door for the GOP to be competitive in a state that has always been dominated by Democrats.
JOHN STARR: They've got to play their cards right, and if they play their cards right, they can get all four congressional seats and the senate seat and hold onto the governor's office for the next ten years. But you know they've been there before and didn't play not only all their cards right, they played none of their cards right. They just blew the opportunity.
TOM BEARDEN: But others say Whitewater has left such a bad taste in people's mouths that it will create a backlash against the Republicans.
LOUIS BAKER: I haven't heard anyone in Arkansas saying that what is happening with Whitewater and Kenneth Starr and D'Amato that is anything that anyone could be proud of. I think that it's going to be an embarrassment on the Republican Party in the end.
TOM BEARDEN: The Republicans don't seem very worried about that. They're gearing up to run a strong campaign this fall, hoping to deal a major blow to President Clinton's once solidly Democratic home base.