Admiral sunk in Washington war of words

WHEN Bobby Ray Inman went before the television cameras last Tuesday to explain why he was withdrawing as President Clinton's nominee for Secretary of Defense, acerbic New York Times columnist William Safire declared himself 'stunned'. So were many people here. But Safire had special cause.

Opinion writers rarely complain when their words appear to alter the course of public affairs. This, though, was more than most could expect. Mr Inman was quitting, he said, because of a 'new McCarthyism' in American journalism and, in particular, because of alleged persecution by Mr Safire.

True, Safire had been unkind to Inman. In a harsh column last month, he wrote that the man Mr Clinton had chosen to replace Les Aspin was a 'naf' as a judge of character, a 'flop' as a businessman, a 'cheat' as a taxpayer as well as being 'manipulative and deceptive'. He once asked Inman over the phone how a grown man could call himself 'Bobby'. (Inman hung up.)

But with his outburst Inman, a four-star admiral with 30 years experience of the turbulence of Washington public life, seemed to be redefining 'thin-skinned'. What is more, Safire apart, the media had generally been astonishingly nice about him.

Taking on Safire may have been rash. Inman accused him, on live television, of plagiarism, of lobbying the CIA on behalf of Israel and of pressuring a Republican senator to block his confirmation. But few journalists here enjoy more respect than Safire, a 1978 Pulitzer Prize winner and author of many books. A self-described 'libertarian conservative', he joined the Times in 1973, after fleeing a speech-writing job in Nixon's White House.

'He is probably the most interesting . . . fascinating person who writes in that format,' said Marvin Kalb, a media analyst at Harvard University. 'He is like a bulldog, with a very old- fashioned reportorial instinct. He is aware of his power - and he has enormous power.'

But Safire rejects Inman's contention that he and other Washington pundits hold too much sway. 'Inman was attributing power to me that I don't have,' he told me yesterday. 'The press is not too powerful. Any time you try to get information out of government you find out how impotent you are.'

Safire thinks he now has an explanation for the outburst. Inman, he is convinced, has secrets related to his years in private business that he would rather not share with the Senate and the world. 'Bobby Ray Inman knocked himself out with his guilty conscience,' he suggested.

Inman was, for instance, a member of an outside board of International Signal and Control, a Pennsylvania company that was found to have invented orders to boost its stock price and illegally transferred technology to Iraq and South Africa. (The company was purchased by the British defence firm Ferranti and largely contributed to its demise.)

Safire has no plans to hound him further. 'He is no longer a danger to the Republic,' he said. 'When I'm in Austin next, I'll call him and invite him to lunch.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss