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 Media Reality Check

Friday, April 3, 1998 | Vol. Two, No. 14 | Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703) 683-5004

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Media Detractors of Whitewater Counsel Ken Starr Never Make Historical Comparisons to Watergate

Amnesia on Partisan Counsel Archibald Cox

     Now that Judge Susan Webber Wright has made the "courageous" decision to dismiss the Paula Jones suit (just as she tried to delay it until 2001 before the Supreme Court overruled her), the media's focus returns to Kenneth Starr. For years, liberal media figures have drubbed Starr as a partisan, pointing fingers at Starr's speech at Pat Robertson's Regent University, or his thoughts of filing an amicus brief in the Jones case.

     Typically, the media invested in polls to see if their attacks had worked. For the first time, the pollsters gauged an approval rating for an independent counsel, and they asked the public if his investigation was tainted by partisanship. This was not a tactic the media employed for Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, who indicted Caspar Weinberger four days before the 1992 election. This was not a tactic the media used for Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. In all their stories questioning Starr, the networks have never explored the partisanship of Starr's predecessors.

     To correct that lack of historical perspective, see these passages from Victor Lasky's 1977 book It Didn't Start with Watergate (pages 336-7): "On May 25, 1973, Cox was sworn in an special prosecutor, armed with full powers to investigate an administration which he had previously conceded he personally detested." (See box.)

     "But what disturbed the White House even more was the news that Cox was loading his staff with former aides to both John and Robert Kennedy. An ancient vendetta was taking new form. In charge of the Watergate task force was James Neal, a Nashville attorney who had been special assistant to Attorney General Kennedy from 1961 to 1964. As such he helped prosecute Jimmy Hoffa, a prosecution which led some civil libertarians to question whether it wasn't persecution. His assistant, Richard Ben-Veniste, had been assistant U.S. Attorney in New York. In one case, according to the Washingtonian, Ben-Veniste and others have concocted a scheme to entrap certain individuals into committing bribery. In reversing the convictions that resulted, Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals accused Ben-Veniste and his cohorts of holding 'an arrogant disregard for the sanctity of the state judicial and police process'...."

     "Another member of 'Cox's Army' was William H. Merrill, a chief assistant U.S. Attorney during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who was chairman of the Michigan Citizens for Robert Kennedy for President in 1968, and was placed by Cox in charge of the 'plumbers' task force. Merrill, who twice ran for office as a Democrat, told an interviewer, 'We'll set standards of conduct or show what they could be.' Which, needless to say, is not the role of a prosecutor."

     "This extraordinary attitude was carried a step further by Thomas F. McBride, another former member of the Kennedy Justice Department. While heading up the task force examining 'campaign contributions,' he told the same interviewer that he saw in his new job the oppor-tunity 'to use law enforcement as an instrument for social reform' possibly equal to the Progressive movement as the turn of the century. Which isn't exactly the purpose of law enforcement." Media amnesia reigns.  -- Tim Graham


L. Brent Bozell III, Publisher; Brent Baker, Tim Graham, Editors; Eric Darbe, Geoffrey Dickens, Gene Eliasen, Steve Kaminski, Clay Waters, Media Analysts; Kristina Sewell, Research Associate.  For the latest liberal media bias, read the CyberAlert at






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