Air Pelosi vs. Air Sununu: Not Even Close In The Post

When the Air Pelosi brouhaha arose in the last few weeks, the first story that came to my bias-obsessed brain was the Air Sununu scandal in 1991, a crusade led by The Washington Post. The White House chief of staff John Sununu (father of the current senator) drew great controversy for his use of government jets and then, a government limo trip to a stamp auction. Comparison to other scandals, including congressional travel, came in our newsletter MediaWatch. Consider the comparison of the Post's investigative vigor:

Air Pelosi, 2007: One story on A-15, headlined "Pelosi Catches Nonstop Flights Home," a header designed for yawns, 272 words.

Air Sununu, 1991: 25 stories in 68 days (April 21-June 27), eleven on Page 1.

From an old file of mine, the raw data:

June 27: "Sununu Reportedly Used Federal Guards on Trips," Page A11.

June 26: "Sununu Sees Vendetta As Source of Troubles: GOP Insiders, Liberal News Media Blamed," Page A5.

June 25: front page center photo with headline: "Intends to Remain in Job." News story on A7.

June 24: "Sununu Stays, Bush Indicates: President Gives Aide Thumbs Up." Small column on page A5.

June 23: "Sununu Concedes Travel Mistakes: Aide Regrets 'Appearance of Impropriety.'" Top right on page 1, continues to page A6.

June 22: "Sununu Travel Rules Tightened: Probe Finds Counsel Was Misinformed." Top right on page 1, continues to pages A6 and A7.

June 21: No news story. (Haynes Johnson column on A2).

June 20: "President Chides Sununu: Job Safe Despite Ethical 'Appearance Problem'." Bottom half left, page 1. Continues to A6.

June 19: "Sununu Trip Said to Anger Bush: President Reportedly Sought Advice on Flap Over Use of Limousine." Top right, page 1. Continues to A4.

June 18: "Sununu's Trip Lawful, White House Aides Say: 'Doing Official Business' When in the Car." Page A4.

June 17: "Chief of Staff Defends N.Y. Limousine Trip: Phone Link Said to Serve 'National Interest'." Page A4.

June 16: "Sununu Uses Official Car To Attend Stamp Auction." Page A11.

May 31: "Sununu Took Eight Months To Repay Some Travel Costs: Bills Sent Promptly, White House Aides Say." Page A1, bottom left. Continues to A16.

May 16: "A Sununu Sing-Along: A Sampling of Lampoons Directed at White House Chief of Staff." Federal Page, A17.

May 11: "Figures Show Sununus on Tight Budget: Military Jets May Have Made Some Trips Affordable for Bush Aide."  Front page, exact middle. Continues to half-page on A12.

May 10: "White House Strips Sununu of Travel Authority." Entire top of front page. Continues to more than half a page with two sidebars, A14.

May 3: "Review of Sununu's Travel Widens: White House Lawyer to Assess Propriety of 70 Trips on Military Jets." Page A4.

May 2: "White House Shunning Questions On Subsidized Jet Trips by Sununu: Unresolved Issues Include Who Reimbursed Government for Expenses." Page A12. (Accompanied by A12 story on Dan Quayle flying to Georgia to play golf.)

April 28: "Appointees Fire Barbs at Sununu: Chief of Staff Acted to Curb Others' Trips." Page A1, continues on A19.

April 27: "White House Scours Sununu Travel Records for Improprieties." Page A4.

April 26: "Sununu Charts Different Course As Chief of Staff: Former New Hampshire Governor Does Not Confine His Influence to the White House." Page A4.

April 25: "Bush Says Counsel Will Review Policy Covering Military Flights by Sununu." Page A1, top center. Continues to page A12.

April 24: "Sununu Deems Only 4 Plane Trips 'Personal'." Entire width of front page. Continues with almost entire page on A6.

April 22: "Administration Officials Defend Sununu's Use of Military Jets." AP dispatch on Page A4.

April 21: Post begins the whole story by revealing its investigation of travel records. "Sununu: Frequent Flier on Military Aircraft: Trips to Ski Resorts, Home, Fund-Raisers." Top Left Page 1. Continues to almost entire page with chart, A18.

MRC Chairman Brent Bozell held a press conference, which the Post dutifully covered. Howard Kurtz began his story on June 28:

The Washington Post, which has been riding high on the Air Sununu story, came under groundfire yesterday from a conservative media critic, who accused the paper of "a shameless double standard in a deliberate effort to get rid of the president's chief of staff."

L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the Alexandria-based Media Research Center, told a news conference that while The Post has run 25 stories on travel abuses by John Sununu -- more than 25,000 words -- in the past 68 days, the paper has been "whitewashing" similar abuses by Democratic members of Congress. He said The Post was pushing the Sununu story to further its "ideological agenda."

Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's managing editor, said the paper has done "scores of stories" on congressional abuses of power.

"We have gone through how congressmen spend money on the franking privilege, on office accounts and on junkets we discovered... . In my mind, the Sununu coverage fits in with this very aggressive attack we've been on," Downie said. "A year or so ago, it was the Democrats who were complaining to us, Democratic congressmen who said we were blowing [stories] up.

"We have no ideological agenda... . We're not out to get anybody," Downie said. "We don't favor one party over another."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis