The opening days of the new Democratic Congress provide a forceful reminder that America’s most powerful media outlets don’t play fair and won’t cover partisan politics with anything approaching objectivity.
The glowing, America’s-sweetheart coverage of new speaker Nancy Pelosi served to bury the evidence of her early missteps and reverses. Instantly, major commentators and network talking heads forgot all about her embarrassing defeat in the fight for majority leader (when Stenny Hoyer handily trounced Pelosi’s hand-picked candidate, John Murtha) or her fumbling over chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee (where she slighted both the moderate Jane Harman and black caucus member Alcee Hastings to appoint the woefully unprepared Silvestre Reyes, who knew nothing of the distinction between Sunni and Shiite).
Instead of focusing on the substance or even style of her leadership, the major TV Networks, newspapers and newsmagazines concentrated on her gender. Charles Gibson of ABC summarized the festive day of her inauguration by citing one image, in which the Speaker sat at her desk playing with her grandchildren, suggesting that this touching vision (obviously arranged by her savvy handlers) represented a new reality of a womanly leader who “could take care of the children at the same time she takes care of the whole country.”
The worshipful cooing toward the new Speaker offered a stark contrast to the coverage of the last partisan House leader to command the troops in a sudden, sweeping takeover of a Congress long-dominated by the opposition. In 1995, when Newt Gingrich and the “Contract With America” Republican Revolutionaries surged to victory after capturing 55 Democratic seats, the press blasted the new speaker with ferocious negativity regarding both his personality and his policies. Time and Newsweek each featured cover stories with a childish pun about “The Gingrich Who Stole Christmas,” suggesting that the GOP’s promised budget cuts would drive poor people even further into misery and despair. As the nation braced for a Republican House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, various pundits and pontificators focused on Newt’s alleged abrasiveness and fanaticism, even dredging up nasty stories about his divorce from his first wife, Jackie, some 13 years earlier.