A.M. Shows Ignored Webb Novel Scandal, But Nets Giggled at Steamy Newt Lines in '94

For these people with short memories who think the Jim Webb novel passages with lusty or just strange sexual episodes have no place in political news, clearly they do not remember the Newt Gingrich Bodice-Ripper as it broke to liberal media jokes in December of 1994. Webb’s strange passages drew no attention on the network morning shows Friday, unlike the liberal Gingrich fun in 1994:

-- CNN ended its afternoon show Inside Politics on December 1, 1994 with this exchange between anchors Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff on the enterprising New York Times:

Shaw: "Well, Gingrich is taking a sense of history into a new surprising realm. He's co-authoring a novel about World War II at its aftermath. Gingrich describes it as 'historical science fiction,' but others might categorize it as a sexy potboiler, at least based on an excerpt obtained by the New York Times. Now one passage reads - and let me emphasize I'm quoting now - 'Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the Huntress. She rolled onto to him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. 'Tell me, or I will make you do terrible things,' she hissed.' What are political watchers to make of this offering from the speaker-in-waiting and a proponent of family values? Well, incoming Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was asked for his comments today."

Sen. Bob Dole: "I haven't had a chance to read the book. Is it out?"

Journalist: "It's not. He's working on it."

Sen. Dole: "Oh. Well, I better let him work on it."

Journalist: "But you think – do you think it's the proper thing for someone to be doing in his capacity?" [laughter]

Sen. Dole: "Well, a lot of people write books. I've written one or two. They never sold. Not novels but- I don't have any comment on that. I'm not even certain I'll have time to read it."

Shaw: "For the record we should note that though Gingrich acknowledges writing the book, we could not get him to confirm or comment on the steamy excerpts."

Woodruff: "Historical science fiction."

Shaw: "Athwart."

Woodruff: "No comment. That's all for this edition of Inside Politics. I'm Judy Woodruff."

-- On December 2, CBS This Morning took it up, complete with wisecrack about that liberal bane, the Contract with America, and they cited the Washington Post:

Harry Smith, co-host: "It's 10 minutes until the hour. Forget the Republican Contract With America. Incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich has another literary effort up his sleeve, a novel that asks the question: What would have happened if Hitler had never declared war with--had declared war with the United States? The book's not out until next year, but The Washington Post has published some excerpts."
Co-host Paula Zahn was the reader: "Wait till you hear some of these. Now this passage is just as Newt Gingrich and his co-author wrote it. ‘Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the huntress. She rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. "Tell me, or will I make you do terrible things," she hissed.’"

Smith added his own passage: "And there's this: ‘Even though it had been only minutes since their last lovemaking, John Mayhew was as ever overwhelmed by the sight of her, the shameless pleasure she took in her own body and its effect on him. Since he wasn't sure what to say, he made a production out of lighting up and enjoying that first, luxurious after-bout inhalation.’"

Zahn: "That's the way you talk, right?"

Smith: "That's a cigarette, I think."

Zahn: "Yeah, right."

Smith: "That's a cigarette, I think."

Zahn: "And we should point out that Congressman Newt Gingrich has asked his publisher to tone down the language a bit to make it more PG 13 than R, but it's funny. The publisher is describing the sex scenes as wa--on the Walt Disney level, sometimes maybe a little more."

Smith: "There is also a reference in the manuscript to Lieutenant George Bush, quite a guy in his goofy way. And Gingrich says the publisher put that in and he's asking that it be removed."

Zahn: "What a read."

Smith: "There you go."

Zahn: "Be out sometime in the spring."

Smith: "So it'll be interesting to see which ends up being the better seller, the Contract for America or the novel."

Zahn: "Oh, I think the novel probably will be. Let's see."

The passages were also a natural for CNN’s "The Capital Gang" on December 3. This is mainly included because Mark Shields pulls out a wonkish funny:

Margaret Carlson: "Thanks, Mark. Newt Gingrich has been busy reclaiming the government for 'normal Americans', but he hasn't been too busy to write steamy passages like this in his novel. 'Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the huntress. She rolled onto him and was sitting athwart his chest.'"

Robert Novak: "Athwart."

Carlson: "You know what that means, don't you Bob? This sounds like something out of Playboy, not for Mr. Family Values, who preaches that counterculture McGoverniks have ruined the country's morals. The pouting sex kitten? What about bad writing?"

Shields: "Margaret, now in defense of Newt Gingrich, now we know what he means by dynamic scoring after you read that book."

(Let’s diagram that for a second for those of you who don’t enjoy tax-policy debates. "Dynamic scoring" takes economic growth into account in projecting revenue after tax cuts.)

A few weeks later, on December 19, 1994, CBS’s Eric Engberg, the man who called Gingrich "bombastic and ruthless" before the election, was back for more sarcasm badly disguised as reporting:

"In his own writing, Gingrich has been unrelentingly serious using such topics as the future of civilization. His riveting doctoral dissertation was entitled ‘Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960,’ from which I quote, ‘There has been no new synthesis, although it is conceivable that the next generation will see a tentative national culture emerge among the elite minority.’ A real page turner.

"And now admirers of the Gingrich literary touch can look forward to his newest book, due out next fall. It opens in 1945 in a luxury hotel room--actually, it's a secret love nest just blocks from the White House. ‘Even though it had been only minutes since their last lovemaking, John Mayhew was, as ever, overwhelmed by the sight of her.’ Gingrich, you see, is cranking out a novel, complete with a steamy bedroom scene. ‘Suddenly, the pouting sex kitten’ --pouting sex kitten?– ‘gave way to Diana, the Huntress.’ You get the idea. The novel, titled 1945, pretends Hitler and his Nazis avoided war with America while conquering Europe. A beautiful German spy slips into Washington, seduces the White House chief of staff and steals the secret of the atom bomb. So Hitler attacks the Oak Ridge nuclear plant, but is thwarted by the heroic Sergeant York of World War I fame. Weird? Improbable? Perhaps. But then who would buy a novel about a professor-turned-congressman who leads his party to victory for the first time in 40 years and becomes speaker of the House? Couldn't happen. Eric Engberg, CBS News, Washington.

Engberg’s story was replayed on This Morning on the next day, December 20.

Months later, on February 23, 1995, ABC’s prime-time magazine show Day One took up the novel with Barbara Walters and Sam Donaldson. Notice that Barbara tries to say the plot says something disturbing about Gingrich:

Forrest Sawyer: "We're joined now by Barbara Walters and Sam Donaldson. They'll be dropping by from time to time to share their thoughts. And tonight they are offering us a sneak preview of a racy new novel that's come out of Washington. But it's not the novel that's so surprising. It's the guy who wrote it."

Donaldson: "Barbara, a publisher sent us excerpts today of a new book that's going to be out in August and I'd like to read you a little bit of it."

Walters: Why are your eyes suddenly glowing?

Donaldson: "Oh, it is the steamiest thing! Listen to this.

Walters: "Cannot wait."

Donaldson: "‘Suddenly, the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana, the Huntress. She rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. "Tell me or I will make you do terrible things," she hissed.’ Have you ever heard anything like that?"
Walters: "Well, I would say that it was Sidney Sheldon, except he wouldn't write ‘athwart his chest.’"

Donaldson: "This piece of fiction is written, as you know, by Newt Gingrich, who is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, what do you think of that?"

Walters: "And it's fiction, right?"

Donaldson: "Well, I hope so! I mean, that's the kind of question that even I wouldn't ask the speaker."

Walters: "But you know what, Sam? You can tell a lot from fiction, don't you think? I mean, what someone writes – "

Donaldson: "Sometimes."

Walters: "Okay. The chief character, this woman who is athwart -- the line that I love -- is supposedly the mistress to the chief of staff, writes Newt Gingrich. Okay? And this is a man who talks about 'family values' and yet he's written a potboiler about someone who is a mistress?"

Donaldson: "This may just be escapism for Newt Gingrich. I mean, here's a serious man and everybody sort of takes him seriously, no matter what side of the aisle you're on. And this is the way he what, lets off steam?"

Walters: "In summary, Sam- you have read all eight chapters? Yeah? Give me your instant book review."

Donaldson: "Barbara, this is an instant classic which will be draped athwart the speaker's neck by his opponents in every election he runs in from now on."

Walters: "If he had only changed 'athwart.' Thank you. We now have, Mr. Gingrich, your first bona fide book review."

NBC transcripts are not in Nexis, and I didn't find any in our archives yet. Newsweek jumped on it in 1994, and in the March 27, 1995 U.S. News & World Report, Senior Writer Gerald Parshall uncorked a related line, which ended up in 1995's Best of Notable Quotables:

"House Republicans denied any impropriety when they approved federal budget reductions of $17 billion and outlined $190 billion more, slashing programs that largely benefit women, children, and the poor, to pay for that 'pouting sex kitten' mistress of their dreams -- tax cuts."

So let’s review: Newt’s racy novels, hilarious even before they’re published. Jim Webb’s racy novels: just not "news."

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