Shooting Down Starr's Credibility

Employing a tactic favored by drug cartels and mobsters, the Clinton Administration decided to intimidate Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Clinton flack James Carville declared "There's going to be a war," against Starr. Hillary Clinton insisted "This is a battle." Instead of reacting with shock and outrage at this bald attempt at bullying a prosecutor, the media quickly enlisted in this war on Ken Starr's credibility. Tomorrow night, for instance, CNN will run a special, "Ken Starr: Investigating the Investigator."

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. After Hillary Clinton suggested there was a "vast right-wing conspiracy against my husband," every network responded with stories. Very few challenged her claim.

That night, CBS Evening News listed a handful of alleged conflicts Ken Starr had in the Clinton investigation. ABC's Michel McQueen provided an overview of all the alleged conspirators involved, concluding: "There are unusually close relationships among the players." While Ted Koppel didn't buy into the whole theory, he did find the underlying idea plausible: "There is a considerable body of circumstantial evidence at least connecting several of those players with the right-wing...When the first lady complains of a right-wing conspiracy, it rings true even though there is little or no evidence that right-wingers have done anything."

The few reporters who have looked below the surface of the charge found it does not hold up. NBC's Lisa Myers did a reality check noting that the three judge panel that decided Starr's jurisdiction included a judge appointed by Lyndon Johnson. As writer Marc Fisher reported in yesterday's Washington Post: "A look at voters' rolls and interviews with members of Starr's staff indicate that many, if not most, of the lawyers on this investigation are registered Democrats." None of the networks picked up on this point last night.

Justice by Public Opinion Polling? After days of trashing Ken Starr's motives, most media outlets ran polls showing the public bought into the strategy.

On the January 26 CBS Evening News Dan Rather suggested "As for special prosecutor Republican Ken Starr, by nearly five to three people say he is conducting a partisan rather than an impartial investigation."

The Magazine Wars. The newsmagazines prominently feature the war theme on their covers this week. Inside, both Time and Newsweek lend credence to Hillary Clinton's bizarre charge of a vast right-wing conspiracy by publishing graphs detailing links between Starr and different figures and groups in the conservative movement. Oddly, in a sign that Johnny Cochran may be doing a little free-lance writing on the side, Newsweek included former LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman in their anti-Clinton conspiracy graph.

Girlfriends Don't Tattle. The networks have treated Starr witness Linda Tripp as a villain not a whistleblower. Both Today and CBS This Morning broadcast segments on Monday lambasting Tripp. Today co-host Ann Curry teased the segment that morning by announcing "A lot of women were really horrified to hear about Linda Tripp...secretly tape recording Monica Lewinsky. We're gonna find out this morning that that's not what real girlfriends do."

Curry began the segment lecturing that "Friendship means different things to different people. But few people expect to have their friendship betrayed by having their private conversations taped as Linda Tripp did to Monica Lewinsky." - Steve Kaminski