Yesterday, in the wake of a criminal indictment in Texas, Tom DeLay stepped down as the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. In a brief speech, DeLay posed a few hypotheses. The charges, he suggested, were the result of “a rogue district attorney,” also known as “an unabashed partisan zealot,” pursuing “a reckless charge” that amounted to little more than a “sham,” an “all-too-predictable result of a vengeful investigation led by a partisan fanatic.”

As a declaration of innocence, it was as subtle as a brick.

But in case anybody missed the point, DeLay added one more daring rhetorical flourish. He also blamed a newspaper editorial writer. “Despite [District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s] longstanding animosity toward me … as recently as two weeks ago, Mr. Earle himself publicly admitted I had never been a focus or target of his inquiry,” said DeLay. “Soon thereafter, Mr. Earle’s hometown newspaper ran a biting editorial about his investigation, rhetorically asking what the point had been, after all, if I wasn’t to be indicted? It was this renewed political pressure in the waning days of his hollow investigation that led to this morning’s action.”

A newspaper that can create indictments? What dastardly publication might this be? And what exactly did it say to twist the arm of the reluctant “zealot” in the district attorney’s office?

As it turns out, the editorial in question was published on September 11 in the Austin American-Statesman. In it, the editors of Earle’s hometown newspaper argued that the district attorney should focus his ongoing investigation into illegal campaign donations more on individuals and less on political organizations.

“After all, the decisions to solicit secret corporate money to fund political campaigns in Texas and the efforts to obtain it were made by individuals,” argued the paper. “All involved in those decisions knew state law prohibits spending corporate money on political campaigns, but they devised a strategy to try to skirt that law.”

The editorial went on to name several individuals, whom the American-Statesman apparently thought were ripe for indictment, including Bill Hammond and Mike Toomey of the Texas Association of Business and John Colyandro of the Texans for a Republican Majority. But — and it’s a whopper of a “but” — there was no mention of DeLay. Not one.

Today the American-Statesman published another editorial, dwelling on DeLay’s paranoia. “A Sept. 11 American-Statesman editorial questioned why only the political action committees and not the individuals behind them had been indicted,” today’s piece noted. “DeLay was not mentioned by name, nor was there an allusion to him. It is either DeLay’s hubris or his conscience that leads him to think that the editorial targeted him.”

Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor for the American-Statesman, speaking to the Associated Press, put it succinctly: “The newspaper didn’t indict Mr. DeLay. A grand jury did.”

Shucks. Just when we were tempted to volunteer ourselves for a shift at the controls of Garcia’s mighty wrecking ball, he reminds us of the way the legal system works — and the way that journalism doesn’t.

Felix Gillette

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.