ABC News' The Note predicted that prior to the midterm elections, the "(liberal) Old Media" will "[g]lowingly profile" House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi but “fail to describe her as 'ultra liberal' or 'an extreme liberal,' which would mirror the way [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich was painted twelve years ago.” But a Media Matters examination of coverage found that in 1994, Gingrich was treated in a similar manner to the way Pelosi is treated now.
The October 23 edition of ABC News' political newsletter The Note predicted that in the two weeks leading up to the November midterm elections, the "(liberal) Old Media" will "[g]lowingly profile" House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), but “fail to describe her as 'ultra liberal' or 'an extreme liberal,' which would mirror the way [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich [R-GA] was painted twelve years ago.” But while The Note suggested a double standard on the part of major news outlets, a Media Matters for America survey of the respective coverage of then-House Minority Leader Gingrich in 1994 and Pelosi in 2006 found no significant disparity in the media's treatment of each.
Coverage of Pelosi
The reporting on Pelosi over the past two months undermines The Note's prediction that media will refrain from identifying her as a liberal in the two weeks prior to Election Day. Indeed, an examination* of the coverage since September 1 -- which has included several prominent profiles of the Democratic leader -- found numerous references to Pelosi as “unabashedly liberal” and one of the “more liberal Democrats” :
- A profile in the September 4 issue of Time, referred to Pelosi's “leftward tilt” and stated that, following her ascendancy to minority leader in 2002, “many moderate Democrats castigated [her] as an out-of-touch liberal who would take the party perilously to the left.” The article further reported, “Once in Congress, she was embraced especially by liberal Democrats. She opposed the Gulf War and in a 1996 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle said, 'I pride myself in being called a liberal' and 'I don't consider myself a moderate' ” .
- On the September 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer referred to Pelosi as one “of the more liberal Democrats.”
- An October 6 Associated Press article reported that Pelosi's “base is about as liberal as it gets -- San Francisco.”
- A profile of Pelosi in the October 23 issue of Newsweek described her as "unabashedly liberal." The article went on to note that she has led “opposition to the Iraq war on the House floor. She's pushed hard to roll back Bush's tax cuts. She is an ardent defender of abortion rights -- differing with members of her conservative Roman Catholic family over the subject. She's had no compunction about playing hardball politics -- going after troubled GOP counterpart Tom DeLay with a ferocity reminiscent of DeLay himself.”
Moreover, news outlets have frequently reported Republicans' ongoing efforts to cast Pelosi as an extreme liberal:
- A September 14 Associated Press article quoted a National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) spokesperson describing Pelosi as a “partisan, obstructionist San Francisco liberal.”
- A September 23 Associated Press article cited campaign materials published by the Republican National Committee that “cast Pelosi as a tax-raising, soft-on-terrorism, extreme-on-abortion, questionable-on-ethics liberal who wants the nation to 'cut-and-run' from Iraq and would focus on 'launching bitter partisan investigations' of the Bush administration, including possible impeachment hearings.”
- A September 29 USA Today article reported that Rep. Max Burns (R-GA) “derides [Pelosi] as a 'San Francisco liberal.'”
- A September 29 Washington Post article noted Republicans' use of Pelosi in television advertising. The Post reported: “The National Republican Congressional Committee, for instance, is hitting Democrat Brad Ellsworth -- an antiabortion and anti-gun-control candidate in Indiana's 8th District -- for helping support an 'extreme liberal.'”
- An October 20 Associated Press article quoted a separate line from the NRCC ad targeting Ellsworth: “Will Brad Ellsworth vote for liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House? Ellsworth has taken money from her PAC. ... Pelosi and other Democrats want to raise your taxes, cut and run in Iraq and give amnesty to illegal immigrants.”
- On the October 20 edition of NBC's Today, national correspondent Jamie Gangel noted that critics of Pelosi charge “she is out of touch and short on substance. And Republicans love to run against her, calling Pelosi an unabashed liberal from San Francisco.”
- An October 21 Los Angeles Times profile of Pelosi reported that “Republican ad campaigns cast her as a caricature of liberal excess; depicted with eyes bulging and mouth agape, she looks like she's about to pop a blood vessel or bite somebody.”
- An October 21 Washington Post profile reported: “Throughout the campaign, Republicans have sought to scare voters by portraying Pelosi as a liberal extremist who would be weak on national security and prone to raises taxes if her party were back in control.”
- An article in the October 30 issue of U.S. News & World Report noted that “Republicans have been trying to rally their base by warning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who would most likely become speaker of the House, is too liberal. ... If Democrats take the House, they say, expect a leftist agenda of more spending, higher taxes, and maybe even an attempt at impeaching President Bush.”
Coverage of Gingrich
In the two months prior to the 1994 midterm elections, the media similarly noted Gingrich's conservatism -- though perhaps not as frequently as in their coverage of Pelosi. While an examination** of the coverage of Gingrich between September 1 and Election Day did not identify any instances in which he was specifically labeled “ultra-conservative” or an “extreme conservative” -- as The Note suggested he had been -- the media did in several cases characterize him or report others characterizing him as right-wing:
- A September 2, 1994, New York Times article described him as a "conservative firebrand."
- A September 1, 1994, Los Angeles Times article reported that Gingrich had been "[a] revolutionary from the day he entered the House 15 years ago."
- A September 26, 1994, Los Angeles Times column by Ronald Brownstein asserted that one of the flaws in “The Contract with America” -- the Republican platform spearheaded by Gingrich during the 1994 campaign - “is that it takes positions too conservative in some areas (such as welfare reform) for the three dozen or so House Republican moderates. That could threaten Gingrich's capacity to move these ideas even through a GOP-controlled House.”
- An October 24, 1994, New York Times article described Gingrich as "the more conservative Republican" in comparison to then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
- On the October 27, 1994, edition of ABC's World News Tonight, then-ABC political analyst Jeff Greenfield described Gingrich as "far more conservative than retiring Republican chief Bob Michel."
- An article in the November 7, 1994, issue of Time reported: “All his political life, Gingrich has been perfecting his ability to disrupt the majority and move the opposition into an increasingly radical position on the right.
As with Pelosi, news outlets also quoted Democrats and progressives characterizing Gingrich as ” radical" or “extreme” :
- An October 5, 1994, Associated Press article reported that Ben Jones, Gingrich's Democratic challenger in 1994, “tries to portray Gingrich as the well-funded tool of 'a far-right-wing cabal.' ”
- An October 17, 1994, Associated Press article reported that then-Vice President Al Gore described Gingrich and other Republican supporters of the “Contract with America” as advocating "a radical right-wing U turn."
- An October 17, 1994, Associated Press article reported that “Democrats say they think Gingrich has gone too far and has exposed himself as an extreme partisan more concerned with settling political scores than with advancing legislation the country needs.”
- An October 21, 1994, Washington Post article quoted a statement in which American Federation of Government Employees president John Sturdivant warned his members, “Do you want radical conservatives such as Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) or Sen. Robert 'Mr. Filibuster' Dole (R-Kan.) controlling the ... next Congress?”
- An October 29, 1994, Associated Press article reported that “Democrats have sought to cast the Georgia conservative as a bomb-throwing ideologue, in hopes it will scare more Democrats into turning out to vote.”
* A Nexis search between September 1, 2006, and October 23, 2006, of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN using the following terms “Pelosi w/50 (liberal or left wing or far left or radical or extreme).”
** A Nexis search between September 1, 1994, and November 8, 1994, of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN using the following terms “Gingrich w/50 (conservative or right wing or far right or radical or extreme).” Neither this search nor the 2006 search included Fox News or MSNBC, since those channels did not exist in 1994.