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What do New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, Fox News reporter Tony Snow and White House Communications Director Mike McCurry have in common?

Besides all being sycophantic defenders of the status quo, boring communicators and criminally ill-informed, they are the latest public personages to libel reporter Christopher Ruddy for his extremely responsible reports on the botched government investigation into Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s tragic death.

Having served as an expert witness in some of the biggest First Amendment cases in history, I use the word “libel” advisedly. In fact, I take this opportunity to volunteer my normally ridiculously high-priced services to Mr. Ruddy should he deem it appropriate to take on any or all of these characters to court.

On Dec. 29, Lewis ranted in his column that Ruddy “is now pushing a new conspiracy theory — that Ronald H. Brown, the secretary of Commerce, was murdered. … The Ruddy charge is that he was actually shot and the plane sabotaged to cover up the killing.”

Now, for anyone who has actually read Ruddy’s reports on the Brown death or heard him discuss them, you don’t need to be told that the above statement is a bald-faced lie — that it represents malicious and reckless disregard for the truth by a political partisan masquerading as an informed commentator.

According to Reed Irvine, the irrepressible chairman of Accuracy in Media, Lewis admitted that he never even read any of Ruddy’s articles before peddling this swill.

“Not having seen any articles by Ruddy charging that Ron Brown was shot and the plane was sabotaged, we asked Lewis about his source for that allegation,” Irvine said. “He admitted that he had not read any of Ruddy’s articles. He had relied on what others had written about Ruddy’s story, but he could not cite any source that supported his allegation. Nevertheless, he rejected our suggestion that he owed Ruddy a retraction and an apology.”

Lewis would do well to reconsider his position. Recently, when I pressed Reuters news service to correct a similar mischaracterization of Ruddy’s meticulous work, its lawyers quickly agreed. Having worked closely with Ruddy for the last four years, I can vouch for his accuracy and the care with which he scrupulously avoids leaping to conclusions, yielding to the temptation of making personal judgments and, especially, weaving conspiracy tales. Instead, what Ruddy does is report news stories his colleagues refuse to report because they are less enterprising, fearful or just politically disinclined.

A lawyer acquaintance, Allan J. Favish, suggests the New York Times should suspend Lewis for a month at minimum and condemn the practice of its columnists making charges about writings they have not read. I say a suspension is too good for Lewis. He should be fired and forced to compensate Ruddy for the vicious personal and unjustified attack on his professionalism. As an added sentence, he should be made to read his own insipid columns — unless the Supreme Court ruled that to be cruel and unusual punishment.

Then, there’s the despicable Tony Snow, who, while filling in last week for the vacationing Rush Limbaugh, condemned Ruddy as “a conspiracy theorist.” Snow, thus, joined the growing list of so-called “conservative journalists” who have decided the road to “respectability” lies in stepping on colleagues who have been ignored or ostracized by the political and media establishment.

Of course, we should expect such vitriol and lies from McCurry, who has dismissed the findings of two top military forensics experts who investigated Brown’s death. He didn’t disappoint last weekend on CNN’s “Evans and Novak” program. Asked to name a “hate merchant” out to get the president, McCurry quickly retorted, “Christopher Ruddy.” Incredibly, though, the charge went unchallenged by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. Apparently, they haven’t bothered to read Ruddy’s reports, either.

It makes you wonder why Ruddy’s simple, straightforward reports about a botched death investigation are so threatening. What about those reports strike such fear and anxiety in their hearts? What about them would prompt such twisted misrepresentations across the political spectrum? Why can’t we have a spirited and informed dialogue about the facts of the case? Why do the media gatekeepers feel so compelled to resort to vicious name-calling and scathing ad hominem attacks?

Methinks, they doth protest too much.

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