A Tale of Two Prosecutors
The ConWeb eagerly advanced charges of partisanship against Tom DeLay's prosecutor, Ronnie Earle -- but it did the exact opposite when the prosecutor was Ken Starr and the target was Bill Clinton.
By Terry Krepel
When House majority leader Tom DeLay was indicted on a charge of conspiracy related to corporate campaign donations in Texas, the ConWeb knew exactly what it had to do: Defend DeLay and attack the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle.
NewsMax led the way with a passel of articles smearing Earle. It featured Dick Morris calling Earle crazier than Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist Jim Garrison and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison calling Earle corrupt, and suggested Earle was a liar because he allegedly previously "gave clear indications that the top Republican was off the hook. NewsMax columnist James Hirsen claimed that Earle has a "pattern of misusing the power of his office by engaging in political skeet shooting" (and took him to task because he "paraphrased an overused quote"). CNSNews.com columnist Frank Salvato insisted that Earle is "a partisan Democrat." WorldNetDaily ran a column by Jerry Falwell suggesting that Earle had an "enemies list" just like the Nixon administration. A Sept. 28 WorldNetDaily article was filled with attacks on Earle.
An Oct. 5 CNSNews.com article by Susan Jones was quick to point out that it was DeLay's opinion that Earle was "a Democrat who is out to get him," that "[s]ome observers note that the indictments against DeLay rest on insubstantial legal ground; and of course, he is innocent until proven guilty" and that Democrats promoting DeLay's indictment have a goal of "[s]ucking money out of Republican campaigns -- based on unproven charges against a leading Republican."
None of those articles or columns mentioned the inconvenient fact that Earle has a record of prosecuting far more Democratic politicians than Republican ones. A Sept. 29 NewsMax article by Dave Eberhart that was short of detailed evidence for his Earle-bashing allegations did mention it, then lamely tried to explain it away: "But DeLay defenders note Texas has only recently become a Republican stronghold and that the liberal prosecutor has even engaged at political prosecutions of fellow Democrats."
The Earle-bashing started long before DeLay's indictment; as ConWebWatch as noted, both CNS and NewsMax ran a commentary by Peter Flaherty the of the National Legal and Policy Center claiming that Earle is "a Democrat with a history of bringing politically motivated indictments." The NLPC, which claims a mission of "promoting ethics in public life," has been silent on the charges against DeLay.
But in all of this eager prosecutor-bashing, the ConWeb has conveniently forgotten that prosecutor-bashing was a bad thing when the prosecutor -- Kenneth Starr -- was a Republican and the target of his investigation -- President Clinton -- was a Democrat.
NewsMax led the way there, too, with founder-editor Christopher Ruddy himself doing much lamenting that Starr was being portrayed as a partisan.
A January 1998 article he wrote for WorldNetDaily, he noted: "Soon James Carville will be out casting Starr as the mean, partisan prosecutor." Ruddy did much the same in a February 1997 article, noting that "Starr was criticized as being a partisan Republican." In an August 1996 article, Ruddy noted that a deputy to Starr had purportedly been appointed "to diminish criticism that Starr was too much of a partisan Republican to be fair."
In fact, Ruddy and others insisted that Starr wasn't a partisan at all. A review of Ruddy's 1997 book "The Strange Death of Vincent Foster" (you know, the one that Ann Coulter dismissed as a "conservative hoax book") posted at NewsMax noted that "Ruddy's depiction of the independent counsel is in sharp contrast to the impression, created by Democrat propagandists such as James Carville, of a rabidly partisan Republican operative, appointed by 'right-wing' judges, who is out to get Clinton at any cost." In a Feb. 11, 1998, column, WND's Joseph Farah claimed that Clinton supporters were "increasingly desperate" to paint Starr as "a political partisan out to get the president."
Of course, all the likes of Ruddy wanted was for Bill Clinton to be indicted of something, anything. Joseph Farah wrote in a Feb. 13, 1998, column: "Far from being the aggressive, partisan, ruthless, get-Clinton-at-any-cost prosecutor he is portrayed as by the White House, the establishment press and political shills like Carville, Starr is really a pussycat -- maybe even the best political ally the president has right now."
At the Media Research Center, a November 1998 MediaWatch performed similar laments about "Carvillesque incantations and push polls insisting that Starr was a partisan zealot." In a September 1997 CyberAlert, Brent Baker was annoyed that "Dan Rather once again felt compelled to tar Kenneth Starr as a partisan activist instead of treating him as an 'independent' independent counsel."
A Feburary 1998 "Media Reality Check" pondered: "The unasked question in the pack of stories and polls suggesting the partisanship of independent counsel Kenneth Starr is this: has Starr done anything as politically damaging as Iran-Contra counsel Lawrence Walsh's October 30, 1992 reindictment of ex-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger four days before the 1992 election, complete with the leak of a note suggesting George Bush lied when he said he was 'out of the loop' on Iran-Contra?"
In a February 1998 column, MRC chief Brent Bozell wrote:
The Clintonites announce a "war," accuse Starr of partisan political persecution. Obediently, and quite predictably, the national press filed report after report. Now come the media polls confirming that a majority of Americans believe there is a war being waged by a politically partisan prosecutor. Imagine that. NBC reported that 64 percent said the Starr probe is "partisan and political" while only 22 percent characterized it as "fair and impartial." After years of James Carville and Co. attacks and Dan Rather's constant references to Starr as a "Republican prosecutor," how could the results be otherwise?
Substitute "Starr" for "Earle," "Clintonites" for "DeLay" and "James Carville" for the Republican operative of your choosing, and Bozell's statement applies to the current situation.
When the ConWeb wasn't debunking claims of Starr's partisanship, it tried to portray it as standard operating procedure. An April 1998 Media Reality Check claimed that Nixon special prosecutor Archibald Cox was partisan too.
Apparently, consistency is too much to ask for from the ConWeb.