Larry Klayman: bias exhibit A

Posted: Jul 24, 2002 12:00 AM
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 liberal press.