That Was Then, This Is Now

Dafydd ab Hugh wrote this morning to point out that Matt Drudge has nailed the mainstream media by noting the difference between their current reticence about John Kerry’s paramour and the feeding frenzy when similar rumors–unsubstantiated, and utterly false–circulated about President George Bush in 1992:

In 1992 top reporters swiftly reacted to a footnote in a book quoting a long dead ambassador.
CNN rushed to get the rumor into the media stream as White House correspondent Mary Tillotson confronted President Bush as he hosted Israel Prime Minister Rabin in the Oval Office.
“There is an extensive series of reports in today’s New York Post alleging that a former U.S. ambassador, a man now deceased, had told several persons that he arranged for a sexual tryst involving you and one of your female staffers in Geneva in 1984.”
Asked NBC’s Stone Phillips to the president’s face at the height of the “rumor mongering”: “Have you ever had an affair?”
CBS’ Harry Smith then confronted Bush spokesperson Mary Matalin over on-air morning coffee: “Let me ask you about something else. There’s a book out, or a book that’s just about out that in a footnote names that then-Vice President Bush had an affair with an assistant when he was on a mission in Geneva. Well, that footnote has turned into frontpage news (holding up N.Y.POST), at least in New York, in the N.Y. POST. Albeit a tabloid, it is usually a conservative newspaper. Are you ready to say that accusation is a flat out lie?”
NEWSWEEK’s Jonathan Alter defended the aggressive adultery rumor line-of-questioning of the first President Bush on ABC’s NIGHTLINE on August 12, 1992, on a broadcast titled: “The Media Charges George Bush With Adultery.”
“In this situation, the Oval Office isn’t a temple,” Alter explained. “The President is a candidate and he has to be asked tough, often distasteful, but nonetheless important kinds of questions.”
UPI’s Helen Thomas also defended the Bush affair reportage: “Some people might have felt that it wasn’t appropriate. But when you have the President there, I think it’s very legitimate to ask him any question.”

The same reporters and outlets have, of course, taken an entirely different approach to the rumors now surrounding Kerry.
Meanwhile, Mickey Kaus nails Joe Conason with the same inconsistency:

The always provocative Spy takes the plunge – some might say right into the sewer of sleaze and unnamed sources.
The cover story of its July/August issue discusses George Bush’s supposed infidelities and publishes the name of longtime aide Jennifer A. Fitzgerald, around whom rumors have long circulated. The piece by Joe Conason also details other supposed liaisons, including a 1980 relationship with ”Ms. X,” then a 30-ish news agency employee.
–“Slinging Sex on Bush’s Campaign,” U.S.A. Today, June 17, 1992
Is American politics suddenly returning to the bad old days, when Washington journalism became frenzied with sheet sniffing and keyhole peeping? …
Once again, Drudge has raised questions — but they may not be the ones he seeks to raise. The first is about journalistic standards. The second is the identity of his anonymous sources. Journalists must ask themselves why the rumor of a private peccadillo deserves their attention and resources in the 2004 campaign.
–Joe Conason, Salon, Feb. 13, 2004

The Democratic press–sorry for the redundancy–simply has no integrity. Sure, you could say that difference is that 1992 was pre-Monica, and that the press learned a lesson and now applies a different standard. But does anyone seriously claim that if the press had a rumor about infidelity involving George W. Bush, they would keep it to themselves? Or, say, a report of a twenty-five year old DWI conviction? Or a baseless rumor that Bush missed National Guard meetings thirty years ago?
Somehow, I think the press would run with any and all of the above.


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