WashPost Treated Feingold's Censure More Favorably Than Barr's 1997 Push to Impeach

March 16th, 2006 6:11 AM

One tried-and-true way to measure a media bias is to compare and contrast events. The comparisons are rarely perfect, but they can illuminate that the "news" is very much a product of human opinion, and rarely do the major media’s assignment editors seem to consider how they covered something in 2006 to something they covered in 1996 (or sometimes, how they covered something in March compared to December). Today’s experiment: Russ Feingold’s censure ploy versus Rep. Bob Barr making rumbles about a Clinton impeachment in 1997. The WashPost put Feingold on A-1 and A-2 yesterday. What about Bob?

It broke out at exactly this time of year in 1997, when Barr, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, suggested to chairman Henry Hyde that they consider impeachment for Clinton for illegal fundraising from China and other scandals. Hyde was asked about it on "Fox News Sunday," and said they were studying it, but found it a "bit of a stretch." Both the Post and the Washington Times put a few paragraphs in on Monday, March 17. Then the paths diverge.

On March 19, the WashTimes reported that the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Gerald Solomon also urged preparation for impeachment. On November 6, the WashTimes reported that in response to Barr and a letter signed by 17 House Republicans, Solomon said the Rules Committee would hold hearings into whether impeachment was necessary. Again, Hyde was skeptical. The White House was typically harsh, with spokesman Mike McCurry saying of Barr, "He's always had a rather extreme view of these things...In any body of 535 people, there will always be a denominator that's lowest." (This kind of vinegar seemed absent from George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, wasn't it?)

On the plausibility scale, Barr and Solomon were at least members of the majority party, men with more potential to persuade the majority of their idea, whereas Feingold's censure is a quixotic crusade, designed largely for publicity. (You could also suggest Barr and Solomon were hardly running for president.) Unlike the floating Feingold censure, the Post ignored these developments in the news pages. Instead, the Sunday "Outlook" section deployed a conservative against the conservatives: "The Folly of Impeachment Chic: Invoking The ‘I’ Word Only Hurts the GOP." The writer complained:

Instead of sullying the Clinton White House, this impeachment impulse threatens to sink the Republican agenda in quicksand....The GOP leadership's failure to rebuke Barr -- or even to disavow his effort -- has helped the impeachment craze spread to other arenas...Floating the impeachment boat at this stage only helps foster the unfair stereotype that Republicans are mean-spirited partisans...When Republicans lob impeachment grenades, they convey a guerrilla-warfare mentality not suited to a majority party. At a time when conservative ideas -- from school choice to ending racial preferences -- are catching on across the country, Republicans cannot afford to be sidetracked by Clinton bashing and impeachment gossip.

The writer was...Laura Ingraham, described underneath as "a political analyst for CBS Evening News." That’s a little generous. Laura was a CBS employee, a rotating commentator (along with Sen. Bill Bradley) on the Sunday night Evening News for a short time. Can we expect the Post to allow the anti-Feingold Democrats to craft an op-ed for a Sunday soon?

A quick peek at the New York Times looks like the Post: a paragraph or two on March 17, then nothing on Barr's moves the rest of the year, except a Barr-bashing column ("hateful" voices of the "extreme right") from columnist Anthony Lewis in December.

PS: The Laura Ingraham website has posted a passionate anti-withdrawal letter to John Murtha from a soldier in Iraq.