Rich Lowry
For the old-fashioned, the definition of a "news story" is a story that is new ? hence the name. But the newspeople at the newspapers the Washington Post and the New York Times have an updated definition ? anything that hurts Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay on any given day.

The Times just ran a front-page article reporting that DeLay's wife and daughter receive payments from his political operations. This story might have been news if it hadn't been known for years and been the subject of a detailed report in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call on May 5, 2003 ? meaning the Times did a follow-up 702 days later. And this story might have been scandalous if it weren't for the fact that having family members on the pay-roll is a common, bipartisan practice, accepted as legitimate so long as they actually do work (DeLay's daughter runs his congressional campaigns). This story can only be explained if some editor at the Times is not barking at reporters, "Get news on Tom DeLay!" but instead simply, "Get Tom DeLay!"

The same day as the Times front-pager, the Washington Post ran its own front-page article on a trip DeLay took to Russia that was ostensibly funded by a Washington think tank, but that really might have been funded by a Washington lobbyist, in violation of House rules. This might have been news if that trip hadn't taken place in 1997 and been reported in the National Journal on Feb. 25, 2005 ? meaning the Post did a relatively brisk follow-up after 39 days. Most subjects of Washington scandals are undone by the steady accumulation of new allegations. DeLay might be the first brought down by the drip-drip of old allegations.

What is happening to DeLay is a ritual with all the carefully scripted but irrational rules of an Aztec sacrifice ceremony. First, the target is deemed "dogged by ethics questions." Then, every scrap of negative information is splashed on the front pages, until out of exhaustion the target's supporters abandon him. Finally, six months after the target's demise, everyone scratches their head and wonders, "What was that all about?"

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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