MARCH 22, 1996
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's

If the carpetbag fits
Conspiracies behind every rock

BY Meredith Oakley

Some members of the national media who are visiting our fair state to cover the McDougal-Tucker trial seem to think we natives view them as carpetbag

That's a quaint, Reconstruction-era term coined to identify the Northerners who came to the South after Civil War for political or financial advantage.

Which, when you get right down to it, is what some Northerners, including some members of the national media, have done.

Be that as it may, it might never have occurred to me to refer to these folks as carpetbaggers in the context of the Whitewater investigations if they hadn't invoked the term on their own, suggesting to me that this perception is not only intentionally combative and condescending but largely self-imposed.

Ah, well, who better to know whether the shoe fits than the one who elects to wear it?

The latest context in which this whimsical term was used was in a column by Micah Morrison, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, who opined that "in editorial commentary and political cartoons, the state's largest newspaper, the Democrat-Gazette, generally portrays Mr. Starr as a GOP carpetbagger intent on an eventual Supreme Court seat."

That's a clever way of saying that the newspaper's opinion writers are as much on the defensive side in our commentaries as we are on the offensive side-no pun intended.

I beg to differ. At least half of this newspaper's commentators are equal opportunity critics. To the best of my recollection, only one of us has made it his life's work to lambaste Mr. Starr and his minions with any regularity, and at least one of us hasn't lambasted them at all.

Mr. Starr is, of course, Kenneth Starr, the special Whitewater prosecutor who has been juggling grand juries in Arkansas and Washington, D.C., in an effort to piece together the admittedly media-fueled convolution known as Whitewater.

Starr and most of his Little Rock office staff have been here for some months now. I Judging by the comments emanating from that office, I suspect that he and at least some of those staffers have an opinion different from that of Morrison about how they have been treated by this and other instruments of the Arkansas media.

Truth be known, their opinion is probably higher than that held by the principals in the McDougal-Tucker trial at this juncture.

I found it interesting that Morrison opted not to mention to his readers that Gov. Jim Guy Tucker has filed motions in federal court accusing the Democrat-Gazette of conspiring with local Republicans to damage his reputation.

Mere flotsam not worthy of mention, by Morrison's estimation.

"The editorials portray a ho-hum, world-weary attitude toward the whole affair," he said. "If you have an indicted governor and the charges would implicate the president of the United States, there is no room for a ho-hum attitude."

Well, which is it, ho-hum or world-weary? The two are not synonymous in my lexicon.

Not that it should matter to me, because I don't write editorials, I write personal commentaries, which anyone with any knowledge of newspapering knows are, like ho-hum and world-weary, not the same thing.

And my commentary on the fiasco portion of the national media's Whitewater coverage is that I've had it up to here and beyond with the instant experts who see a conspiracy behind every rock and a scandal beneath every leaf and who think that every person brought before the bar of justice is guilty until proved innocent.

Do I take the McDougal-Tucker trial seriously? You'd best better believe I do. We all do, and not merely because we "have an indicted governor" facing charges that "would implicate the president of the United States."

In this imperfect world with its imperfect institutions, guilty men sometimes walk and innocent men sometimes get sent up the river. Lives and careers get damaged or destroyed regardless of verdict or final decree, producing ripples that wash over coincidental bystanders.

Addendum

If, as New York Sen. Al D'Amato claims, the Democratic Party "machine" in Arkansas is responsible for Pulaski County Prosecutor Mark Stodola's pursuit of government witness David Hale on state chases related to Whitewater, I wish someone would ask him which machine is responsible for Starr's pursuit of Hale on federal charges related to Whitewater.

Associate Editor Meedith Oakley’s column appears every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.