MediaWatch: December 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 12

Democratic Slurs Not News

Gaffe Patrol on Break

Being a Democrat means never having to say you’re sorry — even if you impugn a branch of the armed forces, implicate the House Speaker in the death of a fellow Congressman, or equate Republicans with Nazis.

The Weekly Standard reported that after Democratic Congressman Walter Capps died October 28 of a heart attack, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) sent a sarcastic "Dear Colleague" letter complaining about Gingrich’s hectic legislative schedule. To make his point, Farr attached a newspaper article headlined: "Farr: Hectic pace helped kill lawmaker." No news show, not even CNN’s Inside Politics, covered Farr’s far-out charge.

The gaffe patrol was also silent when Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister resigned after referring to the Marines as "extremists" and "a little dangerous." She can hardly blame her ouster on the media spotlight — the only network coverage of her remarks, printed in The Washington Times, came in a brief on the November 13 World News Tonight. Even when she resigned the next day, only World News Tonight noted her departure with a Jackie Judd report that spun the focus from Lister’s insulting comments to a defeat for women in the military: "As head of Army personnel, Lister was a strong advocate for women in the military, even allowing them to go into combat. Her supporters say that is what the firestorm is really about."

It seems nothing a Democrat says can raise an eyebrow. During House fundraising hearings on December 10 independent counsel Donald Smaltz recalled his presidency of the Young Democrats. The omission of his years in the GOP enraged Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.): "You remind me of the late and unlamented Secretary- General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, who also had a lapse in memory. He conveniently forgot several years when he was a Nazi." Only CNN’s Inside Politics aired it.

Lantos defended and expanded his comments three days later in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The more I think about it, the more I think I was totally proper and correct....If you for 30 years are a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and someone says, ‘What are your views about racial issues,’ and you say, ‘When I was 15 I had a black friend with whom I played basketball’ are not being truthful." Still, no media reaction.