The media’s historical omission of
Bode’s report as a whole earned our old “Janet Cooke Award” that month for slanting dramatically against the Reagan-Bush Justice Departments, allowing Reno to defend herself, but not GOP attorneys general Ed Meese or William Barr. As we wrote at the time:
Bode's story moved on to
Clinton: " 's first public office was Attorney General of Arkansas. He was aggressive, high- profile, populist...If the Justice Department will reflect President Clinton's policies, expect the new attorney general to be much stronger on civil rights enforcement, pay attention to environmental laws, support the rights of children, and a continued emphasis on crime and public safety." Bode aired no one taking issue with Clinton Clinton's years in or his present policies. Arkansas
Bode ended on a properly even-handed note, suggesting that Janet Reno's firing of 93
U.S.attorneys "raises suspicions that the administration is willing to put politics above enforcing the law." Bode let fired U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens charge politics were involved in taking him off the investigation of House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. He also concluded that the Rostenkowski probe "has become a highly visible test of how political the Justice Department will be under Bill Clinton and Janet Reno." But Bode interviewed Clinton and let her declare herself non-political in three soundbites. That's very unlike his treatment of Reagan-Bush officials, who were simply left out. Reno
But much of the report was a harsh critique of conservative politicization of the justice system:
Bode selected an increasingly popular target, the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments: "For the last decade, the Justice Department was an ideological warehouse for conservative thinkers. At the same time, Justice became a political arm of the White House." Bode aired sound bites from Donald Ayer, a disgruntled former Justice official, and Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bode explained: "The Department of Justice will always reflect the policy priorities of a President, but the Reagan-Bush Department went further, undermining laws the administration opposed."
Bode caricatured the GOP record: "The Reagan-Bush agenda included a hard line on abortion, a rollback on civil rights -- trying to restore tax credits for segregated schools, for example -- also attempts to minimize affirmative action requirements." To explain this, Bode brought on liberal Ralph Neas of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He aired no one defending Reagan policies.
Bode also underlined liberal charges that the Reagan-Bush GOP had a racist pattern of punishing black politicians in political corruption cases, and a lax approach to S&L fraud -- a rich critique compared to the Whitewater File Shredders who came next. The man who's number two to Al Gonzales now gave me a rebuttal back then to the charge of right-wing politicization:
Former Justice official Paul McNulty replied to MediaWatch: "What about the 1960s? Was the Johnson administration politicized because it 'undermined' racist laws? In the 1980s, we wanted to bring on reforms as well -- to correct oppressive regulation, restore a sounder reading of the Constitution, question discriminatory civil rights laws. Every administration is suppose to advocate policies in legislation and in judicial advocacy."
That sounds like a much better answer than what we’re hearing today.