The Strange Crusade Against Dan Burton

Webster Hubbell, once America's third-ranking law enforcement official, embezzled almost $500,000 from his law partners. Then Clinton donors gave him more than $700,000 after he was pushed to resign. Despite receiving more than $1 million in 1994, he paid less than $30,000 in taxes. After plea bargaining with Whitewater counsel Ken Starr, Hubbell refused to cooperate with Starr and took the Fifth before House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's probe, chaired by Congressman Dan Burton (R-Indiana).

But Hubbell is now the sympathetic center of a story of how Burton released portions of Hubbell's taped prison phone calls, and Burton stands accused by the media of a lack of objectivity and the use of selective editing.

But how objective are the media? Burton has been attacked as a flaky partisan by reporters, but how did they treat Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Tex.), who regularly called for George Bush's impeachment a few years ago? Consider:

When Gonzalez rose to chairing a committee in 1991, Time welcomed him with an interview headlined "Henry Gonzalez, populist chairman of the House Banking Committee, says a conspiracy of selfishness blocks reform." Richard Woodbury asked questions like "What led you to take such an aggressive role in unraveling the banking mess?" Time greeted Burton's investigation with the headline "In the House a Zealot Talks Softly." Writer James Carney claimed "the President's chief inquisitor (Torquemada, call your office) on such issues as the Democratic fundraising scandal will be a man who has never pretended to be impartial."

U.S. News & World Report promoted Gonzalez's charge of an "Iraqgate" conspiracy with a 5,700 word cover story titled "Iraqgate: How the Bush administration helped finance Saddam Hussein's war machine with American tax dollars." But last year, U.S. News reporter Jason Vest claimed Burton was "playing the relentless Sam Gerard to Clinton's Fugitive." (Who's the one-armed man?)

ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel presented Gonzalez's "Iraqgate" conspiracy as a political liability for Bush, not a partisan exercise by Gonzalez. On October 28, 1992, Koppel underlined a poll which "showed that 68 percent of the American public has major doubts about George Bush's explanations of his administration's role in providing aid to Saddam Hussein before the Persian Gulf war." On May 5, Koppel began his show on Burton: "Tonight, the bumbling of the Hubbell tapes. How evidence of a cover-up may be lost amid political squabbling."

Two days before the 1992 election, CBS 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace prompted Gonzalez to charge Bush was guilty of obstruction of justice and "principally responsible for arming Saddam Hussein." Wallace's first question: "Who are the main players who have tried to stop your investigation?" In his American Lawyer expose, Stuart Taylor called the segment a "20-minute tag-team number on the Bush administration littered with distortions." (No critics of Gonzalez appeared.) But on May 5, CBS reporter Bob Schieffer underlined Burton as a political liability: "One Republican told us it's gone beyond being a matter of concern in the House. This is a problem now for all Republicans, Dan." How can the media attack others for a lack of objectivity and selective editing? - Tim Graham