Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Newt on Today

Steve Benen continues to complain about conservatives on TV, I continue to complain about the complaint.  Here's Benen:
[W]hy is Newt Gingrich on "Today" in the first place? The pseudo-intellectual clown hasn't held public office since the '90s. He was driven from his leadership post in disgrace -- by members of his own party -- nearly 12 years ago.
Will "Today" also call on former House Speakers Jim Wright (D-Texas) and Tom Foley (D-Wash.) for their thoughts on current events? (For the record, I can't find any record of either of them appearing on "Today" at any point in the last 15 years.)
I'm not especially surprised -- "Meet the Press" had Gingrich on as a guest five times in 2009, more than any other any other political figure in the United States -- but it's frustrating, especially when his bogus claims go unchecked on the air.
Why is Newt on, and Wright and Foley aren't?  Because the Republicans want him on.   This is not a press story; it's a Republican story.

If the Republicans didn't want Newt Gingrich (or Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain, two other Benen targets) on TV representing them, it wouldn't happen. 

Now, Benen is correct that Newt should properly be seen as a disgraced clown, and he's right to highlight Newt's repetition of the thoroughly debunked -- thoroughly false -- 16K IRS agents nonsense.  But it's not as if Newt is alone on that one; it's an official GOP talking point, and whoever NBC has on to spout the official GOP talking points is going to repeat it.  And that's the real point: it is right and proper that the news networks should, in fact, have people on to spout the official talking points of both political parties.  That the GOP chooses a guy who is a total fraud to represent their point of view speaks badly of them, not of NBC.

More broadly, I still really don't understand why conservatives are so much more willing to forgive their disgraced pols than are the Democrats.  Benen is correct that Jim Wright never emerged as a pundit.  Nor did Dan Rostenkowski.  But G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson, Ollie North, Newt Gingrich, and Tom DeLay all have been treated by Republicans as respected, respectable party veterans.  Fred Malek, Bill Bennett...it's not a short list.  I could easily be missing someone, but I really am not aware of any Dem equivalent -- and it's not for a lack of Democratic pols felled by scandal.  Granted, Democrats are willing to take on former GOP miscreants who have flipped politically (thus John Dean), but there seems to be a serious divide between the parties on this one.


  1. i like your general point, and it's a nice long list.
    but Dems have Bill Clinton, an obvious adulterer before and during and ... after? his Presidency.

  2. Eliot Spitzer has or had a column on slate.com. While his profile may not be as high he seems to be heading in the same direction.

  3. The GOP "chose" Gingrich to represent their point-of-view? How? Their voters haven't elected him. He's not in a position of leadership within the party.

    In reality, the GOP didn't choose Gingrich. NBC chose him - repeatedly - to represent the GOP point-of-view, even though Gingrich is (as you admit) rightly regarded as a "disgraced clown."

    it seems to me that, even if the GOP did "choose" Gingrich to be its representative on NBC, it is still NBC's responsibility to reject all pundits who are actually "disgraced clowns" and instead find a pundit who can represent the GOP point-of-view with intelligence and credibility.

    If the Republicans didn't want Newt Gingrich (or Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain, two other Benen targets) on TV representing them, it wouldn't happen.

    So the GOP's wish is NBC's command, huh? You don't view this as a problem, apparently! I do. It's NBC's problem, as much as it is the GOP's.

  4. On Bill Clinton...well, yes, although even there compare the treatment the parties give Clinton vs. Reagan -- yes, the Dems certainly have tolerated Clinton's fooling around, but the GOP pretty much has purged their memories of Iran/Contra. And not just the illegal parts; trading arms to the Iranians wasn't exactly worthy of Rushmore.

    As far as Spitzer, I guess we'll have to see, but so far I think the Dems certainly have tolerated him a lot less than the GOP tolerates Ensign/Vitter.

  5. Great post as usual!

    I am a dissertating cultural anthropologist who writes about tea parties, ballot initiatives and public employee union, and has become obsessed with US political writing and analysis. (Yours is my favorite.)

    Thanks for opening up a bunch of new disciplinary vistas for me. Please continue about your blogging!

  6. Andrew,

    I strongly disagree with you: I don't think it's NBC's job to choose who represents the GOP. I don't think Democrats would have thought it a good idea if, say, NBC had decided that Obama shouldn't be treated as a party leader in 2005-2007 because of his past drug use.

    As far as who chooses Newt to show up on TV all the time...I strongly expect that if GOP leaders didn't want Newt to be representing them on TV, they would urge the networks to ignore him, and the networks would do so. But in fact Republicans treat Newt as if he was a distinguished party leader (he's always showing up on panels at conservative think tanks, or as a guest on Fox News and conservative talk radio), so it's reasonable of NBC to treat him like that. No, the voters didn't choose Newt -- but other Republican elites did.

  7. I don't think it's NBC's job to choose who represents the GOP.

    It absolutely is NBC's job to choose who represents the GOP point-of view on NBC shows.

    To claim otherwise means that network political shows are nothing more than propaganda outlets for the two main parties and their hand-selected talking heads.

    Maybe that is in fact the case, but normatively speaking, it's a horrible state of affairs for our democracy.

    (By the way, there are no Democratic leaders hounding network execs, pleading with them not to put Jim Wright and Tom Foley on the air. They're not on simply because NBC doesn't want them on, because they don't bring ratings like a Gingrich or a Giuliani. That's the only reason, and it has nothing to do with whether they were "chosen" to be a party representative.)

  8. Andrew,

    Just wrote another post on this, so see that (Newt on CNN).

    I think you're empirically wrong about this; NBC won't book someone to represent the GOP who the GOP don't want representing them.

    Moreover, I don't think it's correct at all to equate the networks allowing the parties to choose their own spokespeople to their becoming "propaganda outlets." The networks should allow, IMO, the party leaders to get their talking points out -- but they should also challenge them, of course. It's a mistake for NBC to allow Newt to repeat the GOP talking point about 16K new IRS agents without pointing out that it's thoroughly debunked nonsense.

    But what would really be bad for democracy is for the press to suppress the views of the out-party, or have some sort of reasonableness test for those views.


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