National Media Skipped Over Hillary's "Police State" Slam

We saw in the 2000 election cycle that one way national reporters protected Democratic presidential contender Al Gore was to ignore wild or embarrassing things he said in public. The RNC and other Gore critics would play up his gaffes, but the media said "what gaffes"? If they did report the remarks, they didn’t find them overstated or wrong.

It’s not exactly 2008 yet, but the same trend looks to be happening with Sen. Hillary Clinton. She can claim that Republicans would need a "police state" to round up illegal immigrants, and then claim that Republicans would "literally criminalize the good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself" in their anti-immigration zeal, and some media outlets didn’t notice either one of these outrages. On the hear-no-Hillary-gaffe list: CBS, NBC, National Public Radio, and USA Today. (Nexis search of "hillary and police state" and "hillary and jesus" through March 29.)

Almost all national media outlets (including, at least in Nexis, Fox News Channel) gave Hillary a pass on AP reporter Devlin Barrett’s story on March 8:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential White House candidate in 2008, said Wednesday some Republicans are trying to create a "police state" to round up illegal immigrants.

Clinton, D-N.Y., spoke out on the U.S. immigration policy after largely staying away from an issue that has roiled Congress in recent months and spurred a number of conflicting proposals.

Speaking at a rally of Irish immigrants, Clinton criticized a bill the House passed in December that would impose harsher penalties for undocumented workers.

"Don't turn your backs on what made this country great," she said, calling the measure "a rebuke to what America stands for."

The House measure would make unlawful presence in the United States, which is currently a civil offense, a felony.

Clinton said it [the House bill] would be "an unworkable scheme to try to deport 11 million people, which you have to have a police state to try to do."

Perhaps reporters argued that even if you wanted to argue that Hillary’s "police state" reference wasn’t a direct connection of conservatives to a police state (but merely alleging that the Republican goal is impossible without it). But imagine a Newt Gingrich saying Hillary Clinton's health proposal in 1993 would require a "police state" to get to her goal of universal coverage, and imagine the media ignoring that.

Back in 1993, Congressman Dick Armey (BEFORE the Republicans made him majority leader) joked to a local Texas audience that Hillary sounds like a Marxist. He quickly apologized for overstatement. Still, that made its way to the Washington Post, and a brief story from political reporter Thomas Edsall:

In a speech last week, Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) said: "Hillary Clinton bothers me a lot. I realized the other day that her thoughts sound a lot like Karl Marx. She hangs around a lot of Marxists. All her friends are Marxists."

Armey made the remarks to 150 real estate agents in Plano, Tex. His comments were reported in the Plano Star-Courier on Wednesday. That same day, Armey, a member of the House Republican leadership, said that he had "crossed the line."

"I was spoofing Mrs. Clinton's 'new meaning' speech with a group of folks back home when I made the comments about Marx. I think overstatement and satire can be funny, but I crossed the line this time," Armey said in a written statement. "In the future, if I ever compare this administration to Marx, you can bet it will be Groucho."

Rep. Vic Fazio (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was not amused. "Attacking the First Lady as a communist is absolutely despicable," he said in a statement.

"The Cold War is over, and the Republicans have run out of enemies, so they have turned to pathetic red-baiting and old smear tactics. Dick Armey is mired in the tired politics of decades ago," Fazio said.

No one requires Hillary to apologize when she clumsily hops over the line of rhetorical civility. But that comment, became for Armey, a standard reference in national political profiles. When the Republicans won the House in 1994, a December New York Times profile by Katharine Q. Seelye was headlined "Ascendance Of An Improbable Leader." Seelye wrote:

Mr. Armey, a 54-year-old former economics professor from Texas, is widely perceived as farther right and more hot-headed than Mr. Gingrich -- and as an improbable leader. He used to sleep in the House gym to save money; he has implied that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a Marxist, and, upon meeting her, he said, "The reports on your charm are overstated, and the reports on your wit are understated."

Hillary Clinton is widely perceived as far to the left, and rather hot-headed at times, but the liberal media often skip stories that could distract from their construction of her centrist-yet- feminist-icon national image.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis