Journalists Concede Pelosi Getting a 'Honeymoon,' Promise Tough Scrutiny Soon

On Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz recognized the media's soft treatment of Speaker-to-be-Nancy Pelosi. CBS's Gloria Borger, ABC's Martha Raddatz and CNN's Candy Crowley also acknowledged the “honeymoon” for Pelosi -- and all three insisted coverage of her will turn tough. After some clips of the softball questions posed to Pelosi last week by network anchors, Kurtz asked: “Is Nancy Pelosi getting pretty soft treatment from the media?" Borger sarcastically replied: "Honeymoon, you think? Yeah, I think -- I think it will remain a honeymoon for a while.” Raddatz predicted that “there will be this minor little honeymoon period -- the whole female, first female Speaker of the House. That will go away really quickly.”

Kurtz turned to Crowley and raised the media's hostile attitude toward Newt Gingrich, who didn't get any media honeymoon: “Is Nancy Pelosi ever going to get the kind of tough press scrutiny that, for example, Newt Gingrich received when he became Speaker in 1995?" Crowley insisted: "I think so,” contending journalists will “if only because everybody is sort of aware of that. I mean, I think there will be tough scrutiny.” Crowley proposed the tough coverage will come after Democrats take over, “so I would think long about February you're going to begin to see tough scrutiny, because I think it's incumbent upon us and I think everybody knows that." We'll see.

As the November 8 NewsBusters item, “NBC and CBS Champion Pelosi for 'Making American History' as First Female Speaker,” recounted, NBC anchor Brian Williams gushed to Pelosi about how “I know history was riding along with you as you watched the results last night” and a glowing Katie Couric wondered: "A lot has been made of the fact that you, if elected, and it appears that you will be, that you will be the first woman Speaker of the House and the highest ranking woman in the United States government. What does that mean to you?"

A November 9 NewsBusters posting, “O'Reilly Scolds Nets for 'Softball' Pelosi Interviews, Goldberg Contrasts with Gingrich,” related:
On Thursday's O'Reilly Factor on FNC, Bill O'Reilly raised, with former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg and Fox Newswatch panelist Jane Hall, “all the softball interviews of Nancy Pelosi” which aired Wednesday night and that a NewsBusters item summarized. O'Reilly cautioned that “I'm not saying you should go after her throat, but surely when you have the person second in line for the presidency and she's the most liberal Speaker of the House in the history of the country, surely you might want to get into a little bit about how she formed her point of view -- or am I crazy?" Goldberg assured O'Reilly, "no, you're not crazy,” and proposed: “Do you think Newt Gingrich would have gotten the same treatment as Nancy Pelosi got? Look, I mean, the bias is never blatant, but they like Nancy Pelosi, they like the fact the Democrats won and she's a woman, the first woman who's going to be Speaker of the House, so they treat her with a certain respect, which they should, that they wouldn't treat a conservative Republican."

Indeed, as the MRC documented back in 1994, the mainstream media greeted Gingrich's victory with hostility. Days before the election, CBS's Eric Engberg treated as newsworthy how the “bombastic and ruthless” Gingrich “was attacked for McCarthyism" and has “a record filled with contradictions: the family values candidate who divorced his ailing first wife, the avowed enemy of dirty politics who bounced 22 checks at the House Bank...” Time magazine snidely declared: "His ideas, which don't often come to grips with the particulars of policymaking, may be less important than his signature mood of righteous belligerence." ABC's Sam Donaldson confronted Gingrich: "A lot of people are afraid of you, they think you're a bomb thrower. Worse, you're an intolerant bigot.”

The relevant portion of the November 12 Reliable Sources on CNN:
Howard Kurtz: “Well, now the President still has a pretty big megaphone despite having opposition -- Congress in opposition hands. But I think we'll be seeing a lot more television time and television invitations for the likes of Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, in fact, sat down with all the network anchors the day after the election results. Let's take a look at some of that.”

Brian Williams on last Wednesday's NBC Nightly News: “What does 'drain the swamp' mean?”

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi: “Drain the swamp means to turn this Congress into the most honest and open Congress in history.”

Katie Couric on last Wednesday's CBS Evening News: “You will be the first woman Speaker of the House and the highest-ranking woman in the United States government. What does that mean to you?”

Pelosi: “It's pretty exciting, I have to say. I'm just so excited that a Democrat will be Speaker of the House.”

Tery Moran on last Wednesday's Nightline: “Are you going to use that mother of five voice a lot to keep Congress in order?”

Kurtz back live: “For the moment at least, Gloria Borger, is Nancy Pelosi getting pretty soft treatment from the media?”

Gloria Borger, CBS News: “Honeymoon, you think? Yeah, I think -- I think it will remain a honeymoon for a while. I think the Democrats are quite excited not only to take over the House, but to see Nancy Pelosi there. She's worked very hard for it. But I think the real challenge for Nancy Pelosi is to see if she can really be bipartisan. She's got a, she's got a caucus that's going to be like herding cats. She's got a lot of conservative Democrats that were just elected.”

Kurtz: “And what's the challenge for the journalists covering her? I mean, she's a good story because there's never been a woman in that job. But-”

Borger: “The challenge -- the challenge for us is to see how she manages her caucus, and honestly how she deals with the Republican minority right now.”

Kurtz: “And on that point, Martha Raddatz, with Democrats running both houses, is it the responsibility of journalists to now hold them accountable for producing results, or will we just enjoy the partisan fireworks if there's a lot of that between the Hill and the White House?”

Martha Raddatz, ABC News: “Oh, I think obviously you have to hold them accountable. And you have to go back to what they said before the midterm elections, and you have to follow them each and every day afterwards. And I think Gloria's exactly right. There will be this minor little honeymoon period -- the whole female, first female Speaker of the House. That will go away-”

Borger: “Been there, done that.”

Raddatz: “-really quickly. That will go away, yes. Congratulations, now let's move on.”

Kurtz: “Because when they were a minority party, I mean, they could basically take all of the potshots in the world and they weren't responsible for anything because they couldn't even bring legislation to the floor.”

Raddatz: “I mean -- yes, right. I mean, it's like Iraq policy. Okay, now let's see what you're going to do about this. You've been talking about it for a long time. And I'm sure the Republicans are waiting to see that as well. And that will keep them at bay for a bit.”

Kurtz: “But Candy Crowley, is Nancy Pelosi ever going to get the kind of tough press scrutiny that, for example, Newt Gingrich received when he became Speaker in 1995?”

Candy Crowley, CNN: “I think so. I mean, I think if only because everybody is sort of aware of that. I mean, I think there will be tough scrutiny. I mean, look, everybody's right. You know, she's a grandmother, she's, you know, the most powerful woman in Washington. She's risen higher than anyone else. So that takes a while to kind of get out of the cycle. Everybody has to do that story. And also, we're not into Democratic rule yet. That happens in January. So I would think long about February you're going to begin to see tough scrutiny, because I think it's incumbent upon us and I think everybody knows that.”
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