Surprise: NYT Focuses on Eric Holder's Role in Marc Rich Pardon

Barack Obama announced his top cabinet picks on Monday, among them Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State and Eric Holder, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, for attorney general. The Times greeted the imminent announcement Monday with a flattering biography describing Holder's New York boyhood by reporter Javier Hernandez in the New York Metro section, "A High Achiever Poised to Scale New Heights."

Longing to escape the elite world at Columbia, he spent Saturdays taking underprivileged teenagers around New York City. He tried to expose the poor and predominantly black children living near campus to the cosmopolitan richness that had informed his own worldview.

"It just seemed incumbent on me, and many of us, that as students of color, we had to be engaged in this community of color that surrounded our campus," he said.


As history unfolded around him - the shootings of students at Kent State and Jackson State - Mr. Holder saw the law as an instrument of change. "The law inevitably is wound up with some great political movements, social movements," he said. "I wanted to be a part of that."

He attended law school at Columbia, becoming a role model to black students pursuing public service, his classmates said. He clerked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and joined the Justice Department after graduation, working his way up to deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton.

To its credit, the Times followed up on Tuesday morning with a piece of actual journalism about Holder, a reasonably probing front-page story from intelligence reporters Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston into Holder's involvement in President Clinton's controversial pardon of fugitive billionaire financier Marc Rich, "Pardon Is Back in Focus for the Justice Nominee."

In the much praised career of Eric H. Holder Jr., President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be attorney general, there is one notable blemish: Mr. Holder's complicated role in the 2001 pardon of Marc Rich, a billionaire financier who had fled the country rather than face federal tax evasion charges.

The reporters summarized in the next paragraph:

Mr. Holder's supporters portray him as having been a relatively uninvolved bystander caught in a Clinton-era controversy, the remarkable granting of a last-minute pardon by President Bill Clinton to a fugitive from justice. But interviews and an examination of Congressional records show that Mr. Holder, who at the time of the pardon was the deputy attorney general, was more deeply involved in the Rich pardon than his supporters acknowledge.

The Times didn't need a past connection to scandal as an excuse to write even more scathing storiesaboutRepublican appointees. In December 2000, the Times introduced John Ashcroft as George W. Bush's attorney general nominee under the headline "A Stalwart of the Right." The story, also by reporter David Johnston, portrayed Ashcroft as a scary conservative ideologue:

....Mr. Ashcroft is Mr. Bush's most conservative appointment so far and, if confirmed by the Senate, in what could be bruising confirmation hearings, he would be the most outspokenly ideological attorney general since President Ronald Reagan's era of social conservatism at the Justice Department. A pro-death-penalty, anti-abortion Republican senator from Missouri who lost a re-election campaign last month, Mr. Ashcroft's selection raises the possibility of potentially serious fights over the myriad flash points of legal policy, like judicial selection, civil rights, criminal justice and antitrust matters....To his critics, Mr. Ashcroft is a zealous Republican hard-liner, a sometimes polarizing figure prone to self-righteous moralizing....Ratings by advocacy groups suggest the sharp edge of Mr. Ashcroft's political thinking.