Why Salon ran the Henry Hyde story

    Two weeks ago, Salon editor David Talbot
    received a phone call from a 72yearold retiree in
    Aventura, Fla., named Norm Sommer. Sommer
    asserted that Henry Hyde, the chairman of the
    House Judiciary Committee, had between 1965
    and 1969 carried on an extramarital affair with a
    married woman named Cherie Snodgrass. At the
    time of the affair Hyde was an Illinois state
    representative, married and the father of four sons.
    Sommer was told of the affair seven years ago by
    Cherie Snodgrass' exhusband, Fred Snodgrass.
    During a tennis game, Snodgrass, a friend and
    tennis partner, had blurted out the story of the
    affair and how it had ruined his family. Sommer
    said the story came to his mind again in January
    when the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted and it
    was speculated that the affair might eventually end
    up before Hyde's committee.

    We checked out Sommer's allegations. We
    contacted three other sources  one of Snodgrass'
    grown daughters, an old family friend and Fred
    Snodgrass himself. They all confirmed the story,
    as did Snodgrass' exwife, through her daughter.
    Snodgrass also provided us with photographs of
    his exwife and Hyde, including the one on Salon's
    front page. (On Wednesday, Hyde confirmed to
    Salon that he had been involved with Cherie
    Snodgrass and that the relationship ended after
    Hyde's wife found out about it.)

    At this point, we were faced with the most difficult
    editorial decision we have confronted in our
    threeyear history. Should we run the story or not?
    After hours of oftenheated discussion, we decided
    to publish it. We feel that we owe you, our
    readers, an explanation of why we took this
    extraordinary step.

    First, however, some facts. Salon is an
    independent publication. We have no relationship
    of any kind with any political party, and no
    editorial party line. Although we have been an
    outspoken critic of Kenneth Starr's investigation,
    we are not a "proClinton" publication. We have
    attacked Clinton from the left, right and center.
    Indeed, one of our editors has called in these pages
    for his resignation.

    Experience, however, has taught us that the
    favorite ploy of those who want to discredit our
    reporting is to accuse us of being a "pawn of the
    White House." Recent stories in which our
    Washington correspondent, Jonathan Broder,
    quoted White House sources threatening to employ
    a socalled sexual "scorched earth" policy have
    only increased the misconception that there is
    some sinister, or, to use the term of art,
    "inappropriate" relationship between the White
    House and Salon. Therefore, it is important for us
    to state: The White House had nothing whatsoever
    to do with any aspect of this story. We did not
    receive it from anyone in the White House or in
    Clinton's political or legal camps, nor did we
    communicate with them about it.

    Norm Sommer, the man who did lead us to the
    story, categorically denied to us that he had any
    connection to the Clinton administration. "Not only
    am I not connected to them, I couldn't get anyone
    there interested," he said, adding that he also called
    the Democratic National Committee but that he
    "never heard back from anyone." Sommer said he
    called the White House and the DNC to get advice
    on how to get his story out: "I tried to get the story
    out for seven and a half months. I've spent
    hundreds of hours and called dozens of people in
    the media, without success." Among the various
    publications he contacted in a futile effort to air the
    story were the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe
    and Miami Herald. He finally turned to Salon, he
    said, when he heard the Web magazine mentioned
    on a TV talk show.

    Sommer's motivation, he readily admits, was
    political. A retired sales manager for Gillette and
    Jergens, he is a lifelong Democrat who served as a
    Henry Wallace delegate at the 1948 presidential
    convention. Sommer says he was outraged by
    what he called the "bloodless coup" carried out by
    the Republicans over Whitewater and the
    Lewinsky scandal.

    That was Sommer's motivation. What was ours?

    In a different and better world, we would not have
    released this story. Throughout the tragic farce of
    the ClintonLewinsky scandal, we have strongly
    argued that the private lives of all Americans,
    whether they are public figures or not, should
    remain sacrosanct. We have not defended
    President Clinton's infidelities, but we have argued
    that they are of no relevance to the public  and
    should certainly never have been seized upon by a
    zealous independent counsel unable to find any
    misdeeds beyond sexual indiscretions to justify his
    fouryear, $40 millionplus effort.

    But Clinton's enemies have changed the rules. In
    the brave new world that has been created by the
    ClintonLewinsky scandal, the private lives of
    public figures are no longer offlimits. The
    president is now to be judged not by how he does
    his job, but by his private sexual behavior. As Rep.
    Tom DeLay, one of Capitol Hill's more vigilant
    moral centurions, said, "I'm scared to death of
    such notions that it doesn't matter what a person
    does in his private life. The character is the person
    ... I'm very concerned we have some [people] in
    the United States that really believe that character
    doesn't matter."

    But in that case, what holds true for President
    Clinton must hold equally true of the august figure
    who leads the committee sitting in judgment upon
    him  Rep. Henry Hyde. If the public has a right
    to know, in excruciating detail, about Clinton's
    sexual life, then surely it has an equal right to
    know about the private life of the man who called
    the family "the surest basis of civil order, the
    strongest foundation for free enterprise, the safest
    home of freedom"  and who on Monday
    indicated that he believes impeachment hearings
    are warranted.

    Hailed as fairminded and statesmanlike by the
    media and his political supporters, Hyde has
    nonetheless pursued an aggressively partisan
    strategy this week, pushing to broadcast the
    videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony over
    strenuous Democratic objections and arguing for
    expanded investigative powers for his committee.

    It will be argued that Hyde's 30yearold affair
    cannot be compared to Clinton's, because Hyde's
    sexual intrigue was not carried out in Washington
    and because he did not lie under oath. Clinton is
    not being investigated because he had an affair,
    those who argue this insist, but because he lied
    about it. This is, we submit, either absurdly naive
    or disingenuous: Lying and having an affair can't
    be separated. To have an affair is by definition to
    lie about it  an affair is a lie. Consequently, the
    notion that Clinton's lies about the nature of his
    relationship with Lewinsky could constitute an
    impeachable offense is blatant politics, hiding
    under a legal fig leaf.

    Aren't we fighting fire with fire, descending to the
    gutter tactics of those we deplore? Frankly, yes.
    But ugly times call for ugly tactics. When a pack
    of sanctimonious thugs beats you and your country
    upside the head with a tireiron, you can withdraw
    to the sideline and meditate, or you can grab it out
    of their hands and fight back.

    Ken Starr opened up his Republican supporters to
    sexual scrutiny the moment he delivered a
    445page report to Congress that was nothing
    more than a sensationalistic accounting of the
    president's affair designed to drive him from the
    White House. Starr's investigation is the true
    scandal, a political lynching party that, finding
    nothing of legal import in Whitewater,
    quickchanged into the most expensive and tawdry
    sex probe in American history, sullying the
    presidency and the nation's world standing in the

    We hope by publishing today's article to bring this
    entire sordid conflict to a head and expose its utter
    absurdity. Does the fact that Henry Hyde engaged
    in an adulterous affair, and tried to keep it hidden
    from his family and constituents, mean he is not fit
    to hold public office? Absolutely not. And the
    same is true of President Clinton. It's time to put
    an end to the confusion of the personal and the
    political, this moralistic furor that has wreaked
    utter havoc with our system of governance.
    SALON | Sept. 16, 1998


    BY DAVID TALBOT | Fred Snodgrass, a
    76yearold Florida retiree, says he gets so upset
    when he watches Rep. Henry Hyde on TV that "I
    nearly jump out of my chair." Hyde, the Illinois
    Republican who heads the House Judiciary
    Committee, is on television often these days.
    Hyde's committee will decide whether the
    adulterous affair President Clinton carried on with
    a White House intern, and his efforts to keep it
    hidden, should be referred to the House of
    Representatives for impeachment proceedings. "I
    watched [Hyde] on TV the other night," said
    Snodgrass. "These politicians were going on about
    how he should have been on the Supreme Court,
    what a great man he is, how we're lucky to have
    him in Congress in charge of the impeachment
    case. And all I can think of is here is this man, this
    hypocrite who broke up my family."

    Snodgrass says Hyde carried on a fiveyear sexual
    relationship with his thenwife, Cherie, that
    shattered his family. Hyde admitted to Salon
    Wednesday that he had been involved with Cherie
    Snodgrass, and that the relationship ended after
    Hyde's wife found out about it. At the time of the
    affair, which lasted from 1965 to 1969, Fred
    Snodgrass was a furniture salesman in Chicago,
    and his wife was a beauty stylist. They had three
    small children, two girls and a boy. Hyde, then 41
    years old, was a lawyer and rising star in
    Republican state politics. In 1966, he was elected
    for the first time to the Illinois House. Hyde was
    married and the father of four sons. (His wife,
    Jeanne Hyde, died of breast cancer in 1992, after a
    45year marriage.)

    "Cherie was young and naive at the time," said a
    Snodgrass family intimate. "She was a glamour
    queen with three young kids, stuck at home. Then
    this Prince Charming guy, Hyde, comes along. She
    was very impressed with him. He was 12 years
    older, he was a hotshot, he knew everyone
    downtown. She had nothing, and he comes along,
    shows her off, she was young and beautiful."

    Alex Berke, a former jewelry businessman and
    37year member of the Chicago Board of Trade
    who has been a friend of Fred Snodgrass for more
    than 50 years, also confirmed the story of the
    family breakup. "I knew Fred and Cherie when
    they first got married," he said. "They were an
    ideal couple. She was tall and gorgeous and he was
    a handsome SOB. They made a hell of a couple.
    The affair between Hyde and Cherie played a hell
    of a bad part in Fred's life. It went on for several
    years. It changed his whole life. And it affected the
    kids too. Being a nice guy, Fred took Cherie back,
    but it never worked out after that. He told me all
    about it when it was happening. It beat the hell out
    of him."

    Snodgrass supplied Salon with two photographs of
    his exwife with Hyde taken in the late 1960s,
    including one of her sitting in Hyde's lap at a
    Chicago night spot. Another photograph is
    inscribed, "I love you Cherie!!!!" and signed,
    "Hank, Dec. 30, 1966!"

    Hyde released the following statement to Salon
    Wednesday: "The statute of limitations has long
    since passed on my youthful indiscretions. Suffice
    it to say Cherie Snodgrass and I were good friends
    a long, long time ago. After Mr. Snodgrass
    confronted my wife, the friendship ended and my
    marriage remained intact. The only purpose for
    this being dredged up now is an obvious attempt to
    intimidate me and it won't work. I intend to fulfill
    my constitutional duty and deal judiciously with
    the serious felony allegations presented to
    Congress in the Starr report."

    According to Snodgrass, his marriage began to fall
    apart in 1965 when his wife, then 29 years old,
    began staying out late and coming home
    intoxicated. He moved out the following year, later
    hearing from a relative and waiters at a favorite
    downtown Chicago restaurant that they had seen
    Cherie socializing with Henry Hyde. The same
    year, Cherie began pleading with Snodgrass to
    move back with her and their three small children
    and he agreed. But soon afterwards, he said, she
    began going out late again. "I'd be locking the
    door, and she'd finally come home and start
    banging on it," he recalled. "I'd let her in and we'd
    have these big fights  it would wake the kids up.
    She was seeing Hyde again. She said she was
    miserable being married. So she moved out, said
    she was going to her mother's, and she left me
    with the kids."

    Several months later, Snodgrass found out his wife
    was actually living in her own wellfurnished
    apartment. One day, when he came by to try to
    talk with his wife, he found the door blocked by a
    man inside her apartment. "I'm trying to get in the
    door, I can see her buttoning up her blouse," said
    Snodgrass. "And some guy is holding the door,
    pushing back. It was Hyde. And he's a big guy, I
    couldn't get in. My wife said she used to tell him,
    'What are you doing, trying to hit 300?'

    "I yelled to Cherie, 'Get him out of the house so I
    can talk to you.' So I'm waiting outside, sitting in
    my car, and here comes Henry Hyde. I didn't
    confront him, I didn't say anything, I got no guts.

    "She stayed in that apartment for a couple years.
    Every time I went back I'd see new clothes, new
    furniture  he was keeping her."
-     Snodgrass and his wife divorced in 1967, with
-     Cherie taking custody of the children. "But we
-     continued to see each other after that, because of
-     the kids," he said.
-     Throughout this period, as Hyde launched his
-     political career in the Illinois Legislature, he
-     continued his secret affair with Cherie, according
-     to Snodgrass. Finally, in 1969, Snodgrass decided
-     to confront the man he blamed for destroying his
-     family. Finding out where Hyde lived, not far from
-     his own Chicago home, Snodgrass rang his
-     doorbell. Hyde was not home, but his wife invited
-     Snodgrass in, and he told her he believed her
-     husband was staying with Cherie in Springfield, the
-     state capital. "She's with your husband now," he
-     told her. "He gives her a lot of jewelry and clothes.
-     She said, 'Well, he gives gifts to me too. My
-     husband is a brilliant man. Your wife must be a
-     tramp.' I felt like a heel for telling her. I said,
-     'Would you like to take a ride to Springfield and
-     look them up?' At that time I had a new Cadillac; it
-     was sitting outside. She started crying and said, 'I
-     can't, I have a baby to watch.'"
-     The next morning, Cherie called Snodgrass in
-     tears, saying her affair with Hyde was over. A few
-     months later, they remarried, but the new marriage
-     lasted only a year. "I couldn't handle it," said
-     Snodgrass. "I didn't care for her anymore."
-     Snodgrass' exwife, who is now remarried and
-     living in Texas, declined to speak to Salon. But
-     through one of her grown daughters, she
-     confirmed that she had engaged in a longterm
-     affair with Hyde.
-     "My mother originally didn't want me to say
-     anything to the press," said her daughter. "But
-     she's just so fed up with [Hyde], with how
-     twofaced he is. She knows she wasn't his first
-     [mistress] and she wasn't his last. She hates his
-     antiabortion stuff, and all the family values stuff.
-     She thinks he's bad for the country, he's too
-     powerful and he's hypocritical."
-     As for the children of Fred and Cherie Snodgrass'
-     broken marriage, said a family intimate, "They
-     didn't have a good life, that's for sure." Hyde
-     should not be entirely blamed for the family's
-     destruction, added the source: "The family was
-     screwed up anyway. But the affair sure put the
-     final kibosh on it."
-     Sitting at home, in his onebedroom,
-     $325amonth, governmentsubsidized apartment,
-     Fred Snodgrass fought to hold back his tears as he
-     talked about his children. The apartment, which is
-     in suburban Weston, Fla., across the highway from
-     the Everglades, is decorated with Picasso
- hotographs of his children
-     when they were young, including one with him in a
-     Santa Claus outfit, sit on a side table and fill a box
-     of mementos. Snodgrass said it was difficult to
-     stay close to them after his divorce, particularly
-     when his exwife moved them to California. "I
-     went to court and said, 'I'd like to see more of my
-     kids.' The judge said, 'You can take a reproductions
-  that Snodgrass has painted, signing
-     each one "Freddy." P plane.'" He
-     moved to Florida in 1973 with his elderly mother,
-     and the kids rarely visited. "So the whole family
-     just faded away, just fell apart."
-     "I never got married again, never wanted any more
-     of that," he added. "I'm an old man now, so that's
-     that."
-     Why did Snodgrass decide to talk publicly about
-     his wife's affair with Hyde three decades later? "I
-     hate the man. He destroyed my kids, me," he said,
-     starting to cry. "I'm not a vengeful person. And I
-     don't have anything against Cherie anymore. Of
-     course, it takes two to tango and maybe I wasn't
-     the best of husbands. But he got away with it. He
-     doesn't deserve all this ovation, this respect."
-     SALON | Sept. 16, 1998
-     Dwight Garner assisted in the reporting of this story.