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CyberAlert -- 07/18/1996 -- Gingrich Vindicated? Not in Media

Gingrich Vindicated? Not in Media

One item today:

Secret Service agents testifying before a congressional committee on Wednesday (July 17) disclosed that 21 White House staffers used drugs, even crack. Sound familiar? In December 1994 Newt Gingrich was condemned for suggesting the White House had an illegal drug problem. But Wednesday night the networks failed to note the vindication of Gingrich or apologize for repudiating him.

Below you'll read:

1) How Gingrich's charge was received by the media in 1994 with quotes from CBS and NBC's Tim Russert.

2) Which network failed to report the drug revelations Wednesday night and which reporter actually tied the drug news to the FBI file scandal.


>> The background. Appearing on Meet the Press on December 4, 1994 incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich asserted: "I had a senior law enforcement official tell me, that in his judgment, up to a quarter of the White House staff had used drugs in the last four or five years."

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1994 media reaction: The media reacted with condemnation instead of investigation, putting the burden on Gingrich to defend his charge, not on the White House to answer it.

The day after the Meet the Press interview, on the December 5 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather announced:
"President Clinton's chief of staff today tried to fight off the latest attack by House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich. Gingrich is again accusing the President and those around him as being way outside the American mainstream, not what normal Americans are. This time, Gingrich charges White House staffers have histories of drug abuse. He gave no names or specifics." Reporter Rita Braver concluded the subsequent story: "As for what this means about future cooperation between Gingrich and the White House, Panetta today said, 'This is not the way to do business if you're serious about solving the nation's problems.' Rita Braver, CBS News, at the White House."

On his CNBC show that night (December 5) Tim Russert asked his guest, Michael Kelly of the New Yorker, a series of questions that put the burden on Gingrich for daring to raise the issue. Instead of suggesting that the media might actually investigate to find out the truth, Russert raised Gingrich's drug charge and then asked:
"Is that reckless, is that calculated?" Russert's next question: "How aggressive should the press be in saying 'what is your evidence?'"
And: "Do you at least demand from the accuser more information, more specifics?"

On CBS This Morning on December 6 Harry Smith demanded of Dick Armey: "But if you're going to make these kinds of accusations, in the words of the White House, 'false, reckless smears,' should you not be able to stand up and name names?"

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1996 Reality Check: A year and a half later Congressman Bill Clinger's House committee brings in some Secret Service agents to testify about White House security procedures. NBC Nightly News put the revelations at the top of the newscast. Lisa Myers reported July 17: "The latest allegations came not from Republicans, but from non-partisan Secret Service agents responsible for protecting the President. The agents testified that the Clinton White House overruled their concerns and insisted on giving security passes to employees who admitted using illegal drugs, even crack, some within the last year."

The CBS Evening News and CNN also aired stories, but not ABC's World News Tonight, though World News Tonight and Good Morning America in 1994 aired White House condemnations of Gingrich's charge. CBS, CNN and NBC failed to show how Wednesday's news contradicted Panetta's 1994 statement or vindicated Gingrich.

On the bright side, unlike the CBS and CNN stories, Myers tied the drug revelation into the FBI file scandal, concluding her Wednesday piece: "Today's testimony raises even more questions about why the White House improperly obtained those FBI files on hundreds of Republicans. The White House explanation, that it was worried about security, seems at odds with its attitude toward staff with a history of serious drug use."

Maybe if reporters in 1994 had been a bit more interested in learning the truth and a bit less interested in repudiating Gingrich, the public wouldn't have had to wait 18 months for Bill Clinger to do the media's job. -- Brent Baker

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