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Janet Reno: Corrupt or Doltish?

With the Waco fiasco back in the headlines, one of two conclusions concerning this Attorney General of ours is inescapable. Either Janet Reno is the most corrupt A.G. in memory, or the most incompetent.

It also says something about the political press that has slobbered all over Ms. Reno for years, most notably over her handling of the Waco disaster back in '93. Let's take a trip down Memory Lane, when Reno took responsibility for the disaster, even though her department's supposed number-three man, Webster Hubbell, was more involved than she was. Far from burying Reno in charges of incompetence, reporters fell in love with her.

On May 7, 1993, CNN's Charles Bierbauer made "Inside Politics" sound more like "Entertainment Tonight" with this wet kiss: "One top White House official says Reno's become a rock star celebrity inside the administration...There are certainly other potential stars: Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Henry Cisneros at HUD, Robert Reich at Labor. But Bernie, when I posed the question 'Who's the star?', every single person I asked said Janet Reno first."

The May 10 issue of Time contained an entire cover story lauding Reno by former Washington Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud. "In that instant [of taking responsibility], Reno, who had already pretty much captivated Washington with one gutsy performance after another, achieved full-fledged folk-hero status," he wrote. "She was cheered on both sides of the aisle in Congress and in her own Justice Department, where a succession of 25-watt, responsibility-ducking Attorneys General had left morale lower than - well, lower than an alligator's belly."

Cox Broadcasting reporter Gloria Moraga took the hype the furthest that July: "Janet Reno could be the next President of the United States," gushed this impartial journalist. "She's doing such a fabulous job and even people who came out and were ready to be very critical of her, extremely critical of her, just love her."

Six years later, we now learn that federal agents covered up evidence that government forces lobbed flammable tear-gas canisters at the Branch Davidian complex. If Reno wasn't complicit in that action, she was - and is - at best an incompetent administrator of our nation's top law enforcement agency. Doesn't Reno now look like the 25-watt dim bulb who left department morale in the dirt? Nope, not in the Mr. Magoo eyes of the 89-percent pro-Clinton press.

How else can we explain this gem (uncovered by National Review) delivered by the sleuths at the Associated Press? They reported that Bill Clinton, the lovable finger-wagging dissembler, after hearing about the new Waco revelations, was "deeply concerned that the Attorney General appears to have been misled and may have been lied to."

Whenever things look bad for the Clinton administration, whenever lies are about to have consequences, reporters can be counted to train their guns on...well, anyone else. First and foremost, it will be those sleazily partisan Republicans who will try to take advantage. This week, Time's Elaine Shannon dredged up the old attack on Rep. Dan Burton, who drew attention to Reno's fiasco by sending out subpoenas.

"Republicans, in fact, believe they have a 'Dan Burton issue' to contend with. Chairman Burton's erratic behavior (calling the President a 'scumbag'; shooting a pumpkin in his backyard to simulate the Vince Foster head wound) has drained a lot of potency out of controversies with which the GOP would like to beat the Clinton administration."

Forget that if calling Clinton a scumbag is "erratic," that must make half of America erratic. The more important point here is the lesson in Media Logic 101: A)A huge coverup by the Democrats is exposed; B) Republicans demand an investigation; therefore C) the Republicans are reproachable.

Over at Newsweek, the "Conventional Wisdom Watch" elves were all over Louis Freeh's FBI, right on White House cue: "Baldly lied about firing incendiaries at Waco. Real ammo for anti-gov wackos." Newsweek quoted a federal prosecutor warning poor Janet Reno "the facts may have been kept from you."

U.S. News & World Report editor Brian Duffy praised everyone in the line of fire. "There is a sad irony in the rift between Justice and the FBI. In the past, both have been led by pols like RFK and power-mad men like J. Edgar Hoover. In Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh, the two agencies have leaders widely respected for their strength and integrity." Earth to Duffy: How on Earth can you find strength and integrity at the site of a prolonged government coverup?

Isn't it getting a bit disgusting that we're in Year Six of this administration and the press is still reporting on Janet Reno as if the public were all tabula-rasa idiots that haven't read a newspaper since the decade began?