The Media and Special Counsels: If Jack Smith Were Ken Starr

August 5th, 2023 4:00 PM

Ahhhh Special Counsels and the liberal media. 

The media just loves Special Counsels - unless they are investigating the wrong president.

The media love fest for the Trump-investigating Jack Smith was curiously absent when the name of the prosecutor was - Ken Starr. That would be the Special Counsel assigned to investigate Democrat President Bill Clinton. Somewhere along the way I crossed paths with him at a conservative event. A nicer, more decent and smarter guy it would be hard to find. Not that you would have learned that from the media that covered his most famous case in the mid 1990’s.

Back there in 2022, Kenneth Starr, famously in the day of those 1990’s the Special Counsel on the improprieties of President Clinton in the so-called “Lewinsky Affair” revolving around Clinton’s alleged sexual improprieties,  passed away. And the negative obituaries from lefty critics poured forth.

Here, for example, was this headline from the lefty site Slate

The Long Shadow of Ken Starr

Which said this: 

The owner of one of the most famous conservative ‘brands’ has mainly succeeding at muddling it. Starr’s swampward trajectory corresponds roughly to the rise of reactionary populism, but his individual decisions can still surprise; spurts of pro bono work and disquisitions on faith serve as occasional reminders—against a seamy backdrop—of what Starr’s profile used to be. It has been argued that the man many knew as a bland and scrupulously correct son of a minister changed during his stint as independent counsel—that in the course of becoming a public figure while also learning on the fly how to be a prosecutor, he became more of a persecutor too, less concerned with ethical constraints while technically respecting legal ones. (Mostly. Sam Dash, who was lead counsel to the Senate’s Watergate Committee and acted as special ethics adviser to Starr’s team, resigned in protest over what he saw as Starr’s decision to act as an ‘aggressive advocate’ for impeachment.)

Here’s Politico at the same time: 

Obituaries last week portrayed Kenneth W. Starr — the prosecutor who pursued Bill Clinton for nearly six years of his presidency — as an important but supporting player in a scandal where Clinton and Monica Lewinsky played the starring roles. Starr, though — who died last week at 76 — was no mere extra in the sordid disgrace we remember as the ‘Lewinsky Affair.’ He was a motive force behind it, the man who turned what should have been a dispassionate legal inquiry into a frenzied political inquisition. In time, historians may come to see Clinton and Lewinsky as pawns in a scandal that was, to a surprising extent, one of Ken Starr’s own making.

Then there was this from NBC:

The right loves to decry ‘political witch hunts.’ But Ken Starr wrote the playbook. 

His investigations into the Clintons helped to create a template that uses investigating not as a way to get to the bottom of a scandal but to harass a presidential administration.

Contrast all this Starr-phobic coverage with the loving coverage of former President Trump’s prosecuting Special Counsel Jack Smith.

Here is the liberal New York Magazine

Jack Smith Exposes Trump’s Lies and Shows He Understands Politics

The story reports: 

So in the indictment he secured involving Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat, Smith has pulled together a vast array of evidence on an extraordinary series of events with a reasonably simple theme: Trump’s self-conscious lies about what happened in that election.

The left-wing Guardian headlined:

Who is Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting Donald Trump?

Man who has indicted former president over alleged election subversion is an experienced and independent lawyer 

The admiring story reported Smith as follows: 

Following his appointment by Garland last November, Smith vowed to conduct the criminal investigations as thoroughly as possible.

‘I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,’ Smith said in a statement.

And of course, there was this from The New York Times: 

Moving at High Velocity, Special Counsel Brings 2nd Indictment Against Trump

The special counsel Jack Smith has undertaken two historic investigations with remarkable speed, aggressiveness and apparent indifference to collateral political consequences.

One could go on. And on and on. 

All the way back there in 2018, my NewsBusters colleague Bill D’Agostino noticed this pattern when the liberal media was swooning over the Trump Russia collusion Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 

What Changed? The Same Media Who Excuse Bob Mueller Abused Ken Starr

Note: Bill was writing that up a full five years ago. Now Mueller has been changed into Jack Smith - and the exact pattern holds.

All of which is to say, the liberal media does not change. As someone who worked in the day for President Reagan, when the so-called “Iran-Contra Affair” broke, the demand went up for a Special Counsel, and the answer was a guy named Lawrence Walsh. Walsh had been appointed to various legal jobs by Republicans as far back as Eisenhower. Yet in spite of his GOP background the press loved him. Why? Because Walsh set about with a rabid, no holds bar investigation of the Reagan Administration. And it wasn’t long before, inevitably, Reagan’s successor President George H.W.Bush accused Walsh of “the criminalization of policy differences.”

But all of this Special Counsel business really began to get off the ground with the Nixon-era Watergate scandal. 

Answering the demand for a Special Counsel - or Special Prosecutor as the term went in the day - and giving in to the immense pressure from the media of the day for an outside investigation of Watergate, Nixon allowed his Attorney General, one Elliot Richardson, to appoint Kennedy family friend, ally and Harvard Law professor Archibald Cox to the post. The ties ran deep. Richardson, like Cox, was from Massachusetts, where Richardson had served as state Attorney General. 

When Nixon felt the Cox investigation had turned into an effort to get him by an ally of his old political enemies the Kennedys, Nixon fired Cox and, in what became instantly known as “the Saturday Night Massacre” - Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus quit on a fall Saturday night. (Although the White House insisted they had been fired.)

The media was in instant uproar mode. I vividly recall the sudden Saturday night media uproar - and that was before the existence of cable news. It was all the broadcast networks suddenly breaking into their normal Saturday night family programming, followed by the print media on Sunday. And, in retrospect, the pattern of the liberal media and Special Counsels was set then and there. 

If the target was a Republican president - a Nixon or a Reagan or now a Trump - the media loved the Special Counsel. 

When the table was turned and it was Democrat Bill Clinton in Ken Starr’s sights, the media began dumping buckets of vitriol on the Special Counsel. And you can count on it - the reason Robert Hur, the Special Counsel supposedly investigating President Biden - has vanished from the news media is doubtless because he is supposedly investigating Biden.

Now, it is former President Trump’s turn to be targeted by a Special Counsel who is already being lauded by the media.

In short, as is frequently the case with the liberal media, the more things change the more they stay the same. 

Special Counsel Jack Smith is now on his way into the liberal media hall of fame.