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The Great Gingrich Hype Machine, Part 2: Newtmax!

Newsmax ramped up the Gingrich-fluffing in the runup to the Republican presidential primary in its home state of Florida -- to little effect. Plus: Donald Trump heaps one final indignity on Newsmax.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/8/2012

Newsmax tried to make lemons out of lemonade. It tried to turn the debacle that was the abortive Republican presidential debate sponsored by Newsmax and hosted by Donald Trump -- which imploded when only two of the then-several candidates would commit to taking part out of wariness over Trump's own (Newsmax-hyped) presidential ambitions -- and turned into a promotional machine for one of those two candidates, Newt Gingrich.

After a pair of middling finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Newsmax's hype machine finally saw a win for Gingrich in South Carolina. Newsmax then tried to build on that momentum in the Florida primary, held 10 days later on Jan. 31.

Florida is Newsmax's home base -- Newsmax's offices are located in West Palm Beach, and it has used its "news" pages to promote several state candidates.

Newsmax started things off by trying to bury Romney's campaign. A Jan. 21 article by Paul Scicchitano quoted so-called "Democratic pollster" Doug Schoen claiming that Romney's campaign is in "dire jeopardy" due to Gingrich's win, followed by another article by Scicchitano focusing on GOP strategist Brad Blakeman claiming that Romney "suffered a severe blow in South Carolina and may not be able to recover."

Then, a Jan. 23 article by Andrew Henry declared that Romney had a "'Charlie Crist' problem" because "Romney’s chief campaign strategist and several of his most senior campaign staff were Crist’s top political advisers — the same ones who crafted Crist’s moderate, ignore-the-tea-party strategy epitomized in Crist’s famous 'hug' of President Barack Obama. That strategy led Crist, once the most popular Republican governor in the nation, to defeat." Meanwhile, Henry wrote, "Gingrich has emphasized that his campaign is surrounded by conservatives, and that the GOP leadership ranks during his tenure as House speaker were filled by conservatives as well." This, of course, is followed by an article in which Gingrich criticizes Romney over it.

A Jan. 25 article by loyal Republican shill David Patten went in a direction few fear to tread: explaining away Gingrich's ethics problems as House speaker. To do so, Patten engaged in a huge game of hair-splitting:

Associates of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are stepping forward to rebut accusations from Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney that he resigned in “disgrace” and paid an ethics “fine.”

Gingrich insisted during a candidates debate Monday that reports he was fined $300,000 for House ethics violations are inaccurate and records back up his claim the payment was not a fine.

A Newsmax examination of the House Ethics Committee report, and the record of the House debate in January 1997 as recorded in the Congressional Record, supports Gingrich’s contention that the $300,000 he paid was a “reimbursement” or “sanction” related to legal fees, but not a fine or admission of any wrongdoing.

Many media accounts continue to refer to the payment as a fine, although the official Ethics Committee report on the matter, which the House accepted in its sanction of Gingrich, clearly indicated otherwise.

That's really what Patten's entire article is all about -- insisting that the $300,000 was not a fine for a violation.

This was followed by a similar, unbylined article:

Despite ongoing allegations to the contrary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was completely cleared by the Internal Revenue Service in February 1999 of politically driven allegations that he earned money by teaching a college course that was partisan rather than educational.

That doesn't tell the whole story, however. As Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars pointed out, the IRS revoked the tax exemption of an organization that worked with GOPAC because its funds were clearly being used for partisan purposes -- then, a few years later, under the Bush administration, the IRS reversed itself after lobbying from a GOPAC official.

Newsmax also did another "exclusive interview" with Gingrich largely devoted to Obama-bashing, followed by an article by Jim Meyers on a "newly surfaced video" showing that 'no less a figure than Nancy Reagan asserted that President Ronald Reagan passed the “torch” of Reagan conservatism to Newt Gingrich — belying efforts by Mitt Romney supporters to cast Gingrich as anti-Reagan."

Newsmax then started piling up the defenses of Gingrich's conservative-ness and Reagan-ness:

There was also a Gingrich-as-victim vein, with articles such as "Conservative Establishment Gunning for Newt," "Sarah Palin: Newt 'Crucified' By Romney Allies, GOP Establishment," and "Rush: Romney Camp Behind Anti-Gingrich Stories."

Newsmax continued to hammer away at Mitt Romney. A Jan. 27 article by Andrew Henry misleadingly attacked Romney by trying to link him to Goldman Sachs, which "received over $10 billion in emergency lending and bailouts from the Federal Reserve after the 2008 financial meltdown." Henry wrote that Goldman Sachs is the "top donor" to the campaign, then states: "Goldman doesn’t contribute directly to candidates like Romney, but does so through its employees." Henry offered no evidence that Goldman contributes to Romney or any other candidate "through its employees." That sort of thing used to be illegal, and it may still be. So Henry is accusing Goldman of behavior that may be illegal.

There are other anti-Romney potshots as well:

Late on Jan. 27, Newsmax posted an article by Dave Eberhart headlined "Romney Was Manager and Board Member of Corp Guilty of Medicare Fraud," noting that Romney's Bain Capital "purchased and ran the Damon Corporation, which pled guilty to Federal conspiracy charges -- as a result of tens of millions of dollars in systemic Medicare fraud."

This was a disingenuous attack by Newsmax, considering its own hypocritical record. In the 2010 Republican primary for Florida governor, Newsmax supported Bill McCallum against Rick Scott, about whom Newsmax raised the subject of Medicare fraud conducted while Scott headed the hospital firm Columbia/HCA. But when Scott defeated McCallum, Newsmax flip-flopped and endorsed Scott in the general election and was silent about the Medicare fraud stuff.

During the last weekend before the Florida primary, Newsmax ramped up its Newt-fluffing by pouncing on Herman Cain's endorsement of Gingrich, delivering not only an article on the event itself -- proclaiming it "a welcome boost for Gingrich, who has found himself having to defend himself against a vicious onslaught of attacks from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney" -- but also scoring an interview with Cain about it. Neither article nor the interview video made any mention of Cain's puzzling "endorsement" a week earlier of "we the people."

Newsmax also touted Sarah Palin's repeated endorsement of Gingrich and her portrayal of Gingrich being "crucif[ied]" by the "party machines" and the media.

There was more Romney-bashing, of course. A Jan. 28 article complained that Romney has "strongly identified himself as a consistent conservative and Republican voter," but "a review of the facts" shows that "Romney as often gone to considerable lengths to distance himself from Republicans and conservatives." Newsmax even trotted out serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey to say that there's no difference between Romneycare and Obamacare.

Newsmax also promoted an Jan. 29 Insider Advantage poll it claimed showing that Gingrich was "surging" -- from eight points behind Romney to six points behind -- making no mention of how this result ran counter to most polls at the time showing Romney widening his lead over Gingrich to double digits.

The day before the election, Ruddy got back into the act with a Jan. 30 column criticizing Romney's "politics of division":

Even if Mitt Romney wins in Florida on Tuesday, he still may lose the presidency come November.

The old adage of “divide and conquer” may work well in war, but in politics it’s not always a smart strategy, especially in Republican primaries.

Ronald Reagan’s name has been evoked quite often in this race. The Gipper must be turning over in his grave that Mitt Romney has so badly violated his 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Um, isn't that pretty much the same thing Gingrich was doing? Ruddy either hasn't noticed or doesn't care. He's in full Gingrich-whitewashing mode: "Sure Newt has baggage, which he wholly admits to. But despite Mitt Romney’s carpet-bombing with negative ads, the truth is that Gingrich has been a staunch conservative over many decades. The same is not true for Mitt Romney."

The day's Romney-bashing was led with a piece by Martin Gould claiming that "Discrepancies between Romney’s tax returns and the financial disclosure he filed with the Federal Elections Commission when he started his run for the White House last year are raising new questions about whether he has hidden huge sums from the public."

Newsmax even attacked Romney for "refus[ing] to allocate an extra $5 a day to provide kosher meals for poor Jewish nursing-home residents" as Massachusetts governor -- a pretty blatant play targeted at Florida retirees.

Another article discounted the reality of Gingrich's slipping poll numbers, enlisting Republican strategist Ed Gillespie to insist that "the race is still too fluid to call with just hours to go before the start of regular voting."

Even on the day of the primary itself, Newsmax was engaging in pro-Newt puffery:

On top of that, David Patten hunted down "prominent Ronald Reagan expert" Paul Kengor to claim that Gingrich "is only the third GOP presidential candidate since the Barry Goldwater era who truly understands conservatism." There was even an Associated Press article mixed in with the headline "Experts Say Gingrich Moon Base Dreams Not Lunacy,"as well as a link to an Irish newspaper's story about "Newt's Confidante: Gay Gaines."

On the Romney-bashing front, there were things like "Head of Senate Military Panel Says Romney Clueless" and "NBC Poll: Romney Losing Independents After Fla." Paul Scicchitano declared in another article: "It’s official. Former Gov. Mitt Romney has edged out former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a contest of who ran the most negative campaign in a record year for negativity in Florida."

Newsmax also linked to a Los Angeles Times article under the tease "Cuban-Americans Have Grave Doubts About Romney." The word "grave" appears nowhere in the Times article.

Newsmax columnists did their part for their employer's pro-Gingrich agenda:

  • Chris Freind criticized Romney for bashing Gingrich's plan to establish a manned base on the moon: "Is that the kind of leadership America needs? Think big, and you’re out the door?"
  • Michael Reagan asserted: "Newt fights. Real Republicans need fighters, not mealy-mouthed compromisers who shrink away from any form of combat."

Meanwhile, Newsmax's longtime champion of Romney, Ronald Kessler, wrote a column praising Romney on Jan. 13 but was apparently not permitted to write anything else on Republican presidential politics before the Florida primary. In the two weeks before the primary, Kessler wrote four columns: two using Jodi Kantor's book on the Obamas to bash the president, and two on the pontifications of Reagan-era attorney general Edwin Meese.

What did all of Newsmax's Gingrich-fluffing achieve? A blowout, but not in the good way -- Romney beat Gingrich by nearly 15 points.

This seems to have motivated Newsmax not to put all its eggs in one presidential basket. Sure, there were the post-election articles designed to prop up Gingrich in the wake of the loss, such as quoting "political guru" Larry Sabato as claiming that Florida was not a "game-ender" for Gingrich’s presidential hopes. There was also the requisite Romney-bashing, such as an article pointing out that Romney's votes "cost more than three times that of his nearest rival, Newt Gingrich."

But Newsmax came to Romney's defense as well. A Feb. 1 article declared that "Sources in the mainstream media were quick to jump on Mitt Romney for saying he doesn’t care about the very poor — without placing the remark in context." But the article did not name any actual "sources in the mainstream" who were taking Romney's words out of the context -- they noted only that it is likely to be taken out of context by Romney's critics.

Finally, Kessler was let out of his cage to fluff away once more. In a column posted the morning after Romney's Florida win, Kessler proclaimed that there is "no better example" of Romney serving as a "turnaround artist" than when he "turned a failure into a success with the 2002 Winter Olympics" by turning "budget deficit of $379 million" to "a surplus of $56 million."

Unmentioned by Kessler: That surplus was due in no small part to federal subsidies. The Salt Lake City Olympics received $342 million in federal money, more than was given to the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta.

* * *

For as much fawning over Donald Trump as Newsmax has done, you'd think that would have earned Newsmax a scoop on Trump's presidential endorsement. Apparently not -- Trump completely ignored Newsmax in announcing his endorsement of Mitt Romney.

Newsmax did rush out an article on the morning of Feb. 2 to shoot down reports that Trump was going to endorse Newt Gingrich. But that came from "a senior source with the Gingrich campaign," not Trump.

Several hours after Trump's endorsement, Newsmax published an article by Martin Gould that appears to have drawn from reports by other news organizations, and no apparent contact with Trump himself.

As a final insult, Romney had refused to take part in Newsmax's planned Trump-hosted debate in December. Gingrich's willingness to do so was cited by Newsmax's Ruddy as a reason for endorsing him and going on a monthlong fluff-o-rama.

Does this mean that the slobbering love affair between Newsmax and Trump is over? What will Ronald Kessler, Trump's biggest, most slobbering cheerleader of Trump's presidential ambitions, do now?

Oh, wait, we already know the answer to that: fawn over Romney.

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