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Dan Burton in the Media Bull's Eye

Dan Burton in the Media Bull's Eye
by L. Brent Bozell III
May 1, 1997

In today's competitive, rapid-fire communications industry, reporters don't tell the world what happened today, they try to predict what will happen tomorrow. So it wouldn't be prudent to wait and see how Dan Burton's Government Reform and Oversight Committee undertakes its upcoming investigation or what it discovers about Democratic fundraising. The media are already vilifying Burton as something just this side of Cro-Magnon. Al D'Amato and Newt Gingrich can tell him this is just the beginning.

The media pile-on is under way for a simple reason. To them, Burton is not enough like Bill Clinger, the moderate Eastern Republican Burton replaced as chairman, or Fred Thompson, his moderate Republican Senate counterpart. Burton is a conservative. And he's serious about investigating the Clintons. You can almost hear the journalistic teeth gnash.

The liberal attacks began back in the December 9 Time. The headline read "In the House a Zealot Talks Softly." A "zealot"? This is a term Time has used 39 times since January 1992, almost exclusively when describing militia wackos - and Gingrichian Republicans. Needless, to say, it's not once been used to describe any Democrat. Writer James Carney claimed "the President's chief inquisitor [Torquemada, call your office] on such issues as the Democratic fundraising scandal will be a man who has never pretended to be impartial." Pretending to be impartial is a game reporters expect everyone to play, and Burton's not playing to their liking. So it's open season.

Over at U.S. News & World Report, writer Jason Vest was a little kinder: Burton was "playing the relentless Sam Gerard to Clinton's Fugitive." (If Clinton is so innocent, who is the one-armed man? Hillary?) Vest claimed Burton's zeal "reached its zenith when he used a pistol to shoot a 'headlike thing' in his back yard" to study the Vince Foster case.

That's a distortion, and Vest clearly had to know it. Burton went out with a law enforcement friend to test the theory that you can hear a gun shot from 200 yards. Foster's body was found 200 yards from the heavily guarded Saudi embassy. Their question was simple: How come the Saudis heard no shot? That's another media taboo violated: never investigate the Foster death. They haven't. You shouldn't.

Then came The Washington Post with the suspect story of Democratic lobbyist Mark Siegel, who claimed Burton "shook him down" to raise $5,000 in donations. All three networks dove on that story. When recent accounts in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times started peeling away Siegel's credibility, the networks were nowhere to be found.

Now it's time for the weekend warriors of the talk show circuit to blast away at Burton. On CNN's "Capital Gang," Time's Margaret Carlson said "He is considered flaky and a bit of a crackpot, even though a nice guy. Some crackpots are nice." Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief James Warren added Burton "is sort of like the Republicans' wacky aunt stuck down in the basement. You don't want to let her out in front of guests."

On "Inside Washington," Newsweek's Evan Thomas claimed: "Burton is a car wreck waiting to happen. He's got real problems himself on campaign fundraising....Burton is, shall we say, a complicated guy. He once, I think, said he wanted to nuke Iraq to avoid the Kuwait War. I mean, he's got all sorts of problems."

Thomas hadn't been this reckless since he called Paula Jones trailer trash. In the wake of Iraq's threat to pulverize Allied forces with chemical weapons, Burton did say - as President Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf had also discussed - that all military options should be considered in the war, including the possible battlefield use of tactical nuclear weapons. So what?

Media liberals really do believe (and hope) that Burton will embarrass the Republicans. But what about Democratic embarrassments, such as...Henry Gonzalez, the San Antonio liberal who first came to fame claiming John Kennedy was shot by a right-wing militia conspiracy? This is the man who spent 1992 claiming George Bush was "principally responsible" for Iraq's war machine," including two days before the 1992 election on "60 Minutes," who spent the first half of 1994 stonewalling any House Whitewater investigation. Did the media describe him as a loony, a hard-charging partisan, a conspiracy theorist? Flaky, a car wreck, a zealot? Think again.

They loved him. On Iraqgate, one reporter told it right. Stuart Taylor wrote that CBS, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post "built upon and magnified reckless and unfounded claims of Bush administration conduct by congressional Democrats led by Henry Gonzalez, the flaky, fiercely partisan chairman of the House Banking committee."

The media never change. Every day now, reporters are preying over Burton's personal and political life grasping for straws to discredit him, while Gonzalez's actions are long forgotten. And to think, the hearings haven't even begun yet.