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Barney Frank, Witty Bridge-Builder

A front-page profile of a favorite liberal House committee chairman oozes political correctness, celebrates his mockery of the religious right, and underlines praise from Republicans. The last Republican in his committee chair's job wasn't so lucky.

The political correctness of the New York Times oozes between the lines of a front-page article Tuesday on Rep. Barney Frank, a "master of the one-liner, a self-described 'left-handed gay Jew.'" The headline was "A Liberal Wit Builds Bridges To the G.O.P.," and reporter David M. Herszenhorn celebrated the "trademark wit" that compared conservatives' lack of enthusiasm for government intervention to his lack of enthusiasm for the Miss America pageant.


In a sidebar headlined "A Way With Words," the Times celebrates Frank's wit in lobbying for the gay agenda, like a 2006 quote that "same-sex marriage is the V-8 juice of America," mocking the opposition of the religious right as if straight married men would greet the court-mandated legalization of "gay marriage" in Massachusetts with the declaration "Wow, I could have married a guy."


Herszenhorn's article lines up Republican after Republican to praise Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, from unnamed sources in the Administration who call him "scary smart," to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and former Rep. Michael Oxley, the most recent GOP chairman of the Financial Services Committee. Oxley generously suggests that Frank was "misunderstood" as just "a hard-bound ideological liberal," and that he has a legislative career full of accomplishment. The text box read "Republicans praise a willingness to compromise."


The Times is clearly correct in its admission that Frank is a liberal, and a wit, and loves being a legislative dealmaker. But what underlines the P.C. nature of this front-page article is the story selection and the tone of the profile. Did the Times profile Congressman Oxley when he was the committee's chairman and allow Frank to celebrate the Republican as a serious legislator and a fine gentleman on the front page of the Times?


No. The Times did profile Oxley once, on the front of the Business section on November 3, 2002, two days before the midterm elections. Reporter Gretchen Morgenson's profile, charmlessly headlined "Pipeline to a Point Man," painted a picture of Oxley as a pro-corporate hack who was dragged into a reformer's posture:


TO many investors, Michael G. Oxley is the Ohio Republican who put partisan politics aside and helped write legislation meant to restore investor confidence after the worst spate of corporate misconduct since the 1929 crash. "We will not tolerate those whose greed and deception damage not only our financial marketplace but also our good will," Mr. Oxley said as President Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill into law in July. "Not just money, but character, counts in America," he added.


But in fact, Mr. Oxley, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and one of the best friends that the industry has in Washington, has worked hard to keep it from facing new regulation intended to protect investors. Early in the process, he opposed the legislation that would become Sarbanes-Oxley, preferring a softer approach to accounting overhaul. And he shrugged off the conflicts of interest among Wall Street analysts until that issue became unavoidable.


Most recently, he opposed the nomination of a strong investor advocate to an accounting oversight board created by the legislation he helped to write. Instead, Mr. Oxley supported William H. Webster, whose selection for the post is now the subject of multiple investigations.


Mr. Oxley's role as reformer, according to people who have dealt with him over the years, is decidedly out of character. As an industry champion, he and his political action committee receive large contributions from Wall Street firms, banks and the accounting profession. He and his staff also travel widely at the expense of financial services companies and their lobbyists.


"Mike Oxley is one of the nicest members of Congress," said Arthur Levitt, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and author of "Take On the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don't Want You to Know." "But everyone in the securities industry recognizes him as a stalwart friend who will stand in the way of almost every investor reform. He was uncomfortable with just about every pro-investor thing we did."


Later, Morgenson also brought in Charles Lewis of the liberal Center for Public Integrity to denounce Oxley and Republican Washington: "Millions of Americans have lost their nest eggs or seen their retirement savings diminished, and we're getting political rhetoric from Washington that it's a few bad apples. The idea that after all this Washington did a collective yawn is nothing short of offensive. The only people they seem to be talking to are the people who funnel the money to their campaigns or who don't want to be regulated."


One last proof of Herszenhorn's devotion to Frank came near the article's end, when he recalled how not every Republican was friendly: "Such friendly banter was a far cry from the day in 1995 when Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the Republican majority leader, referred to him as 'Barney Fag' in a radio interview." Such a characterization leaves the impression that Armey was being intentionally hurtful.


The Times does not recall what the Times reported on January 28, 1995, at the time of the furor, that Armey said he had mispronounced the word, and didn't intend to insult Frank:


"I take strong exception to the airing of the tape and even the transcribing of a stumbled word as if it were an intentional personal attack," the majority leader shouted during a speech in which he was flushed with anger and his lips quivered. "And I take this exception especially in light of the fact that I went to the press that had the tape and explained to them in the best humor I could that I had simply mispronounced a name and did not need any psychoanalysis about my subliminal or about my Freudian predilections."


But that's what the press quickly did, suggesting "deep prejudice" in the remark.