Today's media doesn't want to relitigate the scandals of the Clinton White House, but they will still eagerly pursue Ken Starr. New York Times Hillary-beat reporter Amy Chozick matter-of-factly compared the Whitewater special prosecutor to Inspector Javert, the fanatical pursuer of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, while blaming him for bringing “a new intensity to partisan warfare” in his prosecution of Bill Clinton, in Wednesday’s “Starr, Who Tried to Bury Clinton, Now Praises Him.” Chozick even suggested Starr's investigation was responsible for the Clinton administration being distracted from the threat of Osama bin Laden.
An unlikely voice recently bemoaned the decline of civility in presidential politics, warned that “deep anger” was fueling an “almost radical populism” and sang the praises of former President Bill Clinton -- particularly his “redemptive” years of philanthropic work since leaving the White House.
The voice was that of Kenneth W. Starr, the former Whitewater independent counsel, whose Javert-like pursuit of Mr. Clinton in the 1990s helped bring a new intensity to partisan warfare and led to the impeachment of a president for only the second time in the nation’s history.
Conservatives would argue that the Iran-Contra witchhunt against the Reagan administration and the personal assaults against Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas amounted to “partisan warfare” from the left.
Chozick tried hard to portray the Clinton scandals as old news (unlike the paper’s recent regurgitation of decades-old stories about Donald Trump’s gauche behavior, which were apparently relevant).
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, increasingly seems to be trying to relitigate the scandals that Mr. Starr investigated, dredging up allegations of sexual transgressions by Mr. Clinton to accuse Hillary Clinton -- the likely Democratic nominee -- of having aided and enabled her husband at the expense of Mr. Clinton’s female accusers.
But Mr. Starr expressed regret last week that so much of Mr. Clinton’s legacy remained viewed through the lens of what Mr. Starr demurely termed “the unpleasantness.”
His remarks seemed almost to absolve Mr. Clinton, if not to exonerate him.
She went so far as to suggest that Starr’s investigation was to blame for Clinton’s inaction on the threat of Osama bin Laden.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some of his associates expressed regret that so much of the Clinton administration’s efforts had been spent fighting those battles rather than addressing the growing threat posed by Osama bin Laden. And in 2010, Mr. Starr told Fox News that he regretted that his investigation of Mr. Clinton had taken so long and that it “brought great pain to a lot of people.”
Chozick wasn’t ready to let Starr off the hook just yet, mea culpa notwithstanding.
But it was Mr. Starr’s keening over the coarsening and polarization of American politics that seemed most noteworthy. He did not volunteer any responsibility for it -- though Mr. Clinton, who in 2006 accused Mr. Starr of “indicting innocent people because they wouldn’t lie,” might well lay considerable blame at his feet.
A federal judge in the Reagan administration and the solicitor general under President George Bush, Mr. Starr was named independent counsel in 1994, taking over the investigation of the Whitewater real estate venture and the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., a deputy White House counsel. He expanded the investigation to include the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The Times loves comparing Starr (whose tenure as president of Baylor University is under fire in the wake of sexual assault scandals involving the school’s football team) to the joyless, legalist fanatic of Victor Hugo’s deathless novel Les Miserables, the obsessed antagonist who pursued the hero Jean Valjean for decades.
Reporter Patrick Healy made the exact same comparison last September while frantically spinning for Hillary:
When White House controversies dogged Mrs. Clinton as first lady, the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr made her sympathetic with his Javert-like investigations. When Mrs. Clinton showed flaws during her 2000 Senate race, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rick Lazio looked even worse to many New Yorkers. And when the attacks on American diplomats in Libya sullied her record as secretary of state, Republicans struck many viewers as overreaching when they badgered her at a televised hearing.
Javert may be a partially tragic villain, but villain nonetheless, as the Times has made clear in other references to the literary character. Earlier this month, the liberal editorial board compared conservative Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach to Javert in his fight against vote fraud, and the comparison was not well-meant.
Columnist Joe Nocera criticized the NCAA under former executive director Walter Byers, which “enforced its myriad rules (many of them absurdly petty) with a Javert-like zealotry.”
And when infamous Iran-Contra scandal special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh died in 2014, reporter Neil Lewis cited Walsh’s critics and proved how unflattering the “Javert” label is:
Mr. Walsh spent more than six years and about $37 million on the investigation, the duration and expense of which became ammunition for his critics. They portrayed him as a modern-day Inspector Javert, a relentless, stiff-necked prosecutor who had applied to a highly political event the kind of law-enforcement template he used when he was a rackets-busting district attorney in New York.
So why would journalists from that same paper use such an obviously unflattering label description in an objective news story?