Ten Reasons Ethics News Reeks of Bias
by L. Brent Bozell III
January 9, 1997
Reporters would have you believe the news media's non-stop coverage of the Gingrich ethics story is standard operating procedure. No agenda, no bias, no sirree. let this writer give you ten reasons why that is bunk, why this is anything but standard coverage of congressional ethics.
1. On September 24, 1987, Washington Post reporter Charles Babcock broke the story of Speaker Jim Wright's book deal. Absolute television silence followed. On February 19, 1988, Newt Gingrich asked for an ethics investigation of Wright. He gained two paragraphs in the Los Angeles Times and a mention in The Washington Post. Network coverage: zero.
Three months after Gingrich was dismissed by the press, the left-wing lobby Common Cause raised the issue, calling for a Wright investigation. Suddenly, it became big news. But while the print outfits jumped in, along with ABC and CNN, NBC waited a week. CBS waited nine days before finding it newsworthy.
2. Not once at the 1988 conventions did CBS and NBC ever mention the Wright controversy (CNN aired one brief mention and ABC two). But in just two nights of the GOP convention, network stars found room for 158 mentions of Dan Quayle's draft record and rumored involvement with lobbyist Paula Parkinson.
3. When Wright did resign in 1989, reporters used terms such as "ethics purge," "ethics epidemic," and "ethics reign of terror." ABC's Jim Wooten blew Wright a kiss: "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."
4. On February 7, 1990, the General Accounting Office reported $232,000 in bad House checks during the previous year. Only the Washington Post (the next day) and the Los Angeles Times (two months later) did a story on the findings. When Roll Call broke the story again in 1992, the networks took two weeks to acknowledge the story's existence.
The House Bank scandal led to felony counts and prison terms, but this still wasn't enough to budge the networks. In November 1993, chief banker Jack Russ pled guilty to three felony counts, including embezzlement of $75,000. ABC, CBS, and NBC ran nothing. In April 1994, former Rep. Carroll Hubbard (D-Ky.) pled guilty to channeling campaign funds through the House Bank. Again, nothing from the Big Three.
5. On February 6, 1992, The Washington Times uncovered the House Post Office scandal, including revelations of cocaine selling on Capitol Hill. Network coverage that month: zero. On March 16, "Today" show co-host Katie Couric reversed the charges: "You've charged that the Speaker [Tom Foley] sat on the report for ten months linking drug sales to the post office," she said to Newt Gingrich. "Yet he says he immediately called in postal inspectors. Postal inspectors did come in and there are indictments pending against the employees. So isn't this a cheap shot?"
6. Network stars pleaded the country would be damaged by prosecuting Democratic bigwig Dan Rostenkowski. Take ABC's Charles Gibson: "What's involved here, is perhaps, what, some $50,000 in stamps and some phantom jobs for friends?....Here, though, is a guy who passes bills or is shepherding bills worth billions of dollars risking his career for small amounts, or you think, significant enough that there's real corruption here?"
In the two years before Rostenkowski was indicted in May 1994, the networks aired only 31 stories - four stories a year per network on the crimes that sent this man to federal prison. By contrast, Gingrich's perfectly legal book deal with HarperCollins received 27 stories in its first month.
7. The October 3, 1995 Boston Globe reported the investment firm Account Management Corp. was fined $100,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for secretly offering initial public offerings of stock to friends, including former Speaker Foley. Roll Call noted in 1993 that Foley had been offered no less than 12 IPOs in 1992 and made money on eleven of them. Network evening news coverage? Zero. In June 1994, ABC reported on an IPO gained by Republican Sen. Al D'Amato - the day after Roll Call reported it.
8. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, an avid opponent of capital gains tax cuts, avoided capital gains taxes by swapping a North Carolina property he owned for a vacant lot in a beachfront community, and submitted misleading financial disclosure statements. Rep. Jennifer Dunn filed a complaint with the ethics committee. Network coverage? Zero.
9. Last February, the Landmark Legal Foundation filed an ethics complaint against House Minority Whip David Bonior for misusing his congressional staff to write a book on government time. Network coverage? Zero.
10. Though he was later cleared, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle faced obstruction charges in 1995 for intervening with Forest Service regulators investigating a good buddy/contributor whose aviation company suffered a deadly crash. Network coverage? With the exception of "60 Minutes," zero.
The list seems endless (and note I didn't even mention the Clinton administration). What Rush Limbaugh calls the Liberal Media-Democratic Party Complex effectively connected the words "sleaze factor" and "Republican" in the public mind in the Reagan-Bush years. Now they're building a gallows for Gingrich. Meanwhile, Democrats can lie, cheat, steal, and sell cocaine with abandon - and why not? Who's to tell?