Media double standard

November 02, 2005|By CAL THOMAS

ARLINGTON, VA. -- What a difference a president and a special prosecutor make.

During the Clinton presidency, Democrat partisans James Carville and Paul Begala slandered independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr as a sex maniac with a political agenda despite his selection by Attorney General Janet Reno. Much of the media approvingly and uncritically passed along the sliming of this decent man, asserting that President Bill Clinton's problems were about sex and that "everybody" lies about sex. Thus, Mr. Clinton's lies under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky were not a big deal.

Now comes a different independent counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. In the run-up to last week's announcement of an indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements, we get from the big media that Mr. Fitzgerald is an apolitical straight-shooter who is the definition of integrity. Translation: Everything he alleges about Mr. Libby must be true.

At a news conference, Mr. Fitzgerald said the case "is not about the war" in Iraq. Of course it has everything to do with the war. Those who lost the policy battle over going to war are now fighting a rear-guard action in an attempt to damage the Bush administration and win the political war in time for the 2006 congressional elections and certainly by the 2008 presidential contest.

A jury will be asked to make an interesting choice: Who has more credibility - a top government official or members of the news media to whom Mr. Libby spoke about CIA operative Valerie Plame?

Mr. Libby is not being tried for "outing" Valerie Plame, but for his statements about her to three journalists, what he said and when he said it. They have one recollection and he has another. For that he faces up to 30 years in prison? Try remembering what you told someone last week. Should you be indicted if your recollection turns out to be different from theirs?

The big media's agenda in this can be discerned from the saturation coverage they gave Mr. Libby's indictments and the short shrift given to indictments of several members of the Clinton administration.

When a multiple indictment was handed down against Mr. Clinton's agriculture secretary, Mike Espy (he was later acquitted on all 30 charges), most of the broadcast networks relayed the news in a sentence or two. It was the same with Henry G. Cisneros, Mr. Clinton's secretary of housing and urban development, who was indicted on multiple counts for misleading the FBI about payoffs he made to a mistress. Mr. Cisneros later plea-bargained to a single misdemeanor charge of lying to the FBI.

The Media Research Center noted at the time that the Cisneros indictment generated 18 seconds on ABC's World News Tonight, while the CBS Evening News didn't get around to it until the following day. It then allocated just nine seconds to the story, choosing to focus, instead, on a two-minute report about how El NiM-qo was impacting butterflies. Only NBC bothered with a full report the day of the indictment. The following morning, Today gave it a few seconds, but neither ABC's Good Morning America nor CBS' This Morning mentioned Mr. Cisneros the day after the indictment.

By contrast, the Libby indictment story was treated as "Breaking News" and a "News Alert."

After his acquittal, Mr. Espy said the four years and $17 million spent by the government on his case (plus his own legal fees) were a waste and that the independent counsel law should be reformed. I agree.

Since the law was created in 1978 in response to the Watergate scandal, there have been scores of investigations but few convictions of those indicted. It has cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Most of those indicted either were acquitted, won appeals judgments, plea-bargained to lesser charges or were pardoned by the presidents they served. Those put through the legal wringer spent millions of dollars on lawyers and were placed under enormous professional and personal stress.

Enough Democrats and Republicans have been forced to run this gantlet that perhaps a truly bipartisan solution can be found to end it. That Mr. Libby's indictments are not about policy, but about who remembers what and when, ought to be the final straw in this ridiculous process.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. He can be reached by e-mail at CalThomas.com.

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