Different party, different standards

By Steven Martinovich
web posted August 23, 1999

As it promises to do every four years, questions are once again being raised about a candidate's past private life. Thanks to Gary Hart's bimbo eruption a little more than a decade ago we are now treated every election cycle to the sight of journalists relentlessly demanding to know what hedonistic -- and possibly sinful -- pleasures a candidate may have experienced as a young person.

Occasionally it makes for fun -- if sometimes uncomfortable -- copy, like watching Bill Clinton maintaining that he didn't enjoy something he didn't inhale or Al and Tipper Gore both admitting to their pot pasts.

The idea that our political leaders might be seduced by different doors of perception or pleasures of the flesh isn't new news considering that American presidents have taken a variety of drugs and more than a few mistresses going back to the early days of Republic. Until recently it was largely ignored by the press but as Baby Boomers continue to age we will see more candidates who remember why the Summer of Love was what it was.

And so it apparently was with Texas governor George W. Bush, self-admitted party boy, former booze hound and possible cocaine user, if press reports are to be believed. And we only have press reports to believe since Bush himself has only said he hasn't done anything in twenty-five years.

To me, however, the real story isn't whether Bush did use cocaine in the 1970s and whether it affects his fitness to lead. Although reporters now regularly turn a candidate's life upside-down in the hunt for skeletons, the nature of the press inquiries into Bush's life are subtly different.

Take former Colorado senator Gary Hart. The press left his private life out of their reporting until that fateful moment in 1987 when he all but dared journalists to follow him around to catch him doing naughty things. Not too long after he was caught with Donna Rice and his presidential ambitions were all but destroyed just days after the story broke.

Or how about Bill Clinton? After reports surfaced that Hope, Arkansas' favourite son smoked marijuana while in school the press very slowly leapt to the challenge and finally got him to admit that he neither inhaled it, nor enjoyed it. He at first tried to deny it with the classic phrase, "I've never broken the laws of my country," then admitted he didn't inhale in England.

Clinton also got into trouble after Gennifer Flowers came forward with word of her affair. Initially ignored by his friends in the press, Clinton eventually admitted he made "mistakes" and would never, ever do it again. Well, we at least know that turned out to be true.

I could also get into the five people, which includes one testifying at a federal grand jury, who say Clinton has done cocaine and that little matter with Juanita Broaddrick but I trust you get my point.

Or do you?

Reports of Bush's former party lifestyle have been around as long as Junior has been in the public eye, but the tone of the investigation by the press on the matter is, as I stated earlier, subtlety different. For Hart, Clinton and a number of other Democrats caught with less than pure pasts, a specific allegation surfaced. In each accusation against Clinton, people have spoken on the record about his past.

In contrast, the press has been able to dig up precisely no one who can say that Bush has done cocaine. In this day and age if the press is unable to find one person without a ax to grind against a candidate and testify to past criminal activities, well, it plainly means none exist. That's not to say that Bush hasn't done cocaine, there is just no evidence for it despite the number of times a journalist asks the question Bush most often hears today.

And George W. Bush isn't the first Republican to face this less than ethically stringent curiosity by the press. Bob Dole was faced with rumors about marital infidelity but the press couldn't actually find anyone to say they were the other woman. Former President George Bush was hit with "October surprise" allegations despite the fact that no one came forward to actually say they saw him meet with Iranians to get the 52 hostages release delayed. Even Nancy Reagan was linked to an affair with Frank Sinatra despite the fact that no proof was offered by anyone.

It's fairly clear that the rigorous standards of journalistic investigation becomes lax when the target is a Republican, especially a popular one. Of all the allegations against Clinton -- and there have been more than a few of them -- none received any serious media attention until the stories gained a life of their own thanks to alternative media sources like Matt Drudge.

Is Bush's former lifestyle grounds for an investigation? As a journalist I have to answer the question affirmatively but I also believe the same standards should be applied to Bush as Clinton. Investigate before you ask. It's a simple rule but that apparently the liberal media forgot after leaving school.

Steve Martinovich is the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right and quite possibly the love child of H.L. Mencken, Ayn Rand and James Brown.

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