Newt Gingrich Is a GOP Nobody from the '90s -- Why Is He Quoted Like the Gospel?
Newt Gingrich made headlines late last week during an interview with ABC News when he unloaded on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regarding the unfolding Beltway process gotcha story about what she knew about the use of torture seven years ago. Gingrich made a news splash with his red-hot rhetoric, condemning Pelosi as a "trivial politician" who is either "incompetent or dishonest," and accusing her of having "lied to the House." He demanded a congressional investigation and noted that, as "an Army brat," he was appalled by the Democrats' disinterest in defending America.
ABC News posted a news bulletin online, and just as quickly, it landed on the Drudge Report, complete with a red headline. News outlets all over the Beltway jumped on the breaking story, including The Boston Globe, CBS, and CNN.
Personally, I thought the Gingrich slap was of marginal interest. (Gingrich attacked a prominent Democrat? Wow, get me rewrite.) And as often happens when I read breaking, this-is-what-Newt-said dispatches, I couldn't help thinking, "Who cares what Newt Gingrich thinks?" And I don't mean that in the partisan sense. I mean it in the journalistic sense: How do Gingrich's daily pronouncements about the fundamental dishonesty of Democrats (Newt's favorite phrase) translate into news? Why does the press, 10 years after Gingrich was forced out of office, still treat his every partisan utterance as a newsworthy occurrence? In other words, why does the press still treat him like he's speaker of the House?
If you don't think the press' treatment of Gingrich is bizarre, then please point out the prominent Democrat who was driven from office during the 1990s, suffers from dreadful public approval numbers, has no actual base of political support, hasn't been elected to office in more than a decade, hasn't had his hands on the levers of powers since before the iPod was invented, and yet is treated like a Beltway big shot. Who is the wildly partisan '90s Democrat who spits out falsehoods with stunning regularity, wallows in sophomoric name-calling, and yet the press corps obediently follows around, making sure to report his or her every utterance as news?
The double standard the press has concocted for Gingrich is blindingly obvious. What gives? Asked during a reader chat why Gingrich's "every pronouncement" gets turned into a "media moment," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz claimed that the former speaker "is quite adept at drawing media attention" and that he "knows how to frame an issue ... in a way that will generate headlines."
So Gingrich has somehow cracked the media code for generating headlines? He has concocted some rhetorical formula such that when he speaks, reporters are forced to type it up as news? I don't buy it.
Instead, the answer seems rather apparent: In the eyes of the Beltway press, if somebody within the GOP routinely stands up and says mean, nasty things about Democrats, and if that person at times uses shocking rhetoric to denounce Democrats, then that person, by definition, is important. That person is newsworthy. And that person must be taken seriously.
But this rule applies only to Republican name-callers. Anybody on the left who engages in those kinds of ad hominem attacks is dismissed as overly partisan and unserious by the press corps.
And that description I gave of the press treating Gingrich as if he's the central player in today's government is no exaggeration. Just look as this Associated Press dispatch from Saturday:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has told a Chicago radio show he thinks there will be a formal inquiry into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA misled Congress on waterboarding.