By Bill D’Agostino
Today’s journalists routinely assert that it is “extreme,” “dangerous,” and possibly even criminal for the White House – or anyone else, for that matter – to criticize an investigation into the President. But twenty years ago, Independent Counsel Ken Starr was savaged by the same liberal media during his investigation of then-President Bill Clinton. At that time, Starr was harangued as a “partisan” and “inept prosecutor,” and a “peeping Tom.”
On Monday evening, MSNBC host Chris Matthews shared his take on the Trump administration’s attitude towards Mueller while hosting Hardball: “President Trump is indicating today that he’s willing to go to extreme new lengths to discredit the Russia probe.”
“It seems extremely dangerous that you have investigators investigating the investigation,” intoned a deeply concerned Don Lemon. The CNN Tonight host continued, “You have a President who appears to be, by anyone’s standards, trying to manipulate the process.”
Chris Cuomo was similarly incensed on Tuesday, providing the following synopsis on CNN’s New Day: “The logic is clear. Attack the people who are attacking you, even if it’s just in perception. Bring down their credibility, and that will reduce the impact of anything they find…”
During a segment on ABC’s This Week, CNN Contributor and former Ted Cruz staffer Amanda Carpenter mounted a particularly tone-deaf defense of the Special Counsel. “One of the problems here is that Donald Trump has a strong PR machine giving his side of the story out, and the Department of Justice and the investigators do not,” she claimed – as if the media are not themselves a massive anti-Trump PR machine.
The liberal media-wide closing of ranks around the Mueller investigation has ramped up in recent days, but it is nothing new in the age of Trump. In March, MSNBC White House Correspondent Peter Alexander suggested that a tweet in which the President had criticized Mueller somehow constituted a criminal act: “Does this effort to sort of undermine and discredit this investigation… does this only add to this obstruction of justice effort by Robert Mueller?”
Back in December of 2017, Lemon confessed on his show that he found conservative media criticism of Mueller “embarrassing,” and “shocking to watch.”
Journalists sang a very different tune when it was a Democratic President under scrutiny. Accusations of Ken Starr’s supposed partisan zeal and incompetence were commonplace throughout the investigation, and as the probe dragged on, the cacophony of dissenting voices only grew fiercer. MRC analysts combed the archives for the most egregious clips of pundits tearing into the Special Counsel, which can be viewed in the compilation video below.
For a list of the quotes contained in the video, click “expand” below:
“There is growing controversy tonight, about whether the newly named independent counsel in the Whitewater case is independent or a Republican partisan allied with a get-Clinton movement.”
– Dan Rather on the August 8 CBS Evening News, 1994.
“What the Judge said plays directly into what the White House’s allies have been saying, that this is an over-zealous prosecutor over-reaching in a bid to bring down the President.”
– ABC’s Jackie Judd ending a story on charges dismissed in the Hubbell tax evasion case, July 1 World News Tonight, 1998.
“…By pandering to Clinton-haters, Mr. Starr appears to be abandoning all pretenses of impartiality. He went into this job with a reputation as a fair-minded conservative. He now looks more like a political hit man desperately eager for a future Supreme Court appointment.”
– Al Hunt’s Outrage of the Week, October 5 Capital Gang, 1996.
“If Ken Starr is a credible prosecutor he will bring this to a conclusion and the Clintons will be exonerated.”
– Newsweek‘s Eleanor Clift on the February 10 McLaughlin Group, 1996.
“If he doesn’t come forward very soon with credible evidence of lawbreaking, he will go down in history as the Peeping Tom Prosecutor.”
– Newsweek Senior Editor Jonathan Alter on Kenneth Starr, April 1 The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC, 1998.
“I’m gonna call any witness I can to prove that Ken Starr is a partisan zealot who has had a chip on his shoulder…”
– Geraldo Rivera on what he’d advise if he were Clinton’s lawyer, November 11 Rivera Live on CNBC, 1998.
“Have you any doubt that Kenneth Starr and his deputies are pursuing an agenda that is purely political?”
– Some of Bryant Gumbel’s questions to former Clinton business partner and convicted felon Susan McDougal and her attorney, September 17 Today, 1996.
“Let’s not pretend for a moment that the Starr report is a balanced, judicious presentation. It’s not. It is a partisan prosecutor with some zealous aides who’s trying to make a case against a guy he despises.”
– Al Hunt, Executive Washington Editor of the Wall Street Journal, September 12 Capital Gang on CNN, 1998.
“Couldn’t this be just a witch hunt? Couldn’t the Democrats and President Clinton’s people who’ve been defending him all these months be right?”
– Good Morning America co-host Lisa McRee to humorist P.J. O’Rourke, September 10, 1998.
“Would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?”
– Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s The Big Show, to Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief Jams Warren, August 18, 1998.
“…Ken Starr is like a deer caught in the headlights, he’s got big bug eyes, he’s gonna do anything. He’s so mad that his neck is going to blow up… This is about vindictiveness, that’s what this is. This is about spite. This is a hate crime. This is a hate crime!”
– Geraldo Rivera on CNBC’s Rivera Live, November 16, 1998.
“At any point have you suggested to Judge Starr that its time to shut the office down or that he may be pressing too hard?”
– Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer to Judge Robert Bork, 1998.
“Should Starr resign?”
– Bernard Shaw on CNN’s Inside Politics, Feb. 26, 1998.
“When is this going to be over?”
– Diane Sawyer to Starr, 20/20 interview, November 25, 1998.
“The citizenry want the investigation, the investigator, the experts, and the media to go away.”
Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s The Big Show, August 19, 1998.
“What about the image and impression of Ken Starr as the sort of evil puppeteer behind this entire investigation?”
– John Hockenberry to Gwen Ifill on MSNBC’s InterNight, November 19, 1998.
“If this reminds you of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, it should. The government in that book poked and pried everywhere. Its slogan was, ‘Big Brother Is Watching You.’ And with the aid of the thought police, he was. Welcome to Orwell’s world.”
– CNN’s Bruce Morton on Late Edition, October 11, 1998.
“It finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmeler, including the glasses.”
Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s The Big Show, to Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief Jams Warren, August 18, 1998.
“Starr is regarded as an occupying army in Little Rock. It’s sort of like….like the French talk about the Germans.”
– Newsweek’s Evan Thomas on Inside Washington, April 25, 1998.
“This has been called demented pornography, pornography for puritans.”
– Diane Sawyer to Starr, 20/20 interview, November 25, 1998.
“This guy is leaving as a pious prosecutor, an inept prosecutor, someone who engaged in partisan witch hunts for whatever the reasons…”
– Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt on CNNs Capital Gang, July 3, 1999.
“Twinkle, twinkle Kenneth Starr, now we see how crude you are.
Up above your jury high, like the judge up in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle little Starr, now we see how wrong you are.
When you drag the agents in, when you bully moms and kin.
Then you kiss the treacherous trip, twinkle, twinkle D.C. drip.
Twinkle, twinkle little Starr, now we see how small you are.”
– Geraldo Rivera, CNBC Evening News July 21, 1998