In Vitter Prostitution Scandal, Networks Spun: Whole GOP 'In Crisis'

March 10th, 2008 4:54 PM

A prostitution scandal strikes the Democrats? When Sen. David Vitter admitted he’d used the services of the "DC Madam," thanks to probing by ABC News, the major media saw harm for the entire Republican Party nationwide. Will Governor Spitzer become a national problem for the entire Democratic party? Or will the media suddenly keep the scandal as localized as they can make it?

NBC and MSNBC were especially aggressive in describing conservatives and Republicans "in crisis." The standout quote on the Vitter scandal (along with the Mark Foley internet-messages-to-pages scandal) came from MSNBC reporter David Shuster on August 29, 2007, who blurred the ethical embarrassments into Hurricane Katrina:

The problem, among others, is that the GOP campaigns as the party of family values and Senator Craig's bathroom bust underscores the hypocrisy. Never mind Craig and his old attacks on President Clinton....There is former Republican Congressman Mark Foley, who built his social life on male pages. Conservative pastor Ted Haggard, who had trysts with a male prostitute. Republican Senator David Vitter, who campaigned as a family man but later acknowledged encounters with a woman who police described as a prostitute. It all adds moral insult to the injuries being suffered today by the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

That morning, the Today show used the words "Conservative Crisis" on screen, as Ann Curry asked Joe Scarborough:

Well let's talk about the political fallout. First it's been a rough year for the right. Let's list them. Congressman Mark Foley, conservative pastor Ted Haggard, Senator David Vitter. All involved in scandals, accusing them of inappropriate conduct. So the question's gotta be asked, why do these kinds of scandals seem to be following Republicans, lately?

On the morning of August 30, NBC’s Matt Lauer tried to press the unethical-Republicans-en-masse line with Tom DeLay, who wasn’t accepting it:

MATT LAUER: By all accounts, these are some tough times for the Republican party. Last fall, Democrats took control of both houses of Congress, largely because of opposition to the war in Iraq. In 2006, the Republican party was also hit with distracting scandals involving Congressman Mark Foley's inappropriate e-mails to male congressional pages, and lobbyist Jack Abramoff's corruption case, that brought down several prominent Republican Congressmen. This year, the phone number of Republican senator David Vitter turned up in the records of a Washington, DC escort service, and now, recent polls show voters prefer a Democrat over a Republican by 51 to 27%, and at least one poll found the most popular choice among Republican presidential candidates is "none of the above." The question now: can any of the damage be reversed? Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay served in Congress for 22 years and knows personally how scandals can impact a party. He's also the author of a new book called No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight. Tom DeLay, Congressman, good morning.
TOM DELAY: Good morning, Matt.
LAUER: So, I went through a litany there, and maybe I should start by stepping back. We've got two members out of 49 Republican Senators in office right now embroiled in controversy. So, do we have a party embroiled in scandal or do we have two bad apples?
DELAY: Well, I hate to say this Matt, but you just showed the problem, the double-standard, and you just participated in it. You listed a whole lot of scandals that involve the Republicans, but you didn't mention one Democrat.
LAUER: But you didn't hear me. I also just said do we only have two bad apples or is there a case of an entire party embroiled in scandal?
DELAY: I think in your premise, if you had listed all the Democrats that are having problems right now, it would have been different. You see the Democrats re-elect the people with their problems. Republicans kick them out...

Today's on-screen heading throughout that interview: "Craig's Crisis: The Last Straw for the GOP?"

Lastly, Sen. Vitter quickly became a target for left-wing "zings" against Republicans. On MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Air America radio host Rachel Maddow denounced George Bush as "bizarre" and as hypocritical to oppose the toppling of Iraq's current government by terrorists after supporting the overthrow of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein: "There's almost nothing weirder than hearing George Bush, of all people, warn ominously about people who want to topple Iraq's government. It's like getting a lecture on the evils of prostitution from David Vitter. It was so, such a weird way to start the speech, and I think it was kind of a harbinger of a lot of weird assertions by him."

Keith Olbermann responded approvingly: "Rachel Maddow with the first zing of the night at half past the hour."

PS: On September 5, Bill Clinton pronounced his opinion on Larry Craig’s restroom scandal and Vitter, which ought to make his Spitzer remarks interesting:

LAUER: Can he [Craig] survive? Based on what you know about Washington and what you know about political scandals, can he survive?"
CLINTON: "Well he's legally entitled to the rest of his term. So unless-"
LAUER: "But for all intents and purposes can he survive?"
CLINTON: "Unless they vote to expel him, which they can do, that's a judgment, you know, that's something that he and the Republicans will have to work out."
LAUER: "Were, were you surprised at how quickly key Republicans pushed him overboard? People like John McCain and Hoekstra and, and Mitch McConnell and, and Mitt Romney?"
CLINTON: "Well maybe he was carrying a little of the baggage for, you know, they, they did, they decided to say nothing about Senator Vitter and then they decided to say everything about Senator Craig..."