From Hope to Hatchets: How the Media Systematically Axed the 2012 GOP Contenders

[Excerpted from Collusion, by Brent Bozell and Tim Graham]

As Obama prepared for re-election, the media elite treated the emerging Republican challengers as a field of nightmares, a group of pretenders and has-beens who could not be seriously hoping to defeat Obama.  Republican debate audiences were criticized as “bloodthirsty” and demonstrating “bloodlust.” ( (() ((Collusion by Brent Bozell and Tim Graham is available online and in book stores.)

From the start of the Republican race in 2011, every candidate who took the lead in the pre-primary polling was subjected to a beating. Even Sarah Palin was slimed in case she decided to run. Outbursts of "investigative journalism" erupted repeatedly for against the GOP front-runner of the moment. Republican presidential campaigns were damaged or demolished, one by one.


 

BACHMANN. On July 11, 2011, as Michele Bachmann's popularity was growing (and about a month before she won the Iowa straw poll), ABC's World News touted a hidden-camera investigation of the clinic of her therapist husband, Marcus Bachmann. It was a "pray away the gay" scandal, they said. "We begin tonight with an ABC News investigation," oozed anchor Diane Sawyer. "Tea Party powerhouse Michele Bachmann has rocketed to the top of the Republican pack. Tonight, a closer look at the business she and her husband own back home in Minnesota. An outside group filmed undercover video inside the Bachmann's Christian counseling center. Bachmann's husband has said he does not try to turn gay people straight."  (The horror!) ABC (and then CNN, and then NBC) claimed otherwise.

But the hidden cameras of this "ABC News investigation" weren't sent in by ABC. They came from a radical homosexual lobby called "Truth Wins Out," a funny name for a group that had lied and faked its way into the Bachmann clinic. No one saw the conflict, apparently.

In August, Newsweek mocked Michele Bachmann on its cover, making her look pale, confused, and nutty. The headline said it all: "The Queen of Rage." The cover story by reporter Lois Romano threw mud. "Bachmann has become the living embodiment of the Tea Party. She and her allies have been called a maniacal gang of knife-wielding ideologues. That's hyperbole, of course. But the principled rigidity of her position has created some challenges for her campaign."

Here's another typical, sneering sentence: "For now, Bachmann revels in the Iowa crowds, which don't fuss about the missing fine print behind her ideas, the perceived contradictions among them, or their radicalism."  Newsweek claims to loathe contradictions – as they write long, nasty editorials and then claim like complete hypocrites that they were publishing a "news" story.

The liberal website FunnyOrDie.com wrote alternative titles for the Bachmann cover picture, including "The Girl Next Door: Assuming You Live Next to an Insane Asylum" and "Zombies: Michele Bachmann Eats America's Young."
 

PERRY. Governor Rick Perry looked like a strong contender when he entered the race in August, due to his booming success in the Texas economy and his ability to raise campaign cash. That's when reporters desperately wanted decided to portray him as the worst kind of cowboy bumpkin. ABC anchor Diane Sawyer called him the "human tornado," as reporter Jake Tapper added "Democrats say that until Perry came along, they never thought they'd meet a candidate who made the other Republican candidates look responsible.."  CBS ran a wild-haired cartoon image of Perry running with an exploding gun as they explained he believed in "America's right to bear arms-even in a speeding helicopter. Yes, he made it legal to hunt wild boar from the air. After all, he's the kind of governor who would shoot a coyote while he's out jogging."

But his days as front-runner were numbered as the big "investigative bombshell" arrived on October 2, when The Washington Post killed trees to report in earth-shaking depth how the Rick Perry family had leased a hunting property where in 1983 or 1984, the N-word was found painted on  a rock, and never mind it was the Rick Perry family that covered it with white paint. Reporter Stephanie McCrummen could conjure up a virtual Klan hood on Perry's head. "As recently as this summer, the slablike rock-lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint-remained by the gated entrance to the camp."

Near the end, she underlined it again: "In the photos, it was to the left of the gate. It was laid down flat. The exposed face was brushed clean of dirt. White paint, dried drippings visible, covered a word across the surface. An N and two G's were faintly visible." 

Three thousand words they spent on this.

The Post was throwing the biggest rock they could at a Republican – racism, as in casual acquiescence to the N-word – without telling the public who was behind it the accusation. They quoted seven sources, but and six of them remained anonymous. Were some Obama supporters or financial backers? Naturally, when some readers protested, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, declared, "If the seven sources the Post relied on for this article are truthful, then Perry is lying or is badly misinformed about when the rock was painted.," insisted Pexton.  He also insisted that the Perry camp's failure to protest more fiercely made him look guilty. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Would the Post use six anonymous sources to push a 3,000-word story on the front page trashing Barack Obama for something some people said anonymously that he did or said in the 1980s? There weren't a clumsier group of character assassins than the Post. Radio host Hugh Hewitt put it best: "It is a drive-by slander."

Two days after the rock "scoop," a Post front-page article by Amy Gardner found Perry's record on race was "complicated" . . . by the facts. Perry "appointed the first African American to the state Supreme Court and later made him chief justice" and oh yes, "One chief of staff and two of his general counsels have been African American." But "minority legislators" complained he used "racially tinged" tactics. Guess what was listed first? "Black lawmakers have been particularly troubled by Perry's recent embrace of the Tea Party movement."
 

CAIN. Herman Cain was exactly the kind of candidate liberals fear: a successful, dynamic black Republican with a solid record of business success. Liberal journalists couldn't abide the idea that someone of his ilk could ever pretend to be president. Washington Post writer Tim Carman made him sound like a mobster: "One of his primary credentials for the job involves his nearly miraculous healing of the once-moribund Godfather's Pizza, as if America were a midgrade Midwestern chain whose many problems could be solved with a few deaths in the family (read: store closings) and a tough-talking thug in a pin-stripe suit and fedora."

When Cain ascended to the top of the Republican polls, it wasn't proof that the Tea Party conservatives were suddenly or temporarily not racists. It was time for another "investigative" takedown. On the night of Halloween, the liberal newspaper Politico first reported that when Cain headed the National Restaurant Association, it settled two sex-harassment lawsuits. Citing unnamed sources, Politico reported two unnamed women had alleged Cain was guilty of "conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature," and also "descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual" but made women uncomfortable. 

"Another high-tech lynching," said Ann Coulter on Fox News. 

Even Stephen Engelberg, a former New York Times reporter at the investigative-journalism shop Pro Publica, found it underbaked. "If the facts as published were part of a memo to Politico's editors they would amount to a first-rate tip on a story . . . .in this case, it remains unclear whether this was merely a great tip or an actual bombshell."

But the networks were thrilled. "This morning, bombshell blast," announced ABC's George Stephanopoulos hours after the story broke, reporting a "bimbo eruption" of the kind he used to keep out of the news for a paycheck from the Clintons. NBC's Matt Lauer gloated that Cain was "finding out the hard way about the attention that goes along with being a front-runner." 

In the first week of the scandal, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined for 84 stories on Herman Cain's alleged impropriety with women -- before the media would or could identify an accuser with a name and a face.  By contrast, eight days into Bill Clinton's sexual harassment scandals with publicly identified accusers Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey and adding even the rape allegation of Juanita Broaddrick, there were eight reports on the three named Clinton accusers combined. 

The network story count was almost 100 before a real name emerged, a television avalanche. The networks hurled 117 stories at Cain in the first ten days.

On November 28, Ginger White told WAGA, the Fox affiliate in Atlanta, that she had a 13-year adulterous affair with Cain. All three networks reported it almost simultaneously with the Atlanta story. This is not the way allegations against a Democrat are handled. Ginger White makes an adultery charge against Cain and she's on the NBC Nightly News within hours. But when Juanita Broaddrick in a 1999 Dateline NBC interview accused Bill Clinton of raping her, a  charge never denied by Clinton, then-anchor Tom Brokaw never allowed one single second of her voice to break into his evening newscast. 

If only Herman Cain were a Democrat. By the next morning, Cain was dismissed as a political corpse, or a ghost. One day later, Ginger White gave an interview to George Stephanopoulos, a man who would have shredded her reputation and kept her off television if she had she claimed an affair with Clinton. The ABC host gloated over Cain's impending doom: "Will our interview spell the end of the one-time front-runner's presidential bid?" 
Stephanopoulos was so brazen that he dismissed Cain on character grounds: "There are just too many questions about his honesty, his judgment, his experience, his organization. Even if he stays in [the race], he's not going to be a factor."  This from the former official spokesman for Bill Clinton.

Collectively, the media sounded like Yul Brynner playing Pharaoh Ramses in The Ten Commandments, shouting, "So let it be written! So let it be done!" Cain soon withdrew.
 

GINGRICH. Many conservative voters loved the smarts of Newt Gingrich, and loved the way Newt fired away at liberal-media debate moderators-not to mention the idea of him aggressively  debating Obama. But seemingly all liberal journalists still carried their 1990s loathing of Gingrich around. NBC anchor Brian Williams announced one night: "The Newt Gingrich that a lot of folks will remember from his speakership days back in the '90s was back on display making statements about controversial issues that left some of his critics slack-jawed."

Chris Matthews recklessly smeared Gingrich, saying, "He looks like a car bomber. . . . He looks like he loves torturing."  With a complete lack of awareness of his own incivility, Matthews accused Newt of polluting the civil discourse. "Ever since he appeared on the national scene, politics has been nastier, more feral, too often uglier."

Reporters endlessly cited Gingrich's personal "baggage" in his personal life and public remarks as an impossible obstacle to overcome. Somehow the "baggage" gets lost when the media bellhops are writing about Democrats.

Then again came the Gingrich "investigative bombshell." On the January 19 Nightline, days before Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, ABC anchor Terry Moran oozed, "Tonight on Nightline, breaking her silence. In an exclusive TV interview, one of presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's ex-wives speaks out, questioning his moral fitness to be president." Not only was he cheating on her with the woman who would become his third wife, "he was asking for an open marriage."

Brian Ross eagerly prompted ex-wife Marianne Gingrich to tell all: "You know his secrets. You know his skeletons." He boasted to viewers that his scoop could be seen as a "January surprise" to whack Gingrich. He shouldn't be considered a conservative, not with his background: "And now, as a candidate for president, Gingrich regularly expounds on family values and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."

What a difference four years makes, espeicially if the candidate belongs to the other party. At this point in the 2008 campaign, on January 4, Ross was disparaging character attacks on the Democratic contenders. "At grocery store checkout lines, there have been National Enquirer headlines claiming a love child scandal involves Senator John Edwards or a member of his staff, forcing Edwards to issue a strong public denial." Edwards insisted on ABC: "The story's false. It's completely untrue and ridiculous."  Ross didn't investigate Edwards for "bombshells" and "skeletons." Ross provided him a national platform to defend his innocence to millions of viewers.
 

SANTORUM. In November, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow had laughed at the idea that anyone would ever vote for dark horse former Senator Rick Santorum. "Nobody's going to vote for Rick Santorum, come on," Maddow declared, reminding her audience that thanks to far-left sex columnist Dan Savage, when you Google-searched for Santorum, you would find a vulgar definition for the fluid aftermath of anal sex.

MSNBC host Martin Bashir reached for historical smears. "In reviewing his book, It Takes a Family, one writer said, 'Mr. Santorum has one of the finest minds of the 13th century.' But I'm not so sure. If you listen carefully to Rick Santorum, he sounds more like Stalin than Pope Innocent III."

On January 16, a few days before Santorum's victory in the Iowa caucuses was belatedly announced, the usual "investigative bombshell" landed. Newsweek (on its Daily Beast website) decided it was "news" to report on Mrs. Santorum's ancient dating history in a piece titled "Before Karen Met Rick." Yes, before the couple ever met. The author was Nancy Hass, who a few months before had written a valentine to radical feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, announcing that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin "wouldn't be riling up the Tea Party faithful had Steinem not paved their way out of the kitchen."

Hass wrote that Karen Santorum, the "ultra-pro-life wife," had a dirty secret:. "Her live-in partner through most of her 20s was Tom Allen, a Pittsburgh obstetrician and abortion provider 40 years older than she, who remains an outspoken crusader for reproductive rights and liberal ideals. Dr. Allen has known Mrs. Santorum, born Karen Garver, her entire life: he delivered her in 1960." The article featured a picture of young Garver posing with her much older boyfriend as he lounged in a hammock. 

It is impossible to imagine a greater personal attack on an innocent wife, and a blameless candidate, than this. Even the networks were a little queasy over this 24-year-old story about a candidate's spouse. CBS brought up the relationship in an interview with Mrs. Santorum in March, forcing her to admit, "I did go through a phase of life where I wasn't living the way I should have been." NBC jumped right on it, though. On the January 21 Today, NBC's Michael Isikoff (a Newsweek alum) checked the box: "Newsweek reported that before she married Santorum, she had a six-year live-in relationship with a Pittsburgh abortion doctor 40 years her senior."

In the same story, Isikoff also noted Gingrich's second wife going on ABC and making her "open marriage" allegation. He concluded with the odd suggestion that these personal attacks and ugliness weren't generated by the "objective" media: "All this, political analysts say, is unusual, even by the rough- and- tumble standards of Southern politics. . . . With polls pointing to a close result tonight in South Carolina, personal attacks show no signs of abating as the GOP race continues."

Can you imagine Newsweek plotting a hard-hitting investigation of who Michelle Obama dated before Barack? Or who Barack dated before Michelle? Did Mrs. Obama have sex with other men before Barack? Did she have affairs with married men? Those questions would be considered beyond the pale, a repugnant violation of privacy. But somehow, all those niceties did not apply to Mrs. Santorum before she even knew her husband.

While Mrs. Santorum was pounded for her romances in 2012, Newsweek lauded Michelle Obama in 2004 as a Harvard-trained lawyer with an “innovative nonprofit that provides leadership development.” After two of Obama’s potential 2004 Senate rivals—Republican Jack Ryan and Democrat Blair Hull—were energetically removed from Obama’s path by the gumshoes at the Chicago Tribune suing for (and then spilling) their divorce records—Michelle was Obama’s character witness. “People always ask, ‘What’s he got in the closet?’ Well, we’ve been married 13 years, and I’d be shocked if there was some deep, dark secret.”

For starters, Newsweek could have found the nutty reverend that married them.  

(Collusion by Brent Bozell and Tim Graham is available online and in book stores.)

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center