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Who Bashed the Partisan Leaker?

Networks Asking if Ken Starr is "Partisan and Political" Forget Lawrence Walsh's Last-Ditch 1992 Leak

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? The networks underlining Starr's partisanship have displayed a double standard:

ABC's Nightline reported: "When asked if there is a right-wing political conspiracy against Bill Clinton, 45 percent say yes, 43 percent no." The night of Walsh's leak, Peter Jennings began: "The question of truth and character came up again today for President Bush." After reading the leaked Weinberger note, Jennings was the only anchor to mention the note was "released by the special prosecutor, who is seeking a new indictment of Mr. Weinberger for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair." But he didn't mention Walsh by name.

On CBS, after years of calling him a "Republican prosecutor," Dan Rather noted "By more than two to one, the public says special prosecutor Ken Starr is politically motivated to damage the Clintons." But the night of Walsh's leak, Rather cited new "grand jury evidence" without any mention of Walsh. Reporter Rita Braver ran two soundbites of unlabeled liberal columnist Anthony Lewis who, she related, "says it's ironic George Bush is trying to make Bill Clinton's truthfulness an issue." Braver concluded: "The independent counsel insists the release of the note was timed to meet the schedule for Caspar Weinberger's trial, not to embarrass the President in the final days of the campaign."

NBC News touted a poll showing 64 percent said the Starr probe is "partisan and political" while only 22 percent found it "fair and impartial." But the night Walsh leaked, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw cited "new material that directly contradicts President Bush's claim he was out of the loop in the Iran-Contra affair." John Cochran noted: "the last thing George Bush needs is a reminder of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran." Andrea Mitchell added: "The Iran-Contra developments were a gift to Bill Clinton, who's been struggling to counteract Bush's attack on his credibility." No one mentioned Walsh.

CNN President/Clinton pal Rick Kaplan followed his seminar on "Media Madness" against Clinton with a special on "Investigating the Investigator," where reporters announced Starr's "conservative connections, his links with the President's political opponents, have made him suspect." On the October 30, 1992 World News, Anthony Collings noted that "pre-trial court papers in the indictment of...Caspar Weinberger quote from Weinberger's notes seeming to contradict Mr. Bush." But Collings also found someone the others ignored who thought Walsh was "playing politics" - then-Weinberger lawyer Bob Bennett, who said: "They've had this information for years. There can be no doubt any more that this is not about justice. This is an outrageous political prosecution."

None of the networks followed up on The Washington Times story of November 6, 1992 asking: why did the Clinton campaign issue a detailed press release dated the day before Walsh's re-indictment? Did the Walsh team leak to the Clintonites? It may seem late to seek answers now, but it should chasten media attacks on Starr, who worked quietly throughout the 1996 campaign as each new inquiry added to his plate (Travelgate, the FBI files) disappeared from the news media. - Tim Graham