NBC Delivers Brief Against ‘Cry Baby’ Gingrich and His Speakership Marked by ‘Chaos, Polarization...’

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on Tuesday evening promised a look “back at some of the hits, runs and errors” of Newt Gingrich’s years as Speaker of the House, but other than a sentence from Lisa Myers about how “working with President Clinton, Gingrich piled up real achievements: a balanced budget, an historic welfare reform,” she focused her entire piece on how “his speakership also was marked by chaos, polarization, and incendiary remarks.”

Her first witness: NBC’s own Joe Scarborough, who feigned concern that Gingrich “hurt the Republican Party and more importantly, to a lot of us, the conservative movement moving forward.”

Regurgitating the biased media line at the time which blamed Republicans over President Bill Clinton (MRC MediaWatch study), Myers claimed “twice Gingrich shut down the government.” Using contemporaneous biased coverage to justify her retrospective, Myers plastered on a screen a New York Daily News headline with matching caricature, “CRY BABY: NEWT’S TANTRUM.” She explained: “Gingrich generated this headline, after suggesting that he shut down the government because the President made him sit in the back on Air Force One.”

Myers proceeded to report that “he became the first Speaker ever reprimanded by the House for ethics violations, and was fined $300,000 for misusing tax exempt funds,” but she failed to note, as NBC failed to at the time, that in 1999 the IRS cleared Gingrich.
 
Continuing her parade of anti-Gingrich foibles talking points, Myers asserted: “Later it was revealed that while leading a moralistic charge to impeach President Clinton, Gingrich himself was having an affair with a Hill staffer.”

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To wrap up, Myers displayed a photo of the desk in the Oval Office as she concluded with the contention Gingrich is not qualified to fill that seat: “Some former colleagues also say that based on his speakership, they question whether Gingrich has the temperament and judgment to sit in this chair.”

Not quite the approach NBC Nightly News offered when Barack Obama emerged as the frontrunner in early January of 2008:

Riding on a bus in New Hampshire the day before the Granite state’s primary, Brian Williams showed Obama the Newsweek with the Democratic candidate on the cover and wondered: “How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way, all the publicity? Who does it make you think of? Is there, is there a loved one?”

A couple of months later:

NBC Nightly News allocated a mere 22 seconds to Barack Obama’s condemnation of what fill-in anchor Ann Curry vaguely described as “inflammatory remarks that his long time pastor made about Hillary Clinton and the nation,” but instead of informing viewers of any of those remarks, such as Reverend Jeremiah Wright's suggestion that the U.S. deserved 9/11, the newscast then devoted three minutes to a celebratory piece about how excited Obama’s childhood friends in Indonesia are about his candidacy.

In a story which began and ended with a picture of Obama's classmates in front of huge “Good Luck Barry!” lettering, reporter Ian Williams trumpeted the wonders Obama is doing abroad: “The fact that Obama lived in Jakarta and studied at this school has really captured the popular imagination. It's already working wonders for America's battered image here.”

From the Tuesday, December 6 NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Well, with Newt Gingrich now in the front-runner spot, we'll all be hearing a lot more about his tenure of Speaker of the House back in the mid-'90s. NBC's Lisa Myers tonight looks back at some of the hits, runs and errors.

DICK GEPHARDT: The Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

LISA MYERS: Because of Newt Gingrich, in 1995 Republicans recaptured the House for the first time in 40 years.

NEWT GINGRICH: I am a genuine revolutionary.

MYERS: And working with President Clinton, Gingrich piled up real achievements: a balanced budget, an historic welfare reform. But his speakership also was marked by chaos, polarization, and incendiary remarks. After four years, Gingrich was forced out by his own troops. Former Congressman Joe Scarborough helped lead the mutiny.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: He accomplished a lot. But he burned so many bridges that it hurt the Republican Party and more importantly, to a lot of us, the conservative movement moving forward.

MYERS: A former press secretary says Gingrich's brilliance was often outweighed by hubris and lack of discipline.

RICH GALEN: Newt never made the transition from being an entrepreneur or revolutionary to being a manager.

MYERS: Twice Gingrich shut down the government. He says this about that now.

GINGRICH: We stopped it twice when we were fighting with Clinton, but we did it very carefully. Clinton and I understood how to fight in a way that was mature and confused the Washington press corps.

MYERS: But at the time, Gingrich generated this headline, after suggesting that he shut down the government because the President made him sit in the back on Air Force One. Two years in, some Republicans were so upset with Gingrich, he barely was re-elected Speaker.

GINGRICH, JANUARY 7, 1997: To the degree I was too brash, too self-confident or too pushy, I apologize.

MYERS: He became the first Speaker ever reprimanded by the House for ethics violations, and was fined $300,000 for misusing tax exempt funds. In his final months, Gingrich led a bare knuckles battle to impeach President Clinton which backfired with the public. Republicans lost seats in the '98 elections. Under his leadership, the party's approval rating had plummeted from 50 percent to 33 percent. Later it was revealed that while leading a moralistic charge to impeach President Clinton, Gingrich himself was having an affair with a Hill staffer, Calista, now his third wife. So far only a handful of his former colleagues are supporting his presidential bid.

TOM DAVIS, FORMER REPUBLICAN MC: Having lived through Newt in the ‘90s, there are some members who just don't think he can win.

MYERS, OVER PHOTO OF OVAL OFFICE: Some former colleagues also say that based on his speakership, they question whether Gingrich has the temperament and judgment to sit in this chair. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center