Missing the Target

Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been in office since 1976. In that time, according to the New York Times, he has prosecuted 12 Democratic officials and four Republican officials. The National District Attorneys Association ranks his office as one of ten best in the country. Now he’s investigating House Majority Leader Tom Delay on charges of corruption related to a fundraising scandal.

Delay is a powerful politician, and Republicans have rallied around him, even going so far as to toss out an ethics rule that would strip him of his post should he be indicted. Those in Congress who voted for the rule change have been asked to defend their vote. In doing so, they’ve demonized Earle.

Here, via Josh Marshall, is a sample of what they’ve said:

Henry Bonilla (R-TX) quoted by the Associated Press on CNN.com:

The new rule “takes the power away from any partisan crackpot district attorney who may want to indict” House leadership.

Kevin Brady (R-TX) quoted in the Dallas Morning News:

The new rule is “a recognition that the rules of politics have changed. The courts and judges and prosecutors are all now part of what used to be the voters’ decision. We’re in an ugly world.”

Peter King (R-NY) quoted by Bloomberg.com:

“You shouldn’t allow a runaway prosecutor to decide who will be the majority leader.”

Tom DeLay (R-TX) quoted in the Houston Chronicle:

“Ronnie Earle is trying to criminalize politics and using the criminal code to insert himself into politics.”

Of course, Earle is an elected politician, a Texas Democrat, so he’s got a thick skin. But this orchestrated attack on his character hardly seems justified, considering his record.

Republicans aren’t going to back down. Democrats are too busy railing against DeLay and the new rule to offer a defense. So it’s up to the media to step in and report the facts.

In the four stories cited above, nobody bothers to mention Earle’s credentials, or gives him the opportunity to explain himself. Readers hear only from his Congressional antagonists, all of whom seem perfectly content to tar Earle as a political opportunist.

We’ve come to expect no less from the hyper-partisan boys and girls up on Capitol Hill. But the media owes its readers — not to mention Earle — the whole story.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.