The Spectacle Blog

ABC News Double Standard With Gingrich Hit Piece

By on 1.19.12 | 9:56AM

Well, well, well.

So ABC News, according to the Drudge Report and now the Associated Press via Andrew Breitbart has had a little chat with Newt Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne who boasts she can end Newt's career with a single interview.

Drudge reports that there has been a "civil war" going on behind the scenes at ABC over whether to air the interview with Marianne Gingrich and ABC's Brian Ross before -- or after -- Saturday's tense South Carolina primary in which the former Speaker, on the heels of a hot debate performance Monday night, may well be on the verge of an upset victory.

Late word in that AP story is that ABC will go ahead with airing the report -- tonight.

I hate these stories, tending to believe someone's private life is their own. But alas, the selective behavior of the media on this score, letting their anti-conservative bias show in these stories (Newsweek trying to suppress the Clinton-Lewinsky story being a classic of the genre, not to mention the repeated suppression of JFK's White House dalliances in the day) means one thing.

An uncomfortable one thing.

If ABC News is intent on playing this game, then in an era where the mainstream media has lost their monopoly, it is perhaps time to remind all of the way ABC personnel handle these stories when they involve -- ABC News itself.

Exhibit A: The late Peter Jennings. Doubtless unmentioned in tonight's report will be radio star Don Imus's once hotly controversial talk at the 1996 White House Correspondents Dinner. If remembered today at all it is because the I-Man took some jabs at then President Clinton. What will not be mentioned tonight in the report on Gingrich's private life? This bit from Imus in that 1996 speech:

And then there's Peter Jennings, who we are told more Americans get their news from than anyone else -- and a man who freely admits that he cannot resist women. So I'm thinking, here's Peter Jennings sitting there each evening, elegant, erudite, refined. And I'm thinking, what's under his desk? I mean , besides an intern. (groans) The first place the telecommunications bill should have mandated that a v-chip be placed is in Mr. Jennings shorts. (groans)….

By the way, and this is really awful, (laughter) if you're Peter Jennings and you're telling more Americans than anyone else what's going on in the world, shouldn't you at least have had a clue that your wife was over at Richard Cohen's house? (laughter, groans, boos) She wasn't at my house!

Notice the text transcript includes the editorial note of "groans" and "boos." Why was this? This was a dinner of mainstream media journalists. It was OK for them to decide whose private life to poke into -- but certainly nowhere on the list did that include one of their own, which Peter Jennings very much was. The irreverent I-Man took time in his speech to mock the-then very much alive ABC News anchor Mr. Jennings for -- his private life. It was a huge social no-no. In spite of the fact that the Jennings reputation in the day, off-camera and certainly never discussed much less reported about on camera anywhere, was that the then three-times married anchor was your basic womanizer. In fact, Jennings was in 1996 already divorced from wife number three and the very next year would marry a fourth time. The Imus reference to an intern under Jennings' desk while he was reporting the news on camera was in reference to a gossipy tidbit that had long circulated about Jennings on-air conduct yet mysteriously was never the subject of an investigative report by ABC's Brian Ross. Powerful public figure boss with an intern under the desk? Can you imagine if, say, the public man at the time had been then-Speaker Newt Gingrich?  But it was Jennings, not Gingrich…so…the I-man had crossed a line.

Notice also the next item the I-Man joked about. Again, this reference involved something that was never investigated by ABC News. To wit, as Wikipedia delicately phrases it now:

On August 13, 1993, Jennings and Kati Marton publicly announced their separation in Newsday. The couple had previously split in 1987 for four months after Jennings found out that Marton was having an affair with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

In other words, what the I-Man said that was deeply inappropriate to the mainstream media in the room that night was to joke out loud and on camera to the country about the insider gossip of the day that Jennings's third wife had once left Jennings for, again in the words of Wikipedia, "an affair with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen."

For this offense of saying these things about the private life of ABC News anchor Jennings, Don Imus received a torrent of media criticism. Notably, a then-frequent guest on his radio show was ABC reporter Cokie Roberts. Ms. Roberts was so appalled and angered by this public discussion of Jennings' private life that she quite publicly and hotly vowed she would "never" appear on the Imus show again.

And remember, in the world of the mainstream media, the "anchor" position at a major network was seen then -- and now -- as putting the occupant of the job on an equal plane with the President of the United States. As one-time ABC News anchor Howard K. Smith is reported to have said to Jennings when Jennings was first being discussed for the job of ABC News anchor: "It's like being nominated for President. You can't turn it down."

Exhibit B of ABC News hypocrisy in this area? That would be, of course, the hiring of ex-Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos as an ABC anchor, now at Good Morning America. In his own memoir of the Clinton-era, All Too Human, Stephanopoulos openly discusses his role in trying to keep the media from running stories about Clinton's private life. "Bimbo eruption" is the term this now-ABC News star uses to describe his problems. In one case, involving a Little Rock, Arkansas woman named Connie Hamzy, Stephanopoulos describes no less than now- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as insisting "we have to destroy her story" -- with the future ABC News anchor blithely agreeing and going about the task.  There's more with Stephanopoulos and his self-admitted (well after the fact) role of dealing with stories about Clinton's private life. Much, much more. But it is doubtless going to be viewed by ABC News today, as "old news." No big deal-move along-nothing to see here kind of old news.

No, the "news" tonight will be this hit piece on Newt Gingrich's private life. Decided old news indeed. Except for two very important things that make running this hit piece 72 hours before the South Carolina primary a necessity for ABC News.

1. Newt Gingrich is a conservative.

2. Newt Gingrich is not an anchor for ABC News.

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