"Who Is Jack Abramoff?" Don't ask the Journal editorialists.

"Who Is Jack Abramoff?" Don't ask the Journal editorialists.

"Who Is Jack Abramoff?" Don't ask the Journal editorialists.

Media criticism.
Jan. 4 2006 7:03 PM

"Who Is Jack Abramoff?"

Don't ask the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.

Bring on the meat-eaters
Click image to expand.
Bring on the meat-eaters

The red-meat eaters who wrote for Robert Bartley at the Wall Street Journal editorial page during the Clinton era loved nothing more than to peel back the White House carpet and stomp on the squiggling vermin they spotted fleeing the disinfecting sunshine. Exactly how many of the silverfish, roaches, and water bugs they squished were corrupt pests deserving of the stomping and how many were mirages created by the page's overheated sense of mission remains a subject of much debate.

The page began its Clinton-vilification program, appropriately enough, with a March 12, 1992, editorial titled "Who Is Bill Clinton?," the first of three such titled columns about the bubba, and quickly set up a production line to assail the chief executive's associates and other Democrats with facts, speculation, and innuendo all under the "Who Is …?" rubric. Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell, a Clinton crony and genuine criminal, got the "Who Is Webb Hubbell?" treatment at least six times as the Journal rode him all the way to a 21-month stay in a federal penitentiary.

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"Who Is …?" also pilloried Harold Ickes, Richard Trumka, Robert Litt, Janet Reno, Charles La Bella, Susan McDougal, Bruce Lindsey, Mochtar Riady (twice), Arthur Coia, Hillary Clinton, Jack Quinn, Dan Lasater, Henry Woods, David Edwards, Paula Casey, Jack Ryan, Robert J. Stein, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Patsy Thomasson, William Kennedy III, and Vincent Foster, who would soon deal himself one in the brain pan. (I don't blame the Journal alone for his suicide.)

The "Who Is …?" series offended polite society, but I found its cartoon violence a relief from what usually passes for editorial writing. Better the Journal err on the side of reckless disregard in policing the corridors of power, thought I, than give the politicians a free ride.

Although Bartley gave up command of the page in 2002 and departed this earth in 2003, his ideology still informs it under current boss Paul Gigot. You'd think, as the Jack Abramoff scandal burned its way through the Republican establishment faster than the space monster's blood dissolved the Nostromo's bulkheads in Alien, that the Journal editorialists would be exercising their own fangs.

All the traditional themes that populate an outraged Journal editorial can be counted. An out-of-control majority party; dishonest lobbyists; a president who looks the other way; kickbacks and bribes; "shells" laundering political money; influence peddling; corrupt members of Congress; self-dealing; campaign flimflammery; questionable junkets; colorful scoundrels; principals in the scam copping pleas (Abramoff and Michael Scanlon); well-known politicians and political operators being implicated; and tendrils reaching into the White House.

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Alas, no scathing "Who Is Jack Abramoff?" editorial has appeared on the Journal page. In fact, none of the four editorials retrieved in a Factiva search keyed to the words "Abramoff" and "editorial" indulge in the page's old shoot-the-wounded style. They examine the issue with tweezers. They are considered. They are thoughtful. They tut-tut. They assure readers that it's not a Republican scandal, but the inevitable product of Washington power. "Alleged crimes aside, even their legal influence peddling shows how Washington power can corrupt absolutely," said the page about Scanlon and Abramoff on Nov. 25.

The page demonstrated more outrage back in the late 1980s slamming the comparatively clean Jim Wright  in a single paragraph than it has in the entire Abramoff disgrace.

Why the measured, slow, and wimpy response? Has the editorial board gone … vegetarian?

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Bring me steaming slabs of freshly slaughtered horse-meat! Deliver to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise and all victuals will be considered property of the columnist.)