LETTER- Don't resort to mud-slinging

Regarding your story, "Bugged: Whitehead's story disputed" by Lindsay Barnes [March 27], as John W. Whitehead details in his new book out this fall, Why We Should Give a Damn, it's common knowledge that the NSA has been conducting surveillance on Americans since the 1960s. In fact, the government has made no secret of its efforts to monitor its citizens, especially those who oppose the government's actions.

During the Paula Jones case, The Rutherford Institute and Whitehead found themselves on the receiving end of a host of predatory and politically motivated tactics from the government, including an IRS audit— which we had never been subjected to, before or since. The auditors concluded that we were one of the cleanest groups around. 

History shows that various administrations have used IRS audits as political tools to persecute their enemies. In the same way, various administrations have used surveillance to keep tabs on their adversaries. Certainly none of the reporters who covered the Jones case  for 60 Minutes, the Washington Post, and Time doubted that Rutherford, which was suing a sitting president, was a prime candidate for government surveillance.

As I pointed out to Barnes (and he neglected to report), Whitehead alluded in his 1999 autobiography, Slaying Dragons, to the fact that a retired NSA agent had advised him that Rutherford's offices were under surveillance. Ron Rissler, who was mentioned in the book and is the Hook's only "source" for disputing the surveillance, never objected to being mentioned in the book, nor did he question at any time– during his employment or in the years that followed– the veracity of anything Whitehead recounted in the book. Thus, for Rissler to suddenly challenge this one particular detail so many years later should have caused any good reporter to question his integrity. 

Finally, it should be noted that Rissler never questioned the fact that a former NSA person was brought in to do a sweep of Rutherford's offices. He merely doubted the person's findings and chalked the whole thing up to Whitehead being paranoid. Yet as Kurt Cobain observed, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."

For the Hook to have given any credence to, let alone reported as news, the ravings of a disgruntled ex-employee who was less than a minor player in the Paula Jones case is to elevate gossip and mud-slinging to the level of yellow journalism. Such a practice is unworthy of the kind of investigative journalism that we have come to expect from the Hook.

Nisha N. Mohammed
Assistant to the President, The Rutherford Institute