As justification for altering party rules in the House of Representatives in order to allow Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) to retain his leadership position if indicted by a Texas grand jury on political corruption charges, Republicans have claimed that Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is investigating DeLay, is doing so for purely partisan reasons. This charge was dutifully echoed on FOX News Channel, and most other news outlets have reported it -- without noting that Earle has, in fact, prosecuted more Democratic politicians than Republican politicians.
While Earle is an elected Democrat, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, a March 17* editorial in the Houston Chronicle commended his work: "During his long tenure, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has prosecuted many more Democratic officials than Republicans. The record does not support allegations that Earle is prone to partisan witch hunts." This assertion supports Earle's own claim about his record; a March 6 article in the El Paso Times reported: "Earle says local prosecution is fundamental and points out that 11 of the 15 politicians he has prosecuted over the years were Democrats."
Nonetheless, DeLay has accused Earle of "trying to criminalize politics and using the criminal code to insert himself into politics," while Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX) has referred to Earle as a "partisan crackpot district attorney." FOX News Channel commentators and reporters echoed this Republican line of attack against Earle:
- BRIAN WILSON (FOX News Channel correspondent): "DeLay is making a not-so-veiled reference to this man, Ronnie Earle, the intensely partisan Democratic district attorney of Travis County, Texas. Under Earle's guidance, an Austin grand jury has indicted several of DeLay's associates as part of an investigation into a state political action committee." [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/17/04]
- MICHAEL BARONE (FOX News Channel contributor and U.S. News and World Report senior writer): "Ordinarily I would agree with the Democrats' point of view on this. This is, you know, changing the rule, lowering the ethical standards. But the fact is what you've got here is a prosecutor -- Travis County prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, a partisan Democrat who has done some really rotten, political prosecuting. ... So this is a rotten prosecutor who -- and I think in those circumstances, it's appropriate." [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/17/04]
- JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO (author and FOX News Channel senior judicial analyst): Tom DeLay's associates, people that have worked for him, and some who still do work for him, have all been indicted by a sort of renegade prosecutor in Texas, who has made it known that Tom DeLay is in his crosshairs. ...
JOHN GIBSON (host): OK, but now tell me about this prosecutor. You said quasi-renegade.
NAPOLITANO: I was being polite when I said quasi-renegade. The Republican leadership today called him a political crackpot. And there is a basis for calling him that. [FOX News Channel, The Big Story with John Gibson, 11/16/04]
Network and cable news outlets and several major newspapers also reported the charges leveled by Republicans against Earle without noting that Earle has, in fact, prosecuted more Democratic politicians than Republican politicians:
- CHIP REID (NBC News correspondent): "In a display of DeLay's popularity and power within his own party, House Republicans changed the rules, allowing him to keep his position even if indicted, if Republicans determine the indictment is politically motivated. That's exactly what Republicans have already concluded about the Texas investigation, calling it a partisan witch hunt." [NBC, Nightly News, 11/17/04]
- BOB ORR (CBS correspondent): "Three DeLay associates have already been indicted in what he [DeLay] claims is a politically motivated prosecution." [CBS, Evening News, 11/17/04]
- LINDA DOUGLASS (ABC congressional correspondent): "A Democratic prosecutor in Texas has been investigating DeLay's role in changing the boundaries of the state's congressional districts. Three people connected to DeLay have already been indicted. ... DeLay says he's the target of a Democratic witchhunt." [ABC, World News Tonight, 11/17/04]
- JUDY WOODRUFF (CNN host): "As some House Republicans tell it, their vote today to change party rules was not just about protecting Tom DeLay. They say it was about taking power away from a Democratic prosecutor who they believe may be eager to indict their majority leader."
- JOE JOHNS (CNN congressional correspondent): "Fearing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay could be indicted in a grand jury investigation in Texas, rank-and-file Republicans in the House move to protect him from losing power if it happens. They see the Texas case, led by a prosecutor who is a Democrat, as politically motivated." [CNN, Inside Politics, 11/17/04]
- BRIT HUME (FOX News Channel host): "Tom DeLay fears, as do others, that he may be indicted by a particular prosecutor down in Texas who has indicted Republicans in Washington before. And they feel that the indictment was likely to be politically motivated." [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/17/04]
- The Baltimore Sun: "DeLay said the action was necessary because of what he has called a politically motivated campaign by the prosecutor, Democrat Ronnie Earle. Earle 'is trying to criminalize politics and using the criminal code to insert himself into politics. I think that is wrong,' DeLay said. ... Republicans were concerned that Earle might indict DeLay to strip him of his leadership post even if the prosecutor never intended to pursue the charges, said DeLay's spokesman, Jonathan Grella." ["House GOP changes rule to protect DeLay," 11/18/04]
- San Francisco Chronicle: "Republicans charge that the Texas investigation, led by Ronnie Earle, a veteran Democratic prosecutor in Austin, is a political effort designed to embarrass DeLay. ... 'This takes the power away from any partisan crackpot district attorney who may want to indict,' Bonilla said after the vote preserving DeLay's post." ["GOP tosses ethics rule so DeLay can keep post," 11/18/04]
- The Dallas Morning News: "Many Republicans assert that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, is on a partisan witch-hunt." ["GOP eyeing rule to help DeLay: New law would allow leader to keep post in event of indictment," 11/17/04]
Correction: This item originally indicated that the Houston Chronicle editorial was from June 17, 2004, and linked to a website providing the full text of the editorial but another incorrect date, March 17, 2003. In fact, the editorial was written on March 17, 2004.