MediaWatch: July 1989

Vol. Three No. 7

Neutering Newt

Less than two weeks after House Speaker Jim Wright resigned, The Washington Post came to the aid of House Democrats by running a disparaging "Style" section profile of House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. The June 12 story was little more than a 5,000 word repetition of every derogatory charge ever made against Gingrich, the man Democrats in Congress fear the most.

"Many are troubled by Gingrich's scorched-earth policy as he boasts that more Democratic heads will roll," Post staff writer Myra MacPherson charged. "David Obey dismisses him as a 'poor imitation of Joe McCarthy' for impugning the 'patriotism' of his colleagues." MacPherson found that "Republicans also express dismay," including "Iowa moderate Jim Leach," who is "disturbed by Gingrich's 'very divisive statements.'" Just about everyone Gingrich has ever met seems to think little of him. Gingrich's "smears" caused a "former colleague of Gingrich's at West Georgia College to mutter that 'Newt doesn't take the low road--he takes the tunnel.'"

As for his political views, MacPherson described Gingrich as "a politician who knows that contradictions between voting records and words, between reality and a hyped version of reality, scarcely matter in the world of the 15 second sound bite." She cited a speech in which Gingrich "railed at the 'cynical compassion of the left, which shows it cares about the homeless by sleeping on a grate under TV lights,'" yet "Gingrich voted against bills to help the homeless."

MacPherson called Gingrich a "spiritual adviser" to the Conservative Opportunity Society PAC which sent out a fundraising letter reading: "Liberals in Congress abandoned the cause of freedom, leaving Russian gunships to mop up the young men and woman of the Nicaraguan resistance." A "peculiar claim," MacPherson thought.

Proceeding to his divorce, MacPherson quoted the minister who counseled the couple: "You're looking at an amoral person. That's what you're looking at."

But the Post is not so critical of all congressional leaders. "Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) spent his last day in the House yesterday doing what he always did best: adroitly shaping a message," reporter Tom Kenworthy began a June 16 story. Kenworthy praised the liberal Democrat for how he "has managed to cut the cord with his usual surgical precision, jauntily heading into a new life with what he said is enthusiasm and no regrets."