Stamping Dirt Down on Newtís Grave
Media Outlets Pile on
Gingrich Even As He Resigns as Speaker
after House Speaker Jim Wright resigned over ethical failings on May 31,
1989, ABCís Jim Wooten mourned on World News Tonight: "And if his
moving speech today does not restore those decencies he so wistfully
remembered today, then perhaps history will remember that at least he
tried." When Majority Whip Tony Coelho resigned five days earlier, ABCís
Barbara Walters murmured on Nightline: "It seems to be a personal
tragedy as well as, perhaps one for the country." On May 26, 1994,
Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson asked Newt Gingrich
about Democrat Dan Rostenkowski stepping down: "Youíre an admirer of
good legislators...Is this an American tragedy?"
But charity was not in the air when
Gingrich announced his resignation on November 6. While Peter Jennings
just called the step "bizarre" on Friday (and Linda Douglass noted heís
given the GOP "a snarling image"), Carole Simpson led off World News
Tonight Sunday with a poll: "Good evening. A new poll from ABC News
shows Americans will not miss Newt Gingrich: 70 percent approve of his
decision to step down as Speaker of the House. And 90 percent say his
successor should try harder to work with the Democrats instead of
Ending CBSís Face the Nation that
morning, host Bob Schieffer claimed Gingrichís self-importance led him
to believe "it was alright for him to take ethical shortcuts" and "he
once got a bad seat on Air Force One and said that was one of the
reasons he shut down the government." But Gingrich said heíd been on a
plane with Clinton for 15 hours and never discussed avoiding a showdown.
Schieffer ended: "The man who saw himself as a transformational figure
in American politics may turn out to be no more than a figure in
transit. So long Newt. We hardly knew you."
In the November 8 Washington Post,
reporter Thomas Edsall dredged up Willie Horton: "Gingrich followed that
example but added new sophistication to the GOPís use of such
race-tinged issues as crime and welfare to win control of the House in
1994." Edsall ignored facts like how Gingrich lost two times to old-line
Democratic segregationist John Flynt before being elected to the House
On Fox News Sunday, ex-ABC
reporter Brit Hume noted: "Gingrich had a terrible press and animosity.
I know a lot of reporters in this town and their attitude about Newt
Gingrich is poison... They hated the guy. Thought he was a bad person.
Thought he was evil." It showed.
Did former pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura win the race for
Governor in Minnesota because he was a tax-cutting, government-trimming
conservative or because he pushed a liberal social agenda? Depends which
network you believe. On ABCís World News Tonight the day after
the vote, reporter Jim Williams declared: "His simple message: smaller
government and lower taxes." NBCís Jim Avila disagreed, insisting on
NBC Nightly News that liberals gave him the margin: "He won among
liberals with a social agenda that is pro-choice and pro-gay rights. And
scored half the large independent vote in Minnesota with a message that
appealed to voters fed up with politics."
CBSís Ad Blitz for Team Clinton
As America prepared to head for the polls, CBS Evening News aired
the White House party line unrefuted on the two weeknights before
election day. On Fridayís newscast, correspondent Scott Pelley reported
from the White House where he highlighted Clintonís new role as
conciliator-in-chief: "With no strong issues propelling voters to the
polls, Democrats are now raising impeachment as a threat to the nationís
well-being. Late today Mr. Clinton carried that theme to
African-American ministers in a classic of Clinton campaigning." Clinton
declared: "If you believe in your heart that you have been a part of my
presidency, and I tell you that you have, I wouldnít be here without
you, then I ask you this one thing: Realize that this too is an
important election. That this is not an ordinary time, it is therefore
not an ordinary election." A considerable Clinton soundbite but no time
for a Republican rebuttal.
More of the same followed election eve
when the Evening News found time to offer vituperative barbs
against "extremist" Republicans from Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Hillary
Clinton without any counterpoint. Again, Pelley focused only on the
Democratic point of view. The first clip showed Clinton on BET urging
blacks to vote: "Do they want more of the last eight months of
partisanship or would they like more progress?"
Hillaryís attack at a rally for Charles
Schumer followed: "So when he fights, heís not fighting for some
extremist Republican agenda. Heís fighting for a New York agenda that
will improve the quality of life of people." Remarkably, after three
unchallenged Democratic soundbites, Rather then plugged his networkís
election coverage, stating "CBS Newsís clear, understandable, in-depth
coverage of the election results will start when the polls begin
closing." In-depth coverage of one side.
Fonz the Fascist?
In the mediaís dictionary of political slurs, apparently "putzhead"
outranks "fascist." On October 26, ABC, CBS, and NBC all noted Sen.
Alfonse DíAmatoís use of a Yiddish insult of his opponent Charles
Schumer at a private meeting. Peter Jennings warned of "probably the
meanest campaign in the country." Also that night, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw
found "One of the closest and nastiest Senate races of all" and CBS
anchor Dan Rather said "This race is also down and dirty, negative and
nasty." CNN also did a story on DíAmatoís Schumer slam.
Flash back to 1992. No outrage erupted
when DíAmatoís opponent back then, state Attorney General Bob Abrams,
called DíAmato a "fascist" at an October 10 rally of college students,
and no one broached the subject on NBC. ABC, CBS and CNN touched on it
weeks after the first reports, but CBS and CNN left it out of their
evening news shows.
On the October 22, 1992, CBS This
Morning, ad expert Bob Garfield defended Abrams: "At this stage I
think heís probably wishing he apologized to the fascists, because it
has been so twisted by the DíAmato campaign into an ethnic slur." On the
October 26, 1992 World News Tonight, Jeff Greenfield referred to
Abrams as "an unreconstructed liberal with a limited charisma quotient
and a squeaky-clean reputation" as he mentioned the
less-than-squeaky-clean insult in passing. On CNNís Inside Politics
on the 29th, Jeanne Moos aired snippets of a radio debate: "Off the
cuff, a frustrated Abrams called DíAmato a fascist. DíAmato seemed ready
to cry...DíAmato choked up was too much for some folks to swallow."
ABCís Quiet on Quotas
Covered 1997 Win, Ignored
What a difference a year
makes. Last year, when Houston defeated Proposition A, which would have
banned the cityís racial quota program, ABC ran a full story. But a year
later, when the liberal state of Washington approved a ballot measure
for a statewide end to affirmative action, ABC did not air a word.
Peter Jennings announced on
the November 5, 1997 World News Tonight that "in Houston, voters
chose to keep in place an affirmative action program that steers city
contracts to companies owned by women or minorities. The Houston
decision seems to buck a trend developing in the country to reverse
course on affirmative action."
Dean Reynolds followed with
a report about the measure, which would have ended Houstonís policy of
awarding 20 percent of all city contracts to women and minority-owned
firms: "The city says that number is only a goal, not a rigid quota. But
opponents of the policy, spurred by the success of the anti-affirmative
action campaign in California, said the policy was biased and the time
to end it had come." Reynolds explained how the opponents wrote
Proposition A to "make it sound as if it were a way to end
discrimination without ever mentioning the words affirmative action,"
but Houston Mayor Bob Lanier managed to get the wording changed, so
"affirmative action" would be mentioned. Reynolds ended his piece with a
denigrating comment on the conservative view: "Mayor Lanier said the
choice for Houston was clear: people here had to decide whether they
wanted to be viewed as a cosmopolitan, diverse, international city or,
as he put it, ĎRedneckville.í"
But all ABC shows ignored
Washington state voters deciding to eliminate racial and gender-based
preferences by a decisive margin of 59 - 41 percent.
Two days after the election,
on World News Tonight Jennings even ran down several of the
ballot measures that won: "Some leftover election news, in case you
missed it. Those ballot propositions on Tuesday, letís call it citizen
action on the cutting edge." Jennings ran through "citizen action" on
the new cigarette tax in California, approval for medical use for
marijuana in six states, and bans on cock fighting and bear wrestling in
Missouri, but no mention of the citizens of Washington state rejecting
Conservatives Arenít Electable
Was 1998 "The Year of the
the liberal Web site Slate, William Saletan declared that
post-election spin "can address more than whoís up and whoís down. It
can redefine people, issues, and events by rotating their facts so that
people see them from new perspectives. For this reason, the contest of
interpretation that consumes the 24 hours after an election is as
important as the election itself. It defines the election and its
Saletan explained that the 1998 elections
turned the tables on Newt Gingrichís attack on liberals. "Now the tables
are turned. The word Ďconservativeí is being manipulated by Gingrichís
enemies and the media to caricature and marginalize Republicans. If
Gingrich isnít careful, the C word could go the way of the L word, and
conservatives could go the way of liberals." Election night coverage on
the networks seemed to carry that inspiration, to continue burying the
Republican "revolution." The media mantra quickly became that "moderate,
pragmatic, centrist" Governors won, teaching a lesson to conservative
ideologues in Congress for the next two years.
"Moderate" 1994 Results?
But is this new? Take election night 1994, as the polls rolled in
showing one of the most stunning victories for conservatism in modern
times, coming after weeks of media demonizing of the man CBSís Eric
Engberg called "bombastic and ruthless" Newt Gingrich. Even then,
network analysts on six occasions found a mandate for centrism, while
the networks mentioned a defeat for liberalism only five times. CNNís
William Schneider declared: "The cynics would say this is a vote for
gridlock, but I think itís easier to say, and I think the data points to
the conclusion, that it was a vote for bipartisanship, for centrism."
NBCís Tim Russert claimed the results showed the American people wanted
"a centrist, moderate government, maybe tilt a bit right of center. They
donít want extremes."
Spin Early, Spin Often.
This year, the media spin hardened early around the first returns, as
two Republican Senators (Al DíAmato, Lauch Faircloth) and two Republican
Governors (David Beasley in South Carolina, Fob James in Alabama) were
defeated: moderates won, social conservatism and impeachment lost. On
NBCís election special, Tom Brokaw prodded Trent Lott: "As you know, the
Republican candidates for Governor who were successful tonight ran away
from the presidential scandal and concentrated on more pragmatic and
practical solutions to everyday problems out there. Do you think
congressional Republicans need to learn something from their brethren in
the state houses?" Brokaw didnít explain which Governors lost who made
Lewinsky an issue.
On Nightline, ABC analyst George
Stephanopoulos sounded the same alarm: "I think that the hand of the
moderates has been strengthened tonight. The big winners in the
Republican Party tonight, George Pataki in New York, John Engler in
Michigan, George Bush in Texas, Jeb Bush in Florida, were all trying for
a more compassionate conservatism, more centrist, moderate conservatism,
not the far right-wing agenda that really cost the Republican Party a
At about 12:40 am ET on CNN, network
veteran Bruce Morton insisted: "This was a fairly tough season for very
ideological Republicans, not the moderates but the social
conservatives." Minutes later, CNNís Jeanne Meserve chimed in: "It seems
to be the year of the moderate. The two most ideological candidates, Fob
James in Alabama and David Beasley in South Carolina, went down to
defeat....You saw moderates in places like Connecticut and New York
winning. Also in California, you have to look at Gray Davis, a Democrat,
and say he ran a very centrist campaign stressing issues like education
The next morning on Today, Tim
Russert also insisted: "Matt, itís quite striking. Republican Governors
who won by margins of 2 to 1 from the northeast to the midwest were
those who emphasize pragmatism and performance. When the perception of
the Republicans in Congress was different than that, that they were
ideological or philosophical the tone and the result was different. It
appears that the people chose to emphasize Social Security, education,
those kinds of issues and try to downplay the whole notion of scandal."
On ABC, Good Morning America
co-host Kevin Newman knew the tune: "It was interesting. We saw a rush
to the center. The Republican Governors, the ones that succeeded were
the ones that moved to the center. Is this, are we in a period where
weíre going to have a debate within the Republican Party over who will
NBCís Gwen Ifill strangely added that now
tax cuts were a "moderate" issue, apparently because the networks would
rather report a tax cut debate than an impeachment debate: "Today
Republicans realized that many of their successful candidates are
pragmatic Governors concerned with getting results. Congressional
Republicans say theyíve learned their lesson, that the first thing the
new Congress will focus on is something that people care about: tax
What Was Missing?
Almost entirely missing from the coverage was the conservative line on
Republican losses: that the lack of a conservative agenda hurt the
Republicans. One network analyst did suggest that the GOPís problem was
inconsistency. On Wednesdayís Good Morning America, ABC News
political director Mark Halperin told co-host Lisa McRee: "The
Republican Party, which obviously is the more conservative party, has
sort of made a hash of everything. They so mishandled the year, focusing
too much on Lewinsky, focusing too much on their agenda, and then only
to give up and give the President everything he wanted on the budget
deal, that itís hard to know why their base would have turned out at
all, and that obviously allowed Democrats to do better, and makes it
unclear how Republicans proceed now."
Ignoring A Bigger Picture.
The networks also didnít do any homework on the overall fiscal picture
for state governments. As the Cato Instituteís Stephen Moore pointed out
in his last fiscal report card on the Governors, these Republican
Governors in large states are using the current economic good times to
look both liberal and conservative ó increasing state government
spending by five or six percent a year at the same time theyíve offered
supply-side tax cuts or simple tax rebates. In addition, one of the
reasons these governors have increased spending on day care and
childrenís health is because Washington passed welfare reform and
devolved these duties from the federal government to the states.
By Wednesday night, Tom Brokaw broadened
the media line: "The American political landscape looks a good deal
different tonight than it did just 24 hours ago. It now has a broad
middle road running through it, the preferred passage of both successful
moderate Democrats and pragmatic Republicans."
But was it a bad night for extremes?
Consider some 1996 ideological scores from the American Conservative
Union: the Democrats sent to the Senate Barbara Boxer (5), Russ Feingold
(10), Patty Murray (0), Charles Schumer (5), and Blanche Lincoln (a 10
in 1994 before she retired from the House). The Republicans sent Mike
Crapo (95) and Jim Bunning (100), and Peter Fitzgerald, who two networks
warned was too conservative to win.
Back in April CBSís John Roberts claimed
"Conservative Peter Fitzgerald, who wanted to legalize concealed weapons
and ban abortions, won the GOP nomination over moderate Loleta
Didrickson. Many Repubicans say she would have a better chance of
beating Carol Moseley-Braun." CNNís William Schneider claimed Didrickson
"looked like the perfect candidate, a moderate woman who supports gun
control and abortion rights."
Aside from the historical trend of
sixth-year gains, since when does losing five House seats signal a
tectonic shift in Washington? In the end, the networks appear to be
attempting to create political reality instead of merely report it, and
ringing the death knell for electable conservatives was all in a weekís
the Bright Side
Playing the Race Card
The ads run by the GOP in
the waning days of the campaign created a fuss among some in the media,
complaining about too much negativity and too much Monica. But when the
Missouri Democratic Party targeted blacks with a race-baiting ad in the
St. Louis area, it only made it into the national spotlight on Fox
News Sunday and FNCís Fox Report.
Running on local black radio
stations, the ad tried to scare minority voters to the polls: "When you
donít vote, you let another church explode. When you donít vote, you
allow another cross to burn. When you donít vote, you let another
assault wound a brother or sister. When you donít vote, you let the
Republicans continue to cut school lunches and Head Start." Despite such
inflammatory tactics, the ad didnít make a single ripple among other
news shows. But Tony Snow on the November 1 Fox News Sunday
challenged guest Rep. Barney Frank about the appropriateness of the ads:
"Congressman, the President said that one of the hallmarks he wants to
make is in civil rights, and I know that youíve been actively involved
in a number of civil rights issues. What I want to do is to play for you
an ad thatís been running in the St. Louis area, and there are also some
counterparts around the country, and I want to get your reaction to it
....Congressman, is that fair play?" Snow again brought up the ad in a
segment with guest Paul Begala, a presidential counselor: "Is it part of
the Democratic strategy to scare black voters into going to the polls?"
During the showís final
roundtable discussion, Snow asked Juan Williams of The Washington
Post what he thought about the ad, and Williams responded by calling
it "scandalous," "incendiary," and "patronizing" to black voters.
The day before the election,
Jim Angleís piece on FNCís Fox Report about President Clintonís
efforts to get out the black vote included White House accusations of
Republicans trying to intimidate black voters. After clips from White
House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart and President Clinton making this
claim, Angle turned to RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson for a response:
"Nicholson pointed to Democratic ads that he said equate voting
Republican with racism, such as this radio ad from the Missouri
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