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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 11:44 PM ET, 02/22/2012

In Republican presidential debate, Newt Gingrich fashions another intriguing slam against the ‘elite media’

Newt Gingrich set a low bar for anti-“elite media” distortion during the last CNN debate mediated by John King. At that one, the Republican hopeful said point-blank that he and his people had offered to ABC a number of sources who could debunk its controversial story about the speaker’s failed marriage with Marianne Gingrich.

Turned out, Gingrich and his people had done no such thing.

In Wednesday night’s CNN-cum-John King debate, Gingrich was back on the anti-media elite soapbox, this time slamming the press for an apparent slipup in vetting Barack Obama in the 2008 election cycle.

But I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. OK? So let’s be clear here.
(APPLAUSE)
GINGRICH: If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not the Republicans.

Not once? That’s quite some coverup.

Gingrich is referring to Barack Obama’s position on abortion bills that came before the Illinois legislature in the early 2000s. The then-state senator opposed measures “to give legal protections to any aborted fetus that showed signs of life,” to use the language of elite media outlet the Association Press.

In making this oft-aired allegation against the elite media, Gingrich appears to be forgetting that 2008 was 2008---that is, a time when modern technology, a polarized country, cable TV and nonstop debates ensured that the presidential candidates got, well, just about as much attention as they’re getting this year. Meaning that Obama’s position on abortion got probed by the elite media, the middle-class media and the underclass media.

A Nexis search of the 2008 campaign shows that it’s hard to avoid discussion of then-Sen. Obama’s views on abortion. Here’s a discussion from an elite-media CNN show in June 2008:

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: What about that vote in Chicago that turned the stomach even of NARAL, and the liberal senators that says if a baby is born alive after a late-term abortion, you can throw it away. Barack Obama approved that.
COSTELLO: What about that vote? In 2001, when Obama was an Illinois state senator, he and his colleagues considered a bill called the Born Alive Infant Protection Act which provided “that a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” The bill caused an uproar in Illinois. Fueled by dramatic testimony by a former Chicago nurse, Jill Stanick.
JILL STANICK, FORMER CHICAGO NURSE: I held this little baby who had Down’s syndrome between 21 and 22 weeks until he died for 45 minutes. And that instantly catapulted me into being a pro-life activist to stand passionate on this issue.

That exchange alone would appear to nullify Gingrich’s claim about the elite media circa 2008. After all, Gingrich said merely that “Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.” That formulation means that the members of the elite media didn’t need to ask Obama directly---they just needed to ask why. Another CNN segment on the same matter:

If you’re looking for instances of questions being posed directly to the candidate, there’s this interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace in April 2008:

WALLACE: On some issues where Democrats have moved to the center -- partial birth abortion, defense of marriage act -- you stay on the left and you are against both....
OBAMA:...On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that.

Here, Wallace’s question doesn’t directly reference the Illinois legislation, as Gingrich clearly wishes it had. But it was in the ballpark.

Oh, and look here: In the Oct. 15, 2008, presidential debate, Obama was forced to answer for his record in the Illinois legislature on abortion. Here’s how he responded, in part:

There was a bill that was put forward before the Illinois Senate that said you have to provide lifesaving treatment and that would have helped to undermine Roe v. Wade. The fact is that there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.
And the Illinois Medical Society, the organization of doctors in Illinois, voted against it. Their Hippocratic Oath would have required them to provide care, and there was already a law in the books.
With respect to partial-birth abortion, I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life, and this did not contain that exception.
And I attempted, as many have in the past, of including that so that it is constitutional. And that was rejected, and that’s why I voted present, because I’m willing to support a ban on late-term abortions as long as we have that exception.

Now who made Obama issue that defense? Could it have been debate moderator and elite media standard bearer Bob Schieffer? No, it was McCain, who used the debate to go after Obama on his record on abortion in Illinois. That turn of events would align with Gingrich’s media worldview, which is that you cannot rely on the left-leaning media to pose tough questions to liberal politicians. Such labor thus defaults to their political opponents.

Broken down word for word, Gingrich’s haymaker against the media looks like just another flailing attempt by an undisciplined politician to demonize an institution that conservatives despise. Yet if you consider what Gingrich may have intended to say — i.e., that Obama wasn’t pressed personally by the “elite media” on this question — there may be some daylight here for the speaker. Coming to a firm conclusion on that question, however, will take at least two more hours of database research, plus an analysis of umpteen 2008 primary debates, and then some.

By  |  11:44 PM ET, 02/22/2012

Tags:  republican presidential debate, newt gingrich, cnn, abortion, illinois senator

 
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