The Real MSM Piles onto DeLay

Pundits of a certain stripe love to prattle on about the liberal bias of the “mainstream media,” an engrained mindset that drives them to gang up on Republican politicians such as House Leader Tom DeLay. This week, once again, DeLay was back at the center of media-generated controversy. But this time, he was getting battered by that other mainstream media, which we identified last February.

Specifically, that would be the scribes over at the Washington Times, the National Review, the American Spectator, and the Wall Street Journal.

The controversy kicked off last week when DeLay met with a group of reporters for a weekly press briefing. While discussing how the feds planned to pay for the ballooning cost of the hurricane reconstruction, DeLay noted that the money would have to be borrowed, not offset by spending cuts.

“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it,” DeLay reportedly said. “But nobody has been able to come up with any yet.”

“[A]fter 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared [spending] down pretty good,” he later added.

Even DeLay’s natural allies in the press couldn’t quite swallow that whopper. The next morning, the Washington Times seized onto DeLay’s comment. In an article titled, “DeLay declares ‘victory’ in war on budget fat,” the Times surrounded DeLay’s off-the-cuff remark with critical reactions from other conservatives. “This is hardly a well-oiled machine,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. “There’s a lot of fat to trim…I wonder if we’ve been serving in the same Congress.”

Overall, the article read like a carefully executed set-up, as though the two bylined reporters were placing DeLay’s head on a baseball tee. Yesterday, the same paper sent out a slugger, in the person of John Berthoud, President of the National Taxpayers Union and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, writing on its op-ed page.

“House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s remarks…are a clear sign that he fails to grasp the gravity of the nation’s fiscal situation and just how culpable he and his fellow Republicans are for gaping federal deficits,” wrote Berthoud.

“The budget has certainly not been “pared down” by the Republicans; rather, Republicans have dramatically increased the size of government to an extent not seen since Richard Nixon was in the White House,” continued Berthoud. “Though it may be the case that Democrats would like to spend even more money than Republicans do, the fact is that it is hard to imagine government growing much faster under House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and company than it is now.”


Other members of the media, writing in publications not exactly known for their lefty credentials, were hardly less rough.

“When House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said there was no more fat to cut from the federal budget, he proved that Republicans are as drunk on federal budget booze as the Dems ever were,” Jed Babbin, a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush Administration, wrote in the American Spectator. He continued, “(Dear Mr. DeLay: You gotta be kidding me, fella. Haven’t you heard of NPR, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the United Nations? Call me, and I’ll give you a long list of federal and globaloney pestilences that could be cut to save many billions.)”

An article in the Wall Street Journal about conservatives who were upset at potential spending increases related to the hurricane noted that DeLay was “taking hits” from fellow Republicans. The story went on to quote from a post on the Heritage Foundation’s Web Site. “This comes as quite a surprise to most Americans,” budget analyst Brian Riedl wrote of DeLay’s comments.

Elsewhere, a writer for the National Review’s Web Site warned conservative bloggers not to rush to DeLay’s defense. “Perhaps [it] will offer a useful reminder to conservatives that while they may be aligned with Republican Congressional politicians, Republican Congressional politicians are just that — politicians first,” wrote John Podhoretz in the National Review Online. “There is too often a rush on to defend any and every GOP pol by conservative bloggers and e-mailers on the grounds that if they’re being attacked by the MSM, they’re victims of injustice. Sometimes, though, they’re just…indefensible.”

Earlier this year, when DeLay was sustaining a prior bout of media beatings, it was Mr. Counterintuitive, Michael Kinsley, who jumped to his defense, in a lukewarm sort of way.

“You can’t entirely blame Tom DeLay for being annoyed and feeling abused,” wrote Kinsley in the Los Angeles Times in April. “He is trapped in a Washington Kabuki drama not of his own devising…DeLay isn’t entirely paranoid in thinking that the press is out to get him, though this is less because of any liberal bias than because (a) he’s a smug and preening s.o.b., or at least he has chosen that public image; (b) he’s the most powerful person in Congress — the media helped Newt Gingrich bring down House Speaker Jim Wright, too; and (c) he’s down and wounded, so naturally it’s the moment to pile on.

We would add to that list, reason (d) — with Bush’s announcement of a massive new federal spending program to pile atop already-skyrocketing Federal deficits, and the specter of tax increases haunting the horizon ahead, some Republican was due for a thorough spanking. Enter the reliable Speaker, foot-in-mouth.

For whatever reason, it’s good to see the real mainstream media — in a nation in which political and cultural conservatives control the White House, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, that would be the avidly partisan right-wing press – come out from behind the curtain and join the chase.

Felix Gillette

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.