Conservative media figures on Fox News have portrayed allegations of ethical misconduct by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) as a conspiracy by the "liberal media" to aid Democrats, echoing DeLay's own efforts to defend himself. The most recent revelations concern trips to Moscow, London, and South Korea -- apparently funded by lobbyists attempting to influence congressional business -- in 1997, 2000, and 2001, respectively; and revelations that DeLay's political action and campaign committees have paid his wife and daughter $500,000 since 2001.
Notwithstanding this effort on the part of DeLay's defenders to cast these accusations as a partisan smear campaign, conservative media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly demonstrate that some conservatives agree that DeLay's alleged conduct raises serious ethical questions. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks has criticized DeLay staff members and the lobbyist linked to DeLay's foreign trips. A poll of GOP "insiders" also indicates that they increasingly view DeLay as a political liability. Finally, the Congressional Ethics Coalition, a group of organizations that have been highly critical of DeLay, includes the conservative legal organization Judicial Watch and the Campaign Legal Center, whose president, Trevor Potter, is a Republican and served in the George H.W. Bush administration.
The Beltway wisdom is right. Mr. DeLay does have odor issues. Increasingly, he smells just like the Beltway itself. ... Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits.
Similarly, on the April 6 edition of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly accused DeLay of "exploit[ing] the system":
O'REILLY: All right, how about this Tom DeLay? Paying his wife and daughter $500,000? Wow! What a guy! Congressman from Texas. Very powerful in the House of Representatives, obviously. Got some 'splainin' to do, Tom. ... you Republicans out there, you guys gotta obey the rules. And dancing around the rules, just because you didn't break 'em -- still, a half-million dollars to your wife and daughter -- since 2001 is it? Whoa! So anyway, not a good day for Tom DeLay -- that rhymes. Now, I can't understand guys like DeLay who want to exploit the system.
In a March 22 op-ed in which he condemned the "Masters of Sleaze" led by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who took part in in DeLay's Moscow and London trips, the Times' Brooks highlighted the corruption of several former members of DeLay's staff:
Ed Buckham, Tom DeLay's former chief of staff, helped run the U.S. Family Network, which supported the American family by accepting large donations and leasing skyboxes at the MCI Center, according to Roll Call. Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former spokesman, organized a think tank called the American International Center, located in a house in Rehoboth Beach, Del., which was occupied, according to Andrew Ferguson's devastating compendium in The Weekly Standard, by a former "lifeguard of the year" and a former yoga instructor.
Finally, as the Los Angeles Times reported on April 3, a new poll indicates that Republican "insiders" may have begun to turn on DeLay in light of the recent allegations: "A new poll by the National Journal magazine of GOP insiders -- dozens of veteran campaign strategists -- found a split opinion on whether DeLay was an asset or liability to the party. Twenty rated him either a major or minor asset, but 21 termed him either a major or minor liability."
Nonetheless, other than O'Reilly, conservatives on Fox News have portrayed the charges as partisan attacks by the liberal media:
Special Report with Brit Hume
On the April 6 edition of Special Report, host Hume teased an upcoming story on DeLay by suggesting that his troubles were an invention of "the press" but that "the facts" would lay suspicion to rest:
HUME: Next on Special Report: President Bush, joined by his two immediate predecessors, pays his personal respects to the late John Paul at the Vatican. ... Here in Washington, the press is after Tom DeLay again, but wait 'til you hear the facts.
Later in the show, Hume introduced the story itself by blaming the "mainstream media" for the renewed focus on DeLay:
HUME: And speaking of Tom DeLay, the mainstream media were out after him again today, focusing on alleged ethical lapses by the Texas Republican. They suggest -- these reports, among other allegations -- that he violated House rules in a privately financed trip to Moscow. Fox News correspondent Major Garrett examines the charges.
The Big Story with John Gibson
On the April 6 edition of Big Story with John Gibson, host John Gibson delivered a teaser similar to Hume's: "The liberal media is hammering 'The Hammer' -- Tom DeLay under a microscope and under the gun. Is this simply a media hit job?" Gibson invited conservative National Review editor Rich Lowry to discuss the new revelations (doubtless to ensure a "fair and balanced" treatment.) Gibson asked Lowry if it is "fair to say that the liberal media is out to get Tom DeLay" and the allegations against DeLay are "A vast left-wing conspiracy." Lowry asserted: "Part of it is that a lot of journalists are liberals and they don't like Tom DeLay or his politics." Even the on-screen text during the segment featured phrases such as "Is the liberal media out to get Tom DeLay?" and "Feeding frenzy?"
Hannity & Colmes
On the April 6 edition of Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity described the most recent charges against DeLay as "liberal allegations" and asked: "Is he the target of a smear campaign?" Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) also characterized the allegations against DeLay as partisan: "I think the left has a way of vigorously imposing political correctness, and they viciously punish anyone that doesn't comply. We all know that Tom DeLay is not one that -- that is going to comply." Watts later suggested that the charges against DeLay are likely "frivolous": "I think you usually find ... on the Republican and the Democratic side, at the end of the day, probably 90 percent of the ethics complaints ... are frivolous."