DeLaying the StoryBY Howie Kurtz, Washington Post
Thursday, Mar 17, 2005
An important development in the Tom DeLay saga took place Wednesday night.
The story was actually covered by two of the nightly newscasts.
Until Bob Schieffer's "CBS Evening News" and Brian Williams's "NBC Nightly News" belatedly decided to weigh in, the various investigations of the House majority leader were strictly a print and, to a lesser degree, cable story, which meant that, for millions of Americans, it didn't really exist.
Why have the networks shied away the hammering the Hammer until now? The allegations, of questionable fundraising and lobbyist-financed trips, are complicated. No great visuals, either.
In fact, DeLay has contributed to the lack of visuals by refusing to address the allegations on camera. When he met with reporters the other day, it was pen and pad only. When Lesley Stahl did a "60 Minutes" piece on DeLay's problems, he walked away from her as she surprised him with a camera crew.
Some of the stories have emanated from a Texas prosecutor's probe of three DeLay associates. The Hammer, you may recall, was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee, but the panel is currently paralyzed by Democratic objections to GOP rule changes.
At his session with scribes this week, DeLay accused his critics of using "fiction" against him and ripped The Washington Post. Said DeLay: "'Through implication and innuendo, not facts, The Post attempted to lead readers to the conclusion that, one, I was somehow aware of how the National Center for Public Policy Research funded a trip they invited me on, organized and paid for." He said that the article "implied that because of that trip, I cast a vote against a particular bill."
The story that drew the Texas congressman's ire began: "An Indian tribe and a gambling services company made donations to a Washington public policy group that covered most of the cost of a $70,000 trip to Britain by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), his wife, two aides and two lobbyists in mid-2000, two months before DeLay helped kill legislation opposed by the tribe and the company."
The Post has also reported that "a delegation of Republican House members including Majority Leader Tom DeLay accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea in 2001 from a registered foreign agent despite House rules that bar the acceptance of travel expenses from foreign agents."
The Los Angeles Times reported on DeLay's ties to lobbyist-under-investigation Jack Abramoff and a trip to Scotland: "A group of congressional figures has joined House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) under an ethics cloud stemming from foreign golf junkets arranged by a lobbyist facing influence-peddling investigations."
What's been the impact? The New York Times says "the lawmakers who are the underpinning of Mr. DeLay's power show no public sign of backing away from a man who has been a chief architect of their political and policy successes." The L.A. Times says "he has been forced, most recently on Tuesday, to reassure jittery Republicans that he remains more of a political asset to them than a liability." The Post observed that "revelations last week about his overseas travel and ties to lobbyists under investigation have emboldened Democrats and provoked worry among Republicans."
So how did the networks play the story?
"If Tom DeLay is indicted here, he'd would be required under House Republican rules to step down as majority leader," Chip Reid reported from Texas on NBC.
"My bet is that DeLay will survive this unless, of course, that Texas prosecutor decides to indict him," John Roberts said on CBS. And again last night: "He is not out of the woods yet."
The subject came up at Bush's news conference yesterday. "President Bush expressed crucial support on Wednesday for Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who is facing growing inquiries here and his home state, Texas, over accusations of illegal fund-raising and improper ties to lobbyists," says the New York Times. 'I have confidence in Tom DeLay's leadership and I have confidence in Tom DeLay,' Mr. Bush said."