It's safe to say that Jenna Bush is never going to be a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD lobbied furiously in the 1980s to raise the legal drinking age from 18 or 19 in most states to 21, making most typical American college students imbibing outlaws for the first three years of college. Now that dump-the-beer dragnet has caught the president's daughter for the second time this year.
The Clintons probably enjoyed seeing the scandal shoe on the other foot as the story was introduced, with a grand national debate over whether it should merit national news attention. NBC went to town on the story, leading off the "Today" show with it and offering a full "Close Up" news report and two interview segments about the problem. ABC's "Good Morning America" also aired an interview segment. Even "Entertainment Tonight" picked up the story. The cable networks really enjoyed it, with a full accounting on CNN's "Talk Back Live" and segments with presidential historians on MSNBC.
You could almost imagine the cable news writers asking, "Is this story any of our business? We'll be asking that question for the next three days straight."
Ironically, the Clintons drew an easier press on these matters than the Bushes. Perhaps because Chelsea entered the White House at the beginning of her teenage years, she was spared any negative coverage, and if she did have an underage drink anywhere, no restaurant owner with a grudge called 911 imploring the cops to book 'em. In fact, Chelsea's privacy and innocence were zealously guarded by those who felt the young lady deserved to be spared from the media's unforgiving spotlight. When "Saturday Night Live" joked they were "rooting" for Chelsea to get prettier, it was excised from all future reruns.
It is surprising to no one that the media elite are denying a double standard.
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, the poster child for liberal media bias, declared on MSNBC that any improperly obtained margaritas by Chelsea Clinton would have been a big story. "Any time somebody in the public spotlight, even if they don't intend to be there, has some connection with law enforcement, you can bet that it will be a news story."
Well, that's not true. Exhibit A: Al Gore's kids.
In October 1995, 16-year-old Sarah Gore was caught by Maryland police with an open can of beer. "She broke our rules, and she broke the law. She's extremely miserable and unhappy," Tipper Gore told the local Fox affiliate. The Washington Post's coverage focused on Sarah, the star athlete and great student. The networks, broadcast and cable, said absolutely nothing.
In 1996, only the vaguest whispers surfaced that Al Gore III, then just 13, was suspended from school for possession of marijuana. British newspapers sniffed that the vice president effectively had cried to editors for restraint. Fast forward four years, and Al III has an obvious brush with the law in August of 2000, driving 97 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone in North Carolina. Who was a greater danger to the public? Jenna Bush snatching margaritas with her fake ID, or a 17-year-old kid doing 97 on the highway? But the networks didn't breathe a word of that story in the middle of an election year.
You could even make a retroactive argument for Karenna Gore, since an August 2000 Time magazine profile noted, "By the time she hit the teen years, her spirited nature veered into open rebellion. Karenna lectured her parents on how their rules infringed on her First Amendment rights. She was big on 'adventuring,' climbing out of her window to shimmy down a manhole into the D.C. subway system for after-hours partying." I suspect they were probably not Kool-Aid parties.
How then do the media justify the avalanche of stories on Jenna? As ABC's Elizabeth Vargas felt the need to point out, "it has become an issue because President Bush himself has admitted that he had a drinking problem as a man, quit drinking when he was 40, was in fact arrested for driving under the influence." But no one hit the soapbox to ask if Al Gore III's alleged marijuana handling was learned from Dear Old Dad. No one asked what kind of "adventuring" influences the Gores instilled in their daughter.
Was the Jenna Bush scandal a credible story? Yes. But no one should pretend that the media have applied a consistent standard based on the involvement of law enforcement. Bush's girls will have to live up to a higher standard. Republicans always do.