Media declare Gingrich GOP's "ideas man," ignore his frequent falsehoods

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

In designating Newt Gingrich the Republican Party's "ideas man" and suggesting that his ideas will rejuvenate the GOP, the media often ignore his frequent, and often egregious, falsehoods.

In recent months, media figures and reports have frequently labeled Fox News contributor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the Republican Party's "ideas man" and suggested that his ideas will rejuvenate the GOP. For instance, a March 1 New York Times Magazine feature asserted that Gingrich is "at the zenith of influence in conservative Washington" and "has always been considered a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking -- floating ideas, throughout his career." However, in touting Gingrich's ingenuity, the media often ignore Gingrich's frequent falsehoods about progressive politics and policy.

Falsehoods offered by Gingrich include:

  • During the May 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Gingrich claimed that Democrats have "had control since January of 2007. They haven't passed a law making waterboarding illegal. They haven't gone into any of these things and changed law." However, the Democratically controlled Congress did pass a bill in 2008 that would have banned the use of waterboarding, had President Bush not subsequently vetoed the measure. Gingrich further suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who according to a recently released CIA document was first briefed about harsh interrogation techniques in September 2002, could have threatened "to pass a law cutting off the money" for the techniques if she objected to them. But Democrats were not in power until January 2007; Pelosi was the ranking member of the House intelligence committee and a senior minority member of the House appropriations committee in 2002, and House minority leader from 2003 to 2006.
  • During a March 25 appearance on Fox News' Hannity, Gingrich falsely claimed that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner proposed to "take over non-bank, non-financial system assets" and that "Congress had passed the authorization in the stimulus bill" to pay bonuses to AIG executives. According to Gingrich, those policies "absolutely moves you towards a political dictatorship."
  • In a March 3 Twitter post, Gingrich wrote that his wife, Callista, "pointed out flying into [S]anta [B]arbara you can see the oil rigs off shore," and asserted, "Ironically they have had no spill since 1969." In fact, in just the few months preceding Gingrich's post, there had been at least two oil spills reported in or near the Santa Barbara Channel, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, including one spill in mid-February and another in December 2008 that required a coordinated cleanup effort by the Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), and the company responsible for the spill.
  • In a February 22 New York Times article, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote that Gingrich "sees the stimulus bill as his party's ticket to a revival in 2010, as Republicans decry what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh-mouse preservation. 'You can imagine the fun people will have with that,' he said." In fact, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to the salt marsh harvest mouse, or its San Francisco wetlands habitat, a fact that the House Republican leadership aide who reportedly originated the claim has reportedly acknowledged.
  • During the January 22 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Gingrich referred to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) initial "analysis" of the recovery package and purported that it analyzed the entire bill, stating: "Look, the Congressional Budget Office has reported that less than 10 percent of the bill will be spent the first year. Some of it would not be spent for 10 years. This is a bill -- this is not a stimulus package, this is a bigger government, more bureaucracy, more powerful politician package in the guise of a stimulus." In fact, as the initial Associated Press report on the CBO "analysis" noted, it did not take into account all aspects of the recovery plan. While the CBO write-up found that "only $26 billion out of $274 billion in infrastructure spending would be delivered into the economy by the Sept. 30 end of the budget year," it did not "cover tax cuts or efforts by Democrats to provide relief to cash-strapped state governments to help with their Medicaid bills," among other provisions.
  • On the January 19 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, referring to President Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act, Gingrich claimed that Obama was "going to be for the labor unions taking away your right to a secret-ballot vote before being forced to join a union," echoing a common distortion employed by opponents of the legislation.
  • Gingrich has repeatedly criticized Pelosi for using a military jet to travel to and from her congressional district, and has also falsely claimed that former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) "did not get a private plane" following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, following 9-11, the House sergeant-at-arms, the Defense Department, and the White House agreed that military planes should be made available to the speaker of the House for national security reasons, and Hastert was the first speaker to use one.
  • During the November 16, 2008, broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, Gingrich said that Republicans "who are about to face this question of, how do you get the economy growing again" should ask Republican governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Jon Huntsman of Utah, "[H]ow did they get to the lowest unemployment rate in their respective regions?" However, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics records at the time showed that Gingrich's claim was false. In fact, neither Utah nor Indiana had the lowest unemployment rate in its region, and several states with lower unemployment rates were governed by Democrats.
  • During the July 31, 2008, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Gingrich repeatedly mischaracterized Obama's energy policy, falsely suggesting that Obama's only "energy strategy" was to encourage people to keep the tires on their vehicles properly inflated and asserting that Obama "suggested if we all inflated our tires, that we would solve the problem."
  • On the October 10, 2006, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Gingrich falsely claimed that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) "promise[d] to raise taxes" if Democrats were to take over the House of Representatives in that year's midterm elections. In fact, as Media Matters noted, during a September 26, 2006, interview with host Neil Cavuto on Fox News' Your World, Rangel, who was in line to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats gained a majority in the House, stated that a House controlled by Democrats "would not raise taxes" and "would not roll back" Bush's tax cuts enacted by Congress and set to expire in 2010.
  • During Fox Broadcasting Co.'s January 31, 2006, special coverage of the State of the Union address, Gingrich falsely accused Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) of taking money from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and asserted that this would compromise the ability of the Democrats to charge Republicans with a "culture of corruption." As Media Matters noted, a Center for Responsive Politics breakdown of Abramoff's donations shows that Abramoff made contributions only to Republicans, not Democrats.

Touting Gingrich as an intellectual force in the GOP, the media, including the following, overlook his frequent falsehoods:

  • During the May 7 edition of CNN Newsroom, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, commented that Gingrich "still sees himself as a real leader, as a problem-solver" and that "[h]e's an ideas man."
  • On the April 12 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, HDNet global correspondent Dan Rather said of Gingrich: "Whether you like him or not like him, he is an ideas person." CNN political analyst Gloria Borger responded: "Yep."
  • An April 14 Associated Press article stated, "With Gingrich, a former college history professor, the ideas sometimes come so fast and furious that even supporters say they can feel overwhelmed by a conversation with him." The article also quoted claims by Republican strategist and former Gingrich aide Rich Galen that Gingrich is the GOP's "intellect-in-chief" and "the idea man." The article continued: "If Gingrich has his way, those ideas will spawn a movement, something akin to what Barack Obama found himself leading in 2008 as he ran to replace President Bush."
  • During the February 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews described Gingrich as "the somewhat intellectual -- you know, the commissar of the right, you know, the intellectual idea man."
  • During CNN's January 4 post-New Year's special After Party, Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody commented: "I think Newt Gingrich will be an interesting player to watch in the next year or two. He seems like the idea man. Or, at least, you know, he's positioning himself that way."
  • A November 18, 2008, Washington Times article on the contest for chairman of the Republican Party reported that Gingrich is "considered a one-man idea factory."
  • Similarly, a November 6, 2008, Washington Times article referred to Gingrich as "widely regarded as the best combination of idea man and successful insurgency leader in modern Republican history."

From the 3 p.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom on May 7:

STODDARD: I thought it was amazing. He's bringing his greatest critic -- Newt Gingrich is doing everything that he can to prepare -- everything you need to do to prepare for a run in 2012, positioning himself as the face and voice of the party, blasting Barack Obama, as you mentioned, on TV day in and day out, on his domestic policy or, "He's a reckless deficit spender," on his foreign policy, saying he's endangering Israel and his, you know, effort to engage with Iran is a fantasy, day in, day out.

So, to bring him into a conversation and say, "Let's work together," and then put him next to Al Sharpton and someone who's, you know, an effective, independent leader like Michael Bloomberg, is the perfect -- it's just the perfect way to draw Gingrich in because Gingrich still sees himself, though he's a fierce partisan, he still sees himself as a real leader, as a problem-solver. He still loves to govern, if you know -- even though he might not be so talented at it. He's an ideas man.

So, it was sort of the perfect -- I think it was really a great trio, actually, and a good idea.

From the April 12 edition of The Chris Matthews Show, syndicated by NBC:

MATTHEWS: What about just -- Dan, you were suggesting if the Republicans just bet on failure, if they just assume Barack Obama's going to be a bollocks, that something's going to go really wrong --

RATHER: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- between now and the next election, bring in somebody who seems simply credible -- you know, a could-be-president type, like Romney -- and bet on him?

RATHER: Well, or Newt Gingrich. And I know that's going to get some laughter around because he's considered yesterday's man in the Republican Party. But this we knew about Newt Gingrich: Whether you like him or not like him, he is an ideas person --

BORGER: Yep.

RATHER: -- with a good sense of history. And again, I wouldn't rule it out if the Republicans are looking for -- saying, "Look, what we need is just somebody that can be fairly steady in case things go down and we have a real opportunity the next time around." And Gingrich will have the ideas to hold what's left of the Republican coalition together.

From the April 14 Associated Press article:

With Gingrich, a former college history professor, the ideas sometimes come so fast and furious that even supporters say they can feel overwhelmed by a conversation with him.

Rich Galen, a Washington-based Republican strategist and former Gingrich aide, called him the GOP's "intellect-in-chief."

"He's always been the idea man," Galen said.

If Gingrich has his way, those ideas will spawn a movement, something akin to what Barack Obama found himself leading in 2008 as he ran to replace President Bush. There are no signs that Gingrich has such a movement building yet. But some point to his history of rallying the Republican revolt in the mid 1990s.

From the March 1 New York Times Magazine article:

Now, as Republicans on the Hill begin to awaken from a November beating that left them semiconscious, Gingrich finds himself, once again, at the zenith of influence in conservative Washington. It is a fortuitous collision of man and moment. Having ceded the agenda to a Republican president for the past eight years (and having mostly obsessed over White House scandals for much of the decade before that), Republicans now find that they have strikingly little to say that isn't entirely reactive -- or reactionary. "It was like 'The Matrix,' when Keanu Reeves wakes up and his eyes hurt because he hasn't used them," David Winston, a pollster for House Republicans, told me recently, talking about the 2006 election that relegated Republicans to the minority for the first time since 1994. "We just didn't know how to do ideas anymore." Whatever else you think of Gingrich, he has always been considered a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking -- floating ideas, throughout his career, that have ranged from giving every poor child a laptop to abolishing the entire concept of adolescence.

[...]

Another frequent recipient is Paul Ryan, a young Wisconsin congressman and Gingrich protégé known for burrowing into budget issues. Ryan told me he was opening presents with his children on Christmas when his BlackBerry buzzed with a question about the tax code. "He's a total idea factory," Ryan said. "The man will have 10 ideas in an hour. Six of them will be brilliant, two of them are in the stratosphere and two of them I'll just flat-out disagree with. And then you'll get 10 more ideas in the next hour."

From the February 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: This party includes obviously people on the foreign policy right, the so-called neoconservatives, who have been somewhat -- Richard Perle's denying the other -- there is such a thing as neoconservative. Joe the Plumber, sort of the populist, angry anti-taxer. Huckabee, the Christian right -- modified form in his case. But it is all -- and then Gingrich, the somewhat intellectual -- you know, the commissar of the right, you know, the intellectual idea man -- all coming together. Is this an electoral force or just a --

[laughter]

MATTHEWS: -- a complaint group, a complaint desk?

From the January 4 CNN post-New Year's special After Party: Where We Go From Here:

BRODY: I think Newt Gingrich will be an interesting player to watch in the next year or two. He seems like the idea man. Or, at least, you know, he's positioning himself that way. It'll be interesting to watch him.

From the November 18, 2008, Washington Times article:

Mr. Gingrich, considered a one-man idea factory who had wanted to be drafted for the top party post, would not give up his leadership of two other organizations he already heads, and that pretty much took him out of the running, interviews with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, his fellow GOP governors and several influential state GOP chairmen indicated.

From the November 6, 2008, Washington Times article:

"We are looking for energy innovation and someone who can win the argument," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, widely regarded as the best combination of idea man and successful insurgency leader in modern Republican history.

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Newt Gingrich
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