A September 24 Wall Street Journal editorial (WSJ.com subscription required) attacked Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle by suggesting that his September 21 indictments of top aides to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) were politically motivated. In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, Earle's record as a prosecutor does not support that charge. Moreover, the Journal's current editorial page editor has a history of vocally defending former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, a Republican, from charges that his multi-year, multimillion dollar investigation of former President Bill Clinton was politically motivated.
The Journal declared that "any indictment sought by local prosecutor Ronnie Earle ... deserves to be met with great skepticism" because Earle is "an openly partisan Democrat" who "has not hesitated to use his office to settle political scores." But as MMFA has noted, a March 17* Houston Chronicle editorial concluded: "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."
The Journal's case against Earle's integrity and motives relied entirely on his unsuccessful prosecution of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) in 1993. But MMFA cited several examples, which the Journal ignored, of Earle prosecuting Democratic officials; these include his 1983 indictment of then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, who later opposed Hutchison in her 1994 Senate reelection campaign.
The Journal's attack on Earle's supposed partisanship is ironic given that the paper's current editorial page editor, Paul A. Gigot, regularly defended Kenneth Starr during the late 1990s against charges of partisanship. In fact, Gigot -- then a columnist for the Journal and a political analyst for PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer -- accused those who made such charges of trying to "taint" the legal process. For example, on the November 29, 1996, edition of the NewsHour, Gigot said of James Carville, former Clinton adviser and co-host of CNN's Crossfire:
He's clearly trying to taint whatever possible indictments Ken Starr would bring with partisanship, with the charge that he is a right-wing Republican hack, despite the fact that he's none of those things. He is a Republican, but he's certainly someone -- one of the least partisan Republicans in the judiciary -- judicial circles in Washington.
The Journal also misrepresented Earle's comments on the grand jury investigation. Defending DeLay, the editorial continued: "Of course, Mr. DeLay himself isn't named in the indictments and by Mr. Earle's own reckoning isn't even a target of the investigation." But Earle explicitly declined to rule out possible future action against DeLay. The Washington Post reported on September 21:
DeLay was not named as a target of the grand jury's investigation, but documents disclosed in the inquiry indicate that DeLay was central to creating and overseeing the political fundraising in Texas. When asked whether the continuing probe could lead to allegations of wrongdoing against DeLay, Earle said: "My response has been consistent, in that anyone who has committed a crime is a target."
In fact, the Journal's claim that DeLay "isn't even a target of the investigation" amounts to a simple repetition of DeLay's own dubious interpretation of recent events. "They've made clear this investigation is not about me," DeLay said, according to the Post.
Finally, the Journal noted that "Democrats in Washington have also wasted no time trying to turn the indictments into a campaign issue and connect them to a House ethics complaint against Mr. DeLay." But the editorial undermined its own suggestion that any proposed "connect[ion]" between the new indictments and the longstanding ethics complaint is a mere political ploy when, one sentence later, the article noted that the ethics complaint "also concerns Mr. DeLay's involvement with Texans for a Republican Majority," the political action committee that DeLay founded, which is at the center of the recent indictments.
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.