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The Tabloid Double Standard

The ConWeb bashes the National Enquirer when it reports salacious claims against conservatives, but treats it as gospel when it reports salacious claims against liberals.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/21/2008

Brent Baker wrote in a June 2000 Media Research Center CyberAlert: "CyberAlert usually skips, actually, always has skipped over National Enquirer stories. But I came across one too good to ignore. And since it is accompanied by pictures, it has the added advantage of appearing to be accurate."

What was this story that Baker found so interesting? Matt Lauer and Bryant Gumbel’s Wild Night with Drag Queens."

That, in a nutshell, is the ConWeb's attitude toward supermarket tabloids.

The ConWeb loves to denounce salacious news about Republicans as worthy of only the tabloids, if that, while salacious news about Democrats is always considered to be front-page news in real newspapers. (Baker added about the drag-queen link to longtime MRC nemeses Gumbel and Lauer: "The June 13 'double issue' costs $2.69 and it’s definitely worth it just to see these photos. Or, you should at least go to your local grocery store and take a peek.")

For instance, earlier this year, the MRC's Brent Bozell denounced a New York Times article noting aides to John McCain expressing concern that McCain's closeness to a lobbyist had the appearance of an affair as "rumor and gossip, fit to print only for the likes of the National Enquirer." Yet posters at the MRC's NewsBusters blog were demanding that the mainstream media print unverified rumors about an affair involving Democrat John Edwards that surfaced in, yes, the National Enquirer long before the former presidential candidate admitted it on Aug. 8.

MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham, who huffed back in February that "The 'news' alleging adultery against McCain is not 'fit to print,'" declared in a July 24 post that the Enquirer's not-yet-proven adultery charges against Edwards were quite fit to print:

The double-standard here clearly looks partisan -- Edwards vs [Larry] Craig, or Mark Foley. There's also another standard that strangely kicks in. Trivial sexual matters like toe-tapping and scuzzy Internet messaging are more likely to get coverage than charges that raise more serious questions like cheating on a dying wife (or charges of raping a political supporter, as in the Juanita Broaddrick charges). Reporters laughed and joked about Craig and Foley. They're not laughing when the shoe is on the foot of their favorites.

Actually, the double standard is Graham's. In portraying Edwards and Craig as equivalent scandals, he was comparing rumors that (at the time of Graham's post) everyone involved was denying and lacked hard evidence against an actual guilty plea in court to an actual criminal charge.

Elsewhere at NewsBusters, Dave Pierre howled on July 26 that "the Los Angeles Times has banned its bloggers from writing about the reported affair between Sen. John Edwards and a blonde named Rielle Hunter. And P.J. Gladnick was concerned that Wikipedia refuses "to allow their John Edwards entry to be updated with mention of the alleged scandal which was reported in the National Enquirer with many of the details confirmed by Fox News." The only problem: The only thing Fox News had confirmed was that one person making the affair allegations was a hotel guard -- not the affair itself.

Gladnick went on to assert:

So far the only cracks in the MSM wall of silence on this matter have come only in the form of opinion columns. However, it will be increasingly difficult in the days to come for the MSM to refrain from reporting on this. Unlike the days before the Web, such a story cannot remain permanently on ice. There are just too many sources already covering it and for the MSM to refrain from reporting on this scandal just makes them look even more foolish than they already are.

Never mind, of course, that at this point there was no actual non-tabloid verification that any of this actually took place.

Even after the affair was verified -- and MRC employees like Gladnick were feeling quite smug about their prescience in promoting the scandal -- The MRC still wasn't done complaining. In his Aug. 12 column, MRC chief Brent Bozell went a remarkable run of misstatements while ranting against the media for not taking a supermarket tabloid's claims about John Edwards' affair at face value, as well as purported disparate treatment of Republican scandals, highlighted below:

Ask yourself: what did Rev. Ted Haggard's use of drugs and male prostitutes in Colorado have to do with the national Republican Party?

Plug in "ted haggard republican" into Google, and the first non-Wikipedia hit is an article from the British newspaper the Guardian claiming that "The Republican party today was assessing the potential political fallout" from the Haggard scandal." This is followed by a satirical article from The Onion claiming that Haggard "revealed Wednesday that he was repeatedly molested by an unnamed Republican congressman in the late 1990s," adding, "Authorities have not acted on Haggard's allegations, saying that Republicans are often accused of wrongdoings simply because so many of them lead secret gay or criminal lifestyles." The only other article from a mainstream news organization, real or otherwise, on the first page of Google's results is a Rocky Mountain News article noting that Haggard has "direct access to President Bush," adding that "Republicans -- who have leaned enormously on the vote of conservative Christians in recent years -- already reeling from a series of congressional scandals." That would seem to answer Bozell's question.

Or Mark Foley's dirty Internet messages to congressional pages?

The New York Times can answer that one: "Top House Republicans knew for months about e-mail traffic between Representative Mark Foley and a former teenage page, but kept the matter secret and allowed Mr. Foley to remain head of a Congressional caucus on children’s issues."

What did Larry Craig's shoe placement in an airport bathroom in 2007 have to do with the Republican Party as a whole? The media treated that story as a much larger scoop than John Edwards cheating on the wife dying of cancer.

As noted above, the Craig case featured an on-the-record guilty plea of a sitting congressman. Further, Edwards' affair is reported to have occurred in 2006; Elizabeth Edwards' recurrence of breast cancer, which she may or may not be "dying" from, was revealed in March 2007.

[T]he very same media that almost immediately spread unproven trash on John McCain's alleged "romantic" relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman because the source was the allegedly professional New York Times now remained as quiet as a cabin full of Carthusian monks.

But the Times never definitively claimed McCain and Iseman had an affair; rather, the article noted that "Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself" and that "to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity." That speaks to questions of judgment that Bozell was content to ignore in favor of screaming that the Times was acting like the Enquirer.

The MRC wasn't the only ConWeb outlet exhibiting a double standard over the Edwards story. Newsmax's James Hirsen used his July 28 column to go into concern-troll mode:

This is a man who ran as a serious candidate for leader of the free world and whose wife is bravely battling cancer. Still, the mainstream media for the most part have remained mum.


Is this the two Americas Edwards was talking about — one whose residents recklessly play around but don’t get busted, another whose residents get pummeled in the media for the same activities but whose reputations are left at death’s door?

Actually, Hirsen is the one who wants to make sure Edwards' reputation is "left at death’s door." Again, this was before Edwards admitted to the deed and it was confined to the Enquirer.

This is the same Newsmax, by the way, that used to claim that the Enquirer was targeting Republicans because the head of an investment group that owns the tabloid was once an official in the Clinton administration.

"The tabloids were bought out in recent years by a partnership headed by Clinton confidant and one-time Whitewater figure Roger Altman," a July 2000 Newsmax article complained. Yet Newsmax had no problem citing tabloids as the source of unsubstantiated claims that Bill Clinton fathered a "love child," as ConWebWatch documented -- or happily reprinting other tabloid-sourced rumors of Clinton affairs. Newsmax editor Christopher Ruddy even credited his false story that the Clintons were selling their Chappaqua, N.Y., house in December 2000 to anonymous sources "at some of America's most notorious supermarket tabloids."

When the Enquirer broke the story in 2003 of Rush Limbaugh's addiction to painkillers and the questionable means he used to acquire them, Newsmax sniffed that "The Enquirer's credibility has a mixed record" -- yet a year later promoted a memoir by former Enquirer editor Iain Calder.

Newsmax's Phil Brennan, author of that fluff piece on Calder (and a former Enquirer employee), offered a hagiographic treatment of the paper his employer selectively likes in an Aug. 12 column attacking the New York Times: "The Times, like all the rest of the rapidly declining MSM, despises the Enquirer, Fox News, bloggers and the alternative media in general because they have all but demolished the paper curtain that hid anything damaging to the left wing which dominates the old media." Brennan wouldn't have been so complementary if Edwards had been a Republican.

Accuracy in Media joined the double standard parade as well. An Aug. 11 blog post by Don Irvine defended the honor of the Enquirer over the Edwards affair. After quoting New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt saying that the Enquirer issued "one sensational report after another" and noting that the Times "did not want to regurgitate the Enquirer’s reporting without verifying it," Irvine added: "Note the condescending attitude of Hoyt by equating the Enquirer with the gutter." (He then declares that "I am no fan of the Enquirer.") An Aug. 15 column by cliff Kincaid drew a parallel to Jerome Corsi's factually challenged attack book on Barack Obama: "At this point, it is clear that Corsi is to Obama what the National Enquirer is to admitted adulterer and liar John Edwards. The Enquirer exposed Edwards secret life when the rest of the media were refusing to investigate the candidate and making fun of the Enquirer."

But AIM had a much different view when the Enquirer and sister tabloids were repeating a claim that President Bush was having an affair with Condoleezza Rice and "shocking information about how the Bush Administration has failed to respond to terrorist threats." A June 2006 AIM column by Cliff Kincaid asserted:

While no conclusions can be made at this point about the politics involved with the latest attack on Bush, it should be noted that one of the main financial sponsors of [Enquirer owner] American Media, Inc. is Evercore Partners, an investment firm whose chairman is former Clinton Administration Treasury official Roger C. Altman.

So how does ownership of the Enquirer by a former Clinton crony figure into its reporting on Edwards' affair? Irvine and Kincaid don't say.

WorldNetDaily was also quick to hop on the scandal train, promoting a claim that Edwards was receiving a "Father of the Year" award "round the time his alleged 'love child' Frances Quinn Hunter was conceived."

But it too looked askance at the Enquirer when conservatives were targeted. In an October 2003 column defending Limbaugh, Joseph Farah, like Newsmax and AIM, played the secret-Clinton-machine card:

I don't think I need to remind you who is behind the National Enquirer. I don't think I need to tell you how politically motivated this sensational story about drug abuse is. But I will anyway.

Remember how the National Enquirer rushed to the defense of Bill Clinton when he was accused of rape. Don't forget the tabloid's attorney is none other than David Kendall, Bill Clinton's own legal counsel.

That particular complaint was linked to a March 1999 Farah column grumbling that the Enquirer was "proclaiming [Juanita] Broaddrick a liar" by reporting that the sexual assault Broaddrick accused Bill Clinton of was actually consensual. "At least the magazine didn't claim it was Clinton's evil twin or that aliens impersonating the young politician were responsible for the crime," Farah snarled.

Yet when a Democrat is on the receiving end of the Enquirer's salacious reporting, the tabloid is suddenly trustworthy.

It's the same old double standard -- the ConWeb is disturbed by tabloid sleaze only when it's about Republicans.

A postscript: While the ConWeb was feting the Enquirer for the Edwards story, the Enquirer was settling a lawsuit over allegations of a another love child, this time purportedly belonging to Sen. Ted Kennedy and a woman named Caroline Bilodeau-Allen. According to The Smoking Gun, the settlement "included a significant payment to Bilodeau-Allen, who charged that the Enquirer defamed her."

No ConWeb outlet reported on this -- they were too busy gossiping about Edwards.

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