Brown-Waite, O'Reilly should just butt out

Published May 3, 2005

This would be grist for a Saturday Night Live skit if the subject matter were not so serious.

In one corner, we have a tag team that could work the Catskills circuit as a vaudeville act: television's reigning merchant of outrage, Bill O'Reilly, and our own hyphenated congresswoman, Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Crystal River and formerly R-Brooksville.

This peculiar pair now have joined forces to dictate Florida law to Brad King, a real-life lawyer who has served the people of the 5th Circuit, which includes Hernando and Citrus counties, as their state attorney since 1988.

At issue is King's decision not to bring criminal charges, at this time, against the three housemates of John Couey, the convicted sex offender now charged with abducting, assaulting and killing Jessica Lunsford.

Couey's companions in the Homosassa home have told authorities that they knew nothing about what he may have done to Jessica. To date, no evidence has emerged to contradict their statements or to substantiate criminal charges.

Of course, the three have been less than truthful to authorities already, so their credibility is zilch. When investigators came to their home looking for Jessica, the trio failed to mention that Couey, who they knew was violating his probation, was hiding in the house.

Despicable, yes. Criminal, no.

That's according to Florida law, as detailed by King in a letter to Brown-Waite explaining his decision. King buttresses his arguments with such trivialities as specific case law citations and relevant appellate court opinions.

But, as the old saying goes, O'Reilly's and Brown-Waite's minds are already made up. Don't confuse them with facts.

To be fair, both do bring a bit of legal expertise to the ring.

O'Reilly is fresh off the quiet settlement of an embarrassing sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female Fox News producer involving unwanted phone call advances from the popular pundit. Her suit gave graphic accounts of O'Reilly breathlessly regaling her with tales of Caribbean shower fantasies, Thailand sex shows and creative ways he can use a vibrator and a loofah sponge.

And Brown-Waite has crossed paths with King once before in another case involving the question of whether to press charges. Back in 2002, her husband, Harvey Waite, was caught by Hernando County deputies vandalizing campaign signs of her opponent, Karen Thurman. Funny, Ginny didn't seem too upset then when King decided not to bring charges.

This high-profile wrestling match went into another round Friday when King fired off a letter to O'Reilly telling him to call off his dogs, his staffers who King said have been harassing the state attorney's wife and children, neighbors and co-workers.

King wisely has chosen not to appear on O'Reilly's televised shoutathon, where the opinionmeister routinely browbeats those guests foolish enough to subject themselves to such insulting abuse and cuts off the microphone of any who dare to disagree.

No spin, indeed.

While it is understandable for King to react this way in defense of his family and neighbors, he should not have risen to O'Reilly's bait. All that he has done is give the loose cannon more ammunition.

It is no surprise that O'Reilly has seized this opportunity to stir up uninformed outrage among his faithful. This is, after all, his very profitable schtick.

Brown-Waite, however, has no such excuse. As a member of Congress, an elected public servant, she is expected to act like an adult. Unlike O'Reilly's gig, hers is a serious position.

Her constituents will recall with dismay Brown-Waite's first high-profile display of craven political opportunism, when at the outset of the Iraq war she demanded that the graves of American soldiers in France be violated. Their eternal rest should be destroyed, their remains hauled back to the United States to make some sort of statement to the French, who have always honored those foreign heroes interred on their soil.

As part of a Washington political machine that is systematically dismantling the freedoms and framework of government that Americans have fought and died for generations to protect, Brown-Waite should be too busy to muck up the most important criminal case in Citrus County history.

But like her pal Bill, she just can't seem to help herself.

Make no mistake about it, what King's critics are carping for could be disastrous for the prosecution. If the state were to call a grand jury, as Brown-Waite wants King to do, prosecutors say they would have to tell the jurors that the housemates broke no law.

Even worse, if King were to go after the trio for the relatively minor crime of obstruction, whatever scant evidence he could use would then become off-limits for any future prosecutions for more serious offenses.

Those who are truly concerned about justice in this case should allow the professionals in the State Attorney's Office to do their jobs.

Those who are trying to exploit this extraordinary case for professional or political gain should hang their heads in shame.

--Greg Hamilton is the Times' editor of editorials in Citrus County. Reach him at 352 860-7301, or e-mail at hamilton@sptimes.com