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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

DeLay Only the Latest Target

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; 9:10 AM

As the Tom DeLay controversy refuses to die--or, I suppose some folks would say, the press refuses to let it die--we've been hearing a lot from the Texas congressman about liberal media bias.

Are journalists really "out to get" the House majority leader, as he seems to believe? And is that because they don't like his conservative views?

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I'd suggest that DeLay is simply a big fat target for investigative reporters because he lives close to the edge (if the three House ethics panel admonishments are any indication). In fact, when another Texas congressman was in a House leadership position--a congressman who happened to be a Democrat--he also got pummeled by the press.

I speak, of course, of Jim Wright, who resigned as House speaker in 1989 after nearly two years of negative press (fueled in part by Newt Gingrich, who pursued the kind of partisan jihad against Wright that Republicans are now complaining about when their guy is the pinata).

The Media Notes Research Team has gone back into the archives to see how The Washington Post, as a prime representative of the MSM, acted when Wright's backside was on the line.

On Sept. 24, 1987, The Post revealed on the front page that Wright had received almost $55,000 in royalties on a book he wrote that was published by a friend whose printing company raked in $265,000 from Wright's campaign the previous year.

On March 16, 1988, The Post reported on the fraud indictment of a Texas S&L buddy of Wright's, and that the congressman had intervened on his behalf with federal bank regulators.

On May 25, The Post quoted Vice President Bush as calling for an independent counsel investigation of Wright. On June 11, it was Page One news that the House ethics committee had voted to investigate the speaker. Four days later, another front-page piece said the New England Life Insurance Co. had bought $2,000 worth of Wright's books rather than paying him for a speech to company employees. A followup had the Teamsters buying 2,000 copies of "Reflections of a Public Man."

On Oct. 19, The Post said on Page One that Wright was embroiled in "a controversy of his own making" and that "his fiery partisanship and hell-for-leather leadership style already have polarized the House."

March 20, 1989: "Wright's future as Democratic leader" is "on the line."

April 21: An oil and gas investment increased the assets of an investment company partially owned by Wright by 400 percent in the month before the congressman's longtime partner bought him out.

May 2: Wright touted a videotape involving a manufacturer who employed his wife.

May 6: Former S&L executive testifies he was told that Wright promised to kill legislation opposed by the industry if Texas thrifts raised $ 250,000 to help another Democratic congressman.

May 12: Top Wright aide quits over criminal record.

May 21: Wright received preferential treatment as investor in nursing home.

May 24: Wright lawyer assails "lynch mob" mentality.

May 27: Tony Coelho resigns as Democratic whip. (This followed an earlier Post story about an unusual $ 100,000 junk bond investment arranged through a S&L friend who bought the bonds for him while Coelho was arranging to borrow the money.)

May 30: "Democratic Elders Said to Urge Speaker to Go."

June 1, 1989: Wright, "portraying himself as the victim of an ethics feeding frenzy," says he will resign.

The point of this magical history tour (and other news organizations did good reporting on Wright) is not to compare what he did with the allegations against DeLay. It's that when there's smoke, the media roll out their fire engines whether Democrats or Republicans are involved.

What does Newt think of Tom's "liberal media" argument? He told CBS's Gloria Borger: "That's the famous Hillary Clinton defense, this is the vast left wing you know conspiracy as opposed to her description of a vast right wing conspiracy. I'm saying that when you're being attacked the first thing you naturally do is you describe your attackers, in this case that won't work. DeLay's problem isn't with the Democrats, DeLay's problem is with the country."

One small problem with the Dems riding this issue to victory in '06: A USA Today/CNN poll says 42 percent of Americans have never heard of DeLay or know too little to have an opinion. Liberal media must be falling down on the job!

DeLay was in damage control mode yesterday:

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, increasingly under fire for what critics describe as ethical lapses and political overreach, offered a rare apology Wednesday for what he said were 'inartful' remarks criticizing federal judges," says the Los Angeles Times.

"DeLay's earlier comments during the Terri Schiavo case, in which he suggested that judges 'should answer for their behavior,' set off a firestorm of criticism, suggesting that he was inciting violence against judges. . . .

"In his weekly meeting with reporters, DeLay, a Texas Republican, conceded that his rhetoric had been overheated after the death of Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose parents fought unsuccessfully in the federal courts to keep her feeding tube attached."

DeLay did use the word apology, but it was a pen-and-pad briefing, so nothing for the cameras.

The New York Times goes with an almost diametrically opposite lead:

"Deflecting all questions about his ethical conduct and political future, Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, on Wednesday stepped up his crusade against judges, announcing that he had instructed the Judiciary Committee to investigate federal court decisions in the Terri Schiavo case and to recommend possible legislation.

"At a crowded news conference, Mr. DeLay said he would not entertain questions about his political activities. It was his first question-and-answer session with reporters since one fellow Republican, Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, called for him to resign his leadership post and another, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said he should explain himself to the American people. 'I'm not here to discuss the Democrats' agenda,' Mr. DeLay declared."

The apology was relegated to the second sentence of the 14th paragraph.

The Chicago Tribune, like most papers, sees "sorry" as most newsworthy:

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay offered an uncharacteristic apology Wednesday for remarks he made the day Terri Schiavo died when he suggested that the judges who refused to intervene in her case must "answer for their behavior."

"At the same time, a White House spokesman downplayed President Bush's relationship with the embattled DeLay, calling them working friends, not close friends as he had said recently. Meanwhile, a senior aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested that DeLay may soon need to publicly answer the ethical questions dogging him about his fundraising and travel activities."

Okay, it's official. The Trib headline is "Embattled DeLay Says He's Sorry." The words Tom DeLay can no longer appear in newspapers without being preceded by "embattled."

DeLay did grant one interview yesterday, to the Washington Times, which places him on offense, not defense:

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused Democrats of shutting down the chamber's ethics committee to prevent him from being exonerated of the ethics accusations against him.

"'The only way I can be cleared is through the ethics committee, so they don't want one,' Mr. DeLay said yesterday in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times in his office at the Capitol. He also offered a second reason why Democrats want the ethics committee to be hobbled.

"'One of their best friends, [Rep.] Jim McDermott, is being investigated, and they don't want him to be kicked out of Congress,' Mr. DeLay said. . . . Mr. McDermott was the top Democrat on the ethics committee in 1997 when he leaked to the New York Times an illegally recorded tape of a Republican congressman's cell-phone conversation."

(For the record, McDermott has not been "found guilty." A federal judge sided with Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in his six-year civil lawsuit against Rep.McDermott (D-Wash.) over McDermott’s release of the tape.)

Gee. you'd never know that the ethics committee is in gridlock because of a Republican proposal to change the rules so the members of one party alone can block an investigation.

DeLay also engaged in some media bashing:

"He criticized the New York Times in particular, whose op-ed page actively sought a major Republican to write a piece critical of Mr. DeLay. 'That's activist journalism,' Mr. DeLay said. 'Somebody ought to look at the organizations and ask the New York Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, Time, Newsweek, AP, why they're spending all these resources they are. . . . Are they collaborating with all these organizations that are funded by George Soros?'"

Somebody ought to look at them? The same people who are going to investigate the judges? And do newspapers like the Washington Times not occasionally "collaborate"--what a wonderfully nefarious word--with conservative groups?

The Wall Street Journal makes the DeLay/Wright comparison:

"As House majority leader, Mr. DeLay is less vulnerable than past House Speakers, including Democrat Jim Wright of Texas and Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia, whose ethics problems contributed to their downfall.

"That is because speakers are elected by the full House, including members of both parties. Any erosion in a speaker's base can be fatal because it is compounded by resistance from the opposition party. By comparison, majority leaders are subject only to their own party. While many Republicans privately wince at what they see as Mr. DeLay's take-no-prisoners style of politics, they also respect him as a defender of his party."

Daily Kos finds some intriguing old DeLay quotes, including this one from 1992:

"Now, the House needs new management, and that is Republican management. In my opinion, it will not do any good to get rid of the present Speaker or the present leadership, because what will happen is more will come in and it is the arrogance of power that we are talking about here. What is going on here is arrogance of power. We need a change in management . . . they have been caught in coverups and scandals."

For those who think the NYT shouldn't have given front-page play to DeLay putting his wife and daughter on campaign and PAC payrolls to the tune of a half-million bucks -- a report that DeLay called "pretty disgusting" -- we have this report from Vermont's Bennington Banner:

"Rep. Bernard Sanders used campaign donations to pay his wife and stepdaughter more than $150,000 for campaign-related work since 2000, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

"Jane O'Meara Sanders, his wife, received $91,020 between 2002 and 2004 for 'consultation' and for negotiating the purchase of television and radio time-slots for Sanders' advertisements, according to records and interviews.

"Approximately $61,000 of that was 'pass through' money that was used to pay media outlets for advertising time, Jane O'Meara Sanders said in an interview. The rest, about $30,000, she kept as payment for her services, she said.

"Carina Driscoll, daughter to Jane O'Meara Sanders and stepdaughter to the lawmaker, earned $65,002 in 'wages' between 2000 and 2004, campaign records show."

Democrats have won a delay in the committee vote on John Bolton's U.N. nomination. The former State Department official who ripped Bolton as a "kiss-up, kick-down" bureaucrat gets a bit of scrutiny from National Review's Eric Pfeiffer:

"Self-professed 'loyal, conservative Republican to the core' Carl Ford has not always put his money where his mouth is. Over the past five years, Ford donated more than $3,000 to a number of prominent Democrats including John Kerry and Charles Rangel, according to OpenSecrets.org."

Josh Marshall unloads on Congressman Todd Tiahrt:

"Representative Tiahrt (R) of Kansas auditions for our new GOP nutball watch (from the New York Times) ...

"At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the court's spending request, Representative Todd Tiahrt, Republican of Kansas, veered from the budget issues to press Justice Kennedy.

"'Lately we've had rulings that seem to go beyond the rule of law' and that reflect 'outside influence,' the congressman told the justice. He pointed to a Supreme Court decision last month barring the execution of those who were juveniles when they committed their crimes. That decision, which was written by Justice Kennedy and which cited international treaties and practices abroad, appeared to reflect 'pressure put on by the United Nations and other agencies,' Mr. Tiahrt said.

"Mr. Tiahrt said the court was 'not interpreting the Constitution and laws that govern America anymore,' and added that his views were shared by people 'across the United States.'. . . . I guess we're into the black helicopters phase of the anti-judiciary crusade.

"A question, though. Are we allowed yet to point out that a party whose members routinely make threats against members of the federal judiciary and suggestively dangle hints of violence has any claim to being a constitutionalist party?"

Andrew Sullivan, for his part, takes on MSNBC's ex-congressman Joe Scarborough:

"'Whether the debate centers around a Presidential election, the right to die movement, the gay agenda, prayer in school, or simply letting our children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the teachings of Jesus Christ always seems to thwart the agenda of America's left wing elites. Forget what you heard in the 1960s. God is not dead. In fact, he is very much alive and beating liberal elites on one political issue after another. Maybe that is why so many of them hate the Prince of Peace.' - Joe Scarborough.

"Is Scarborough honestly saying that Jesus Christ had a position in the last presidential election, that only Republican voters were true Christians? Is he saying that criticism of a Pope's style or record is somehow identical to 'hatred' of the Gospels? Did a Jesus who never mentioned homosexuality take a position on gay politics in the 21st century? The complete conflation of politics and religion among today's Republicans just gets deeper and deeper. And dumber and dumber."

As long as we're doing conservatives whacking other conservatives, here's Jonah Goldberg on James Dobson:

"Last time I checked, activist federal judges weren't riding into towns on horseback, whoopin' and a-hollerin', burning crosses on lawns and lynching folks for no good reason.

"I bring this up for the benefit of James Dobson, who needs to spend a couple minutes breathing into a brown paper bag before he does his next radio show. The other day, while discussing federal judges, Dobson had this to say: 'I heard a minister the other day talking about the great injustice and evil of the men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan, that roamed the country in the South, and they did great wrong to civil rights to and to morality. And now we have black-robed men.'

"Uh, yeah. We do have black-robed men. But -- I want to be perfectly clear -- the robes really aren't the interesting part. Dobson is committing what logicians call a 'category error.' Lots of folks wear robes. Hugh Hefner wears one all day. That doesn't mean he lynches people, nor does it mean he's freelancing the meaning of the constitution.

"Dobson's hyperbole is a symptom of the runaway nature of the fight over judges in Washington."

Then Goldberg reverts to his usual target:

"On this score, the Democrats deserve far more blame than the Republicans. It's simply a historical fact that liberal Democrats (and the progressives before them) have empowered the courts to run roughshod over democratic and republican principles. It's almost impossible to think of a major area of life in America where a judge somewhere hasn't ruled in flagrant defiance of the democratic will of the people as expressed in a referendum or through the state legislature."

But aren't judges supposed to be independent? And wasn't it Republicans who stepped in when judges in the Schiavo case ruled in "flagrant defiance" of what DeLay and company wanted? To be continued.


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