Joel Mowbray

With the release of an internal investigation last week, we now know that former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger not only knowingly flouted laws for handling classified documents, but he also went to incredible lengths to cover his tracks and thwart investigators.

While Berger's "punishment" was a pittance of a fine, former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin has been financially ruined and sentenced to 12 and a half years for passing along far less-classified information to unauthorized third parties.

Unfortunately, disproportionate justice is inherent to the legal system. The written playbook might be the same for various cases, but different judges and different dynamics can lead to dramatically disparate results.

But what excuse is there for the wildly different media coverage of the two cases, both of which came to public attention in the summer of 2004?

Given the nature of each man's actions and the starkly different status each enjoyed in the public eye, the media actually was justified in providing dissimilar coverage. Only the press got it exactly wrong.

One man verbally disclosed classified information devoid of sources or methods. The other snuck five different versions of a top-secret document out of a secure facility.

One was a low-level career bureaucrat, while the other was just a few years removed from being the president's national security advisor. One man cooperated with authorities and didn't even retain a lawyer before being interrogated, while the other lied to investigators and then intentionally destroyed evidence.

While conservative news outlets reveled in the Berger story, the mainstream media was at best blasé. Of all the articles about Berger's case -- from the revelation that he was the subject of an inquiry through the recent release of the National Archives inspector general's report -- only one made it to the front page of either The Washington Post or the New York Times. Coverage of Franklin's case, however, earned that distinction more than a half-dozen times.

The Franklin affair started out with a bang. Over seven days, starting in late August 2004, The Washington Post published six distinct articles, three of which landed on the front page. It was a sizzling story. Someone who worked in the Pentagon seen by the media as too pro-Israel was suspected of passing national-security secrets to the Jewish state. The Post even implied that five others -- all Jews with "strong ties to Israel" -- might also be spies.


Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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