The Obvious Politics of the Gaffe Patrol

The Obvious Politics of the Gaffe Patrol
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 13, 1995

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato has never won a Congeniality Award from the national media. His annoying tendency to get re-elected no doubt disturbs the many New Yorkers who are responsible for delivering our national news. Add to that his role in retiring media hero Mario Cuomo, and his determination to investigate the Clinton finances from his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, and you have a man the media would enjoy bringing down.

So when Senator D'Amato mocked Judge Lance Ito on a radio show, sporting a Japanese accent the judge does not have, the network news pounced, reporting this as a scandal of real substance, a two-day story. NBC's "Today" show held a solemn interview with Rep. Norman Mineta, with co-host Katie Couric explaining with great seriousness that Mr. Mineta and his family were interned by their own country in World War II.

Gaffes are a powerful tool in the hands of the national media. Gaffes can strengthen media caricatures in the public mind, creating character sketches in 25 words or less: the flighty volubility of Newt Gingrich, the stop-lying nastiness of Bob Dole, the spelling of Dan Quayle, and now the clumsy ethnic satire of Al D'Amato.

In late January, the networks struck a similar pose of outrage when House Majority Leader Dick Armey misspoke by calling gay Rep. Barney Frank "Barney Fag." The CBS Evening News made the gaffe its number one story January 27. That same night, ABC's "World News Tonight" flagged the story in its opening seconds. A couple of minutes later, anchor Catherine Crier asked: "Was it a slip of the tongue or a sign of deep prejudice?....Mr. Armey wields enormous power over all kinds of legislation, including laws that deal with discrimination and civil rights. What Mr. Armey says matters."

Even simple ideological labeling is considered an impolite slur - if the label is placed on a liberal. In a CNN interview after his speech to the nation April 6, Newt Gingrich called the Democratic leadership "a small, left-wing clique." That offended reporter Bob Franken, who asked: "Why would somebody want to sit down with you - and this gets to basic Newt Gingrich - why would someone want to sit down with you who you call names, you call left-wing, for instance."

The liberal media are sufferiing from an achingly obvious double standard, and they just can't be that blind to it. On March 21, Rep. John Lewis took to the House floor and compared the Republicans to the Nazis, paraphrasing an anti-Nazi saying from World War II: "They're coming for our children, they're coming for the poor, they're coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled."

No network considered it news that night to report a liberal Democrat had labeled the GOP as Nazis. When NBC's Jim Miklaszewski aired Lewis's remarks on the March 22 Today show, he followed with Republican Clay Shaw calling them "an outrage." Then, Miklaszewski amazingly suggested the attack was acceptable political discourse by dismissing it: "Outrage or not, Democratic attempts to paint Republicans as heartless budget cutters are beginning to hit home." The closest thing to network criticism of Lewis's remarks came from Miklaszewski and Bob Schieffer calling the debate - the debate, not Rep. Lewis - "nasty." On ABC's Good Morning America, Bob Zelnick simply termed the debate "emotional."

The Lewis outrage was not a one-time occurrence, but a recurring theme of the Democrats that's yet to spur any media scrutiny. A few weeks back, Rep. Charles Rangel compared Republicans to Nazis in a letter to Rep. Bill Archer - no network coverage there. In December, Jesse Jackson declared: "The Christian Coalition was a strong force in Germany. It laid down a suitable, scientific, theological rationale for the tragedy in Germany. The Christian Coalition was very much in evidence there." No coverage followed on ABC, CBS, or CNN; NBC simply mentioned the slander.

Comparing the modern Republican Party to hate-filled slaughterers of millions simply does not strike the network types as far-fetched, no matter who says it. Could this really reflect their own views?

In 1992, one prominent American pronounced: "In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan urged the nation to adopt family values and to return to old-time religion. Similarly, Adolf Hitler launched a family-values regimen....In the modern United States, new proponents of family values continue this tradition of fear and intolerance."

More bigoted bile from the Rev. Jackson? No, an ABC Radio commentary by Hugh Downs.