This week in 1995, a new GOP-controlled Congress was sworn in to office, the first time since the early 1950s that Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. The sweeping conservative victory in the 1994 midterms had shocked liberals, but within weeks the media elite were fully engaged in disparaging the new majority as mean-spirited, racist, dumb and dangerous.
Journalists zeroed in on the incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, caricaturing him as a “Scrooge” and “the Gingrich who stole Christmas” (Newsweek) for suggesting modest reductions in the rate at which federal spending would grow in the future. Time’s Jack E. White approvingly relayed one Democratic Congressman’s smear that Gingrich’s plan would “actually cause black children to starve.”
Writing in Rolling Stone, PBS’s William Greider branded Gingrich “a world-class demagogue” engaged in “rancid populism.” NBC’s Bryant Gumbel cued up House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt to expound on his description of Gingrich and his “ilk” as “trickle-down terrorists who base their agenda on division, exclusion and fear.” The Los Angeles Times wrote that “from the bottom of the income ladder, the prospect of the Republican revolution is chilling.”
The hysterical media reaction to the new Congress showed the depths of the media’s hostility to Republicans (one poll showed 89% of Washington bureau chiefs had voted Democratic in the previous presidential election), and how even the most ludicrous Democratic attacks would be treated as reasonable discourse by a friendly press.
From the Media Research Center’s archives, here are some of the nastiest attacks against the new Republican Congress which took power 29 years ago this week:
■ “The U.S. House of Representatives is now to be led by a world-class demagogue, a talented reactionary in the vengeful tradition Gov. George Wallace and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Like Wallace before him, Newt Gingrich evokes the nation’s boiling anxieties as a rancid populism of ‘us vs. them,’ though he is too shrewd to make the racial resentments explicit….We shall soon find out if there is a kinder, gentler Newt lurking beneath the rock. Somehow I doubt it. His hatred seems to be from the heart.”
— William Greider, producer of PBS Frontline shows and former Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor, in the December 29, 1994/January, 12, 1995 edition of Rolling Stone.
■ “Many interpreted the Republican sweep in the November elections as a sign that voters were mad as hell and ready for old-fashioned verities. That seemed to be the view of incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called for a constitutional amendment allowing voluntary school prayer in public schools. He also suggested it might be a good idea to fill orphanages with the children of welfare mothers.”
— Senior Writer Paul Gray in Time’s December 26, 1994/January 2, 1995 issue.
■ “As the new Republican majority flexes its muscle….watch for welfare reform, with the poor, who need help most, getting less. Your local symphony orchestra and educational TV — both may become history if the GOP eliminates funding for the arts. And, orphanages.”
— ABC’s Jack Smith, January 1, 1995 World News Sunday.
■ “From the bottom of the income ladder, the prospect of the Republican revolution is chilling, especially because the gap between the rich and the poor has already widened significantly.”
— Los Angeles Times Washington reporters James Risen and Elizabeth Shogren, December 18, 1994 news story.
■ “Uncle Scrooge: ’Tis the season to bash the poor. But is Newt Gingrich’s America really that heartless?”
— Cover of December 19, 1994 Time.
■ News anchor Morton Dean: “The incoming Speaker of the House is being called a modern-day Scrooge by a coalition of charities….”
Reporter Bob Zelnick: “Some of the nation’s largest charities charged that the [Republican] plan would sharply increase hunger among the poor….”
— ABC’s Good Morning America, December 21, 1994.
■ “Churches and charities who deal with hunger lashed out against the Republican Contract…comparing it to something Ebenezer Scrooge would have dreamed up.”
— Correspondent Kenley Jones on NBC’s Today, December 21, 1994.
■ “Advocates worry that if Republicans make good on their threatened budget cuts, whatever safety net exists for America’s needy won’t exist anymore.”
— CBS reporter Randall Pinkston, December 19, 1994 Evening News.
■ “Let’s face it: to most African Americans Newt Gingrich is one scary white man….[Democratic] Congressman Major Owens predicts that Gingrich’s war on the welfare state will actually cause black children to starve.”
— Time national correspondent Jack E. White, January 16, 1995 edition.
■ “You called Gingrich and his ilk, your words, ‘trickle-down terrorists who base their agenda on division, exclusion, and fear.’ Do you think middle-class Americans are in need of protection from that group?”
— Bryant Gumbel to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, January 4, 1995 Today.
■ “My fear is that Mr. Gingrich, given his history, may increase what I see as a new mean-spiritedness in this country….I would like to think that the American people care about poor people, about sick people, about homeless people, and about poor children. I am shocked by the new mean-spiritedness.”
— ABC News Washington reporter and weekend anchor Carole Simpson in an America Online auditorium session, January 5, 1995.
■ “From the pronunciamentos out of Washington, you’d think the new Congress were a slash-and-burn Khmer Rouge, determined to rid Phnom Penh of every member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, every painter who every got a dime out of the National Endowment for the Arts, every child who was ever difficult, and other inconvenient co-dependents who ought instead to be growing rice and eating fishpaste in the boondocks.”
— CBS Sunday Morning TV critic John Leonard, January 8, 1995.
■ “So the Republicans say they are against raising the minimum wage. What did you expect? The minimum wage does nothing to help the rich….The Republicans are against welfare and food stamps. They’re against mandatory health coverage. They’re against raising the minimum wage….This is somewhere between dumb and short-sighted from an economic standpoint, and it’s somewhere between crass and racist from a social standpoint.”
— Former NBC News President Michael Gartner in his USA Today column, January 10, 1995.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.