Friday, May 27, 2005

Tom DeLay: Criminal Intent

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has his knickers in a twist over a reference to him made on the season finale of the NBC-TV crime drama, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

According to the Washington Times' "Inside Politics" column on May 27,

On the program, an assistant district attorney announces that someone has killed "an African-American judge, an appellate court judge, no less." Another character says police are "setting up a task force. People are talking about multiple assassination teams." [Note from RS: The "African-American judge" was also characterized as the "most conservative" on that court.]

Noting a similarity between the judge's death and a previous shooting for which a white supremacist was accused, a detective on the show says, "Looks like the same shooters. [Investigators] found the slug in a post, matched it to the one that killed Judge Barton. Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."
DeLay responded with a letter of complaint to the network. As quoted by CNN:
"This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse," DeLay wrote in a letter to NBC President Jeff Zucker.

"I can only assume last night's slur was in response to comments I have made in the past about the need for Congress to closely monitor the federal judiciary, as prescribed in our constitutional system of checks and balances."
DeLay has, indeed, been critical of the federal judiciary. The Washington Post noted in a May 11 article that DeLay has "complained about an 'arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary,'" going on to report that
The Constitution specifies that Congress will set the jurisdiction and budgets of the courts, and Republican lawmakers began agitating to exercise that power after Schiavo's death. DeLay drew wide attention to the issue by declaring that the judges involved in that case would have to "answer for their behavior." As a guide to his views on the subject, DeLay has been urging reporters to read "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America," by Mark R. Levin.
I saw the episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that mentioned DeLay, although I normally do not watch that program. (It happened to be in the timeslot regularly filled by the original Law & Order franchise, which I do watch.) I, too, was surprised -- almost shocked -- when I heard his name, but not for the same reason that Mr. DeLay was upset.

It struck me as odd that a program like this would make such a discrete reference to contemporary political controversy, because such a reference makes the show more timebound than it ought to be. It reduces the syndication value of Law & Order: CI, since five years from now, few viewers will understand what even today is a throwaway line about a marginal (in the grand scheme of things) political figure. Imagine who will be watching a rerun of this show on some UPN affiliate in 2010 or 2011. Even if the viewers know who Tom DeLay is, they will surely have no idea that he was highly critical of federal judges in an ephemeral controversy of the spring of 2005.

Not long ago, I pointed out here how DeLay had demonstrated how he had gone off the deep end in criticizing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for using the Internet to aid his legal research.

While DeLay may have some justification in complaining to NBC about the use of his name in connection to fictional TV criminals who kill the judges who make them unhappy, he should have kept his complaint private. By releasing his letter to the media, he draws more attention to the program than it otherwise would have received. Such political grandstanding aims to make a political mountain out of an entertainment molehill -- and makes a political molehill out of DeLay himself, because through this public complaint, he diminishes himself by suggesting he is too thin-skinned to take the criticism that a public figure is sure to receive.

Inch by inch, Tom DeLay demonstrates that he is incapable of being an effective leader for the Republican party in Congress. He should step down and let someone with real ability and political courage take his place.

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