Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh died Thursday at the age of 102. A quick quiz of the millennials around our office showed no one had the slightest idea who he was. A search of our network news/cable news database also turned up nothing in the last news cycle.
Here's how middle-aged conservative media critics remember Walsh: On the last Friday night before the 1992 election, Walsh indicted Reagan defense secretary Caspar Weinberger. President Bush was scheduled that night for a live sit-down on Larry King Live. CNN allowed then-Clinton campaign staffer George Stephanopoulos called in to fight with him about his alleged lying on Iran-Contra. That was dirty trick piled on dirty trick, as I wrote in my book Pattern of Deception. ABC actually explored charges of bias in the 1992 election -- after Clinton won:
Viewers also complained to ABC about Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos' manipulated call-in to President Bush on CNN's Larry King Live the Friday night before the election as a political dirty trick. the call allowed Stephanopoulos to underline the news of that day: that Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh indicted Reagan defense secretary Caspar Weinberger just four days before Americans went to the polls. King explained it away to ABC as a "random" call.
Not so, [ABC reporter Judd] Rose pointed out: Stephanopoulos had called the CNN control room to get special access, and producers made sure he got on the program to challenge Bush's honesty.
Walsh could attack George H. W. Bush and the networks couldn't even mention Walsh's name:
-- On ABC, on the night of Walsh's leak, anchorman Peter Jennings began: "The question of truth and character came up again today for President Bush." After reading the leaked Weinberger note, Jennings was the only anchor to mention the note was "released by the special prosecutor, who is seeking a new indictment of Mr. Weinberger for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair." But he didn't mention Walsh by name.
-- On CBS, Rather cited new "grand jury evidence" without any mention of Walsh. Reporter Rita Braver ran two soundbites of unlabeled liberal columnist Anthony Lewis who, she related, "says it's ironic George Bush is trying to make Bill Clinton's truthfulness an issue." Braver concluded: "The independent counsel insists the release of the note was timed to meet the schedule for Caspar Weinberger's trial, not to embarrass the President in the final days of the campaign."
-- NBC anchor Tom Brokaw cited "new material that directly contradicts President Bush's claim he was out of the loop in the Iran-Contra affair." John Cochran noted: "the last thing George Bush needs is a reminder of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran." Andrea Mitchell added: "The Iran-Contra developments were a gift to Bill Clinton, who's been struggling to counteract Bush's attack on his credibility." No one mentioned Walsh.
-- On the October 30, 1992 World News, Anthony Collings noted that "pre-trial court papers in the indictment of...Caspar Weinberger quote from Weinberger's notes seeming to contradict Mr. Bush." But Collings also found someone the others ignored who thought Walsh was "playing politics" -- then-Weinberger lawyer Bob Bennett, who said: "They've had this information for years. There can be no doubt any more that this is not about justice. This is an outrageous political prosecution."
None of the networks followed up on The Washington Times story of November 6, 1992 asking: why did the Clinton campaign issue a detailed press release dated the day before Walsh's re-indictment? Did the Walsh team leak to the Clintonites?
No one cared, and it never seemed to chill media attacks on Starr, who worked quietly throughout the 1996 campaign as each new inquiry added to his plate (Travelgate, the FBI files) disappeared from the news media. GOP aides were never given "special access" to whack away at President Clinton when he appeared on CNN that year.
PS: Here's the relevant transcript from Larry King Live. Notice how King denies there was any special access. It was just Clintonista luck:
KING: OK. Let me get- We have a call from Little Rock, from George Stephanopoulos-
Pres. BUSH: Oh, no! Oh, no! [laughs] Go ahead.
KING: He is Governor Clinton's campaign manager. This is an open phone session. He dialed in directly-
Pres. BUSH: Just lucked into it?
KING: It wasn't any secret number. Go ahead, George.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Clinton Communications Director (6th CALLER): Mr. President, you asked us to find out what the smoking gun was.
Pres. BUSH: Yes.
Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: [on telephone] What this memo clearly shows, this memo by the Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, is that on January 7th, 1986 - and let me quote from the memo - 'The President decided to go with an Israeli-Iranian offer to release our five hostages in return for sale of 4,000 TOWs to Iran by Israel.' In other words, there was clearly an explicit deal of arms-for-hostages.
But on January 8th, 1988, you said it was not arms-for-hostages; that you sensed that we were sending arms and you sensed that we were trying to get the hostages out, but that it was clearly not arms-for-hostages. And for the last five years, you have consistently said that it was not arms-for-hostages. And this memo clearly shows that it was, indeed, arms-for-hostages - five hostages in return for the sale of 4,000 TOW missiles - and that you knew it then, according to Mr. Weinberger.
Pres. BUSH: May I reply? Now, let me tell you. Now, Mr. Stephanopoulos - a very able young man - was the floor director or something for Mr. Gephardt, who is the majority leader of the Democrats of the House of Representatives, under the Democrats. That's his background. It is the Democrats who have been pushing, to the tune of some $ 40 million, these hearings.
I would simply refer him to this testimony that pretty much says what he's just said. However, to this very day, President Reagan didn't feel that that arrangement was arms-for-hostages. I said I supported the President of the United States. I have testified to that.
And, George, if I might make a little political observation here - because I keep reading you're getting into our stories all the time - I think this is rather desperation, last-minute politics when you feel something's slipping away from you. [applause] And you're too smart for that. You're too smart.
KING: Hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it-
Pres. BUSH: You ought to use-
KING: Hold it. George?
Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: [on telephone] Yes.
KING: Want to respond?
Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: [on telephone] All I would say in response is-
Pres. BUSH: I didn't come here to debate Stephanopoulos. I'm ready to debate you, Larry. Come on. [applause] This little guy-
KING: Let him respond, and then you respond. George?
Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: [on telephone] All I would say is that it says quite clearly in the memo five hostages in return for the sale of 4,000 TOWS to Iran by Israel. How could you not know that it was arms-for-hostages?
Pres. BUSH: May I refer you to the wonderful sleuthing done by the United States Congress, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars, where the accurate records are reflected here? And if that was Caspar Weinberger's opinion, fine. Go ask President Reagan if he thought it was arms-for-hostages - same transaction - and he'd say 'No.'
KING: But if 4,000 TOWs are going in return for five hostages, what else could it be?
Pres. BUSH: Larry, please read the testimony. There's all- There was kind of trying to work with moderates. They weren't dealing with the people who had the hostages. There's a whole history that this poor guy is trying to resurrect four days before the election.
It's wonderful how his call gets in in this random call - a woman from Belgium, one from Switzerland- [applause] It's perfectly all right-
KING: We don't have a private number. We really don't. I don't control the calls-
Pres. BUSH: I mean, he's a patient fellow. I'll tell you something about Stephanopoulos. He's a very patient fellow, and he does a very- had what they called a reaction squad. And every time we'd say something, he was out there with a- And they did a very good job on it. So, I would like to take this opportunity, because I might not have a chance to see him before the election, to commend him on all that.
But he ought to go home and do his homework and read all the testimony, and not just desperately, before an election, try to reopen things that have been heard and heard and heard by a grand jury, by a prosecutor, by the Congress, and by the Tower Commission.