The judgment is in. After three and a half years of investigation, the IRS has cleared Newt Gingrich and his allied nonprofit groups of any violation of the tax laws in the controversy over his television history course "Renewing American Civilization."
So after having run countless news reports highlighting the accusations that ultimately forced Gingrich to pay a $300,000 fine, did the media correct the record with a decent airing of the decision? Are you ready? ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted exactly zero seconds to Newt Gingrich's vindication. Only CNN's Brooks Jackson filed a decent TV report, on the early-evening show "Inside Politics."
Jackson began: "It was legal after all. Newt Gingrich's oh-so-controversial college course that he started back in 1993, before he was Speaker. Remember how Democrats denounced it?" He then showed old footage of Democrats David Bonior ("Mr. Gingrich engaged in a pattern of tax fraud") and John Lewis ("We now have a Speaker under investigation for lying to the outside counsel, investigating his involvement in a massive tax-fraud scheme").
Jackson quoted from the IRS decision: "The course taught principles from American civilization that could be used by each American in everyday life, whether the person is a welfare recipient, the head of a large corporation or a politician...The course was not biased toward particular politicians, or a particular party. The facts show the class was much more than a political platform." Of course, that was clear to anyone who watched the course, but that's simply too much to ask of today's press.
Gingrich issued a statement that clearly expressed his feelings: "I consider this a full and complete vindication. I urge my colleagues to go back and read their statements and watch how they said them, with no facts, based on nothing more than a desire to politically destroy a colleague."
But the damage hadn't been done simply by devious politicians like Bonior, but by journalists. In the face of Newt's innocence, some reporters couldn't muster even a regret.
On "Fox News Sunday," Juan Williams came to the Democrats' defense: "David Bonior was engaged in a fight with a man who was the head of the Republican revolution at the time and who was standing up on his high horse and pretending to be totally above any impropriety." Bonior, see, was just "playing politics." National Public Radio reporter Mara Liasson agreed: "I think it was recognized that Bonior was taking a page out of Newt Gingrich's book. Newt Gingrich mounted an attack on Jim Wright. That was considered audacious and insurrectionary at the time and Bonior learned his lesson from him."
This kind of analysis reeks of Clintonian cynicism - hey, facts, schmacts, all that matters is who won. In the sloppy logic of these two, Gingrich's attempt to sell the nation's cable subscribers on civilizing principles is identical to Jim Wright's fake book marketed to the Fertilizer Institute for a little extra cash from lobbyists. Gingrich knows he should have paid closer attention to the tax laws in creating the course, but he wasn't just another grasping power broker like Jim Wright.
To grasp the media's antagonism - then, now, and probably forever - toward Newt Gingrich, compare their treatment of him with their coverage of a real crook, Webster Hubbell. They roasted Newt when he was charged, then ignored him when he was cleared. Hubbell was celebrated when he was cleared of tax evasion charges filed by Ken Starr, but when a federal court reinstated the charges on appeal, the networks aired no coverage.
When Hubbell's indictment was first dismissed by Judge James Roberston, who attacked Kenneth Starr for overreaching, the media swooned with delight. All the TV cameras lapped up Hubbell drawling "they can indict my dog, they can indict my cat, but I'm not gonna lie." But when Hubbell's tax evasion charges were reinstated, Fox News Channel revealed the astounding number of camera crews: two.
The news magazines also betrayed their biases. Time magazine, which devoted a page to attacking Starr when Hubbell on the first occasion, could only muster this snotty attack on Starr in its "Winners and Losers" feature: "Webster Hubbell - Like the fat kid at school, he's always getting picked on. Get ready for more Ken Starr."
Let's get this straight. Hubbell embezzled half a million dollars from his law firm partners in Arkansas. After he resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, Clinton's pals paid him almost another million dollars for supposed "jobs" that asked for no substantial work, money he pays next to zero taxes on. And he's the one getting picked on here?
But the media is populated by the Juans and Maras of the world. True or false, right or wrong - these things don't matter. It's all politics, and ugly politics at that.