Life if full of surprises. Here's one: Who ever imagined that
Larry Klayman would be the darling of National Public Radio?
In the Clinton years, Klayman and his "Judicial Watch"
litigation machine were the media's Exhibit A for the Keystone Kops of the
Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, obsessive haters who were trying to frustrate
Bill Clinton as he brilliantly went about "doing the work of the American
people." Most of the time, the validity of his lawsuits and discovery
processes was irrelevant. He was to be ignored, period. But he could not be
ignored: more poignantly, he was to be portrayed as a menace. Time magazine
began one profile: "Even in the fang-baring world of Bill Clinton's most
dedicated pursuers, Larry Klayman is in a class by himself."
But then Klayman filed suit against Dick Cheney, charging him
with misleading investors in his previous role as CEO of the Halliburton
energy concern. How quickly he moved from clown to prince, from bete noire
to cause celebre!
Suddenly, NPR newscasts were leading with Larry Klayman on the
hour. Dan Rather placed him at the top of the newscast, and ABC and NBC
escorted him to the first tier of news stories before the commercial break.
This is the first time the networks have rolled out the red carpets for
"Judicial Watch" on the same night.
It's also the first time Peter Jennings has ever uttered the
words "Judicial Watch" on the air.
Klayman is a new exhibit for the shamelessly partisan nature of
news judgment coming from the media elite. Conservatives are useful
sources -- when they attack fellow conservatives.
A review of all the network stories also reveals that
previously, on the rare occasion "Judicial Watch" would be mentioned during
the Clinton years, it almost always came with the "conservative" label.
There was nothing inaccurate about that: Klayman actively solicited
conservative movement support and served conservative goals. But now that
he's suing Cheney, there's no need for the warning label, and almost every
newscast totally dropped the ideological tag. Now "Judicial Watch" is simply
described as a "watchdog group," a "Washington watchdog group," a "legal
group" and a "legal advocacy group."
Klayman's actions may blur the previously partisan impressions,
but one can't help but see that by ushering him to the top of the newscast
and dropping the ideological warning, the press is saying to the news
consumer: Stop, listen. This is important and authoritative, all seriousness
and no gamesmanship.
One might accuse Klayman, always a fax-melting attention-seeker,
of entering undergraduate studies in the David Brock School of Betrayal in
return for Media Accolades. But Klayman hasn't totally changed teams. Unlike
Brock, he hasn't suddenly decided all his work against the Clintons was a
wretched error. His Web site still touts that work. He hasn't joined the
Mother Jones left. (Just last fall, he urged Bush to use tactical nuclear
weapons to vaporize the bad guys in Afghanistan.) He's apparently decided to
be something else: a Common Cause on the right, a seemingly nonpartisan
ethics czar who claims to be a pox on both houses. That style is working for
him. Had he just stuck to the Clinton suits he'd be yesterday's news, and
going after Cheney has put him back in the spotlight like never before.
(It's another question whether his Cheney-bashing will be appreciated by his
donors. I suspect the reaction will be negative, and furiously so.)
But Klayman is not the current champion of situational partisan
ethics. The Greg Louganis high-dive flip-flop is much more impressive when
performed by the media. Their worst-to-first treatment of "Judicial Watch"
is truly jaw dropping. Now the content of Klayman's lawsuit claims are
painstakingly laid out for everyone to hear, with every conflation of
Bush-Cheney with Enron and WorldCom carefully enunciated. During the Clinton
era, the primary news value in Klayman's lawsuits wasn't in the contents of
its claims, but in calling attention to this unsavory freak who was legal
counsel to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.
But yesterday's unsavory figures are suddenly savory to the
liberal media who relish being ahistorical. In the Clinton years, they
forgot everything about Watergate and Iran-Contra and John Tower and
Clarence Thomas, and pretended that conservatives somehow suddenly invented
scandal politics. Now, in the Bush years, they're pretending that fairness
demands that they sharpen their watchdog's teeth at Klayman's grindstone,
when in truth they'd spent the Clinton years with those teeth in a jar.
Consistency is an honorable concept. Conservatives who insisted
on exposing Clinton scandals should carefully evaluate and not instantly
dismiss the Bush-Cheney allegations as if character doesn't matter. To do
this would be to set a higher ethics bar than their adversaries in the