It all began with envy.
No sooner was the news of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrichs book contract singing across the wires than House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) called a press conference complete with giant mockup of a $4 million check to describe the deal as "an arrogant act." Not illegal, mind you, nor an ethical violation. It just didnt seem right to him.
Bonior, a fair man, spread the bile to include the owner of Gingrichs publishing house, HarperCollins. Rupert Murdoch, he said, heads "the most notorious foreign news corporation in the world."
Not incidentally Boniors own book, on Vietnam veterans, by his admission netted all of perhaps $500. By acting out of envy, Bonior was at least consistent. For decades, Democrats have tried to use envy to stir up animosity between different economic groups. For the most part, it hasnt worked. Most people would rather join the ranks of the rich than sit back and resent them. They realize the best system for this is a free market one, with compensation is based on the worth — or at least perception — of ones work.
Thats why Americans love a Horatio Alger, which is exactly what Gingrich has proven to be, book deal or no.
But wasnt Gingrich taking advantage of his position? Sure. At the time he announced he was giving up the royalty advance, Gingrich noted that no fewer than 23 current senators, plus Vice President Al Gore, have published books. For good reason his staff didnt even count the books written by House members — theres too many.
Vice-president Al Gore
Gores Earth in the Balance was a bestseller, netting thus far over $750,000. Coming at the tail-end of a flood of environmentalist books, does anybody really think that it sold so well on merit? But so what? Gore thought he had something important to say. Should he have refused to say it because he held a high office? Should he have refused payment?
Still, if Boniors original press conference reeked of envy and indignation, the accusations soon took on a more sinister tone. Democratic National Committee Gen. Chairman Christopher Dodd said the book deal "doesnt pass the smell test." What he and other Democrats are insinuating is, of course, the B-word.
Yes, this insinuation of bribery is indeed brought to you by the selfsame Democrats who didnt bat a lash upon hearing that Hillary Clinton, with no investment background at all, could plunge into one of the trickiest sectors of the market and quickly net a cool $100,000.
But lets hear out Newts enemies. They noted that NBC has challenged Murdochs ownership of Fox Television, saying it violates U.S. communications laws prohibiting foreign corporations from owning more than 25 percent of any U.S. broadcasting outlet. Add to this that there is legislation in the House that would repeal the ownership restrictions, which many see as antiquated. While the bill was introduced after the book flap began, it was expected. Finally, add to this that House speakers can influence bills.
What the Democrats have established would be a motive for a bribe — and thats all. Some might argue Gingrich has a strong motive for punching Chris Dodd in the nose, but as yet the senators face remains unscathed. Heres the evidence of wrongdoing: Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.) notes the contract would have awarded millions to someone who had never authored a successful book. "This is not Danielle Steele," he said.
No, but then neither was Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf, whose first book netted him a $5 million advance. Nor was Gen. Colin Powell, whose first book reaped a $6 million advance. Timing is everything. Win a major war and suddenly youre hot property. Some would say Gingrich won a major war.
Yet his timing was much better than just that. Just days before the story broke of the $4.5 million deal, David Streitfeld wrote in the Washington Post, "One mans truth . . . is another mans propaganda, but the prevalence of conservative/libertarian/right-wing/Republican truth on the bestseller list these days is overwhelming."
Numerous conservative bestsellers lately have shown that the Rush Limbaugh books were no fluke and publishers are willing to pay big bucks for books likely to bring in big bucks.
Gingrichs agency, Writers Representatives, claims that several publishers were prepared to pay millions for a single Gingrich book, much less the package of two. Streitfeld confirmed this in his subsequent articles. Was the whole New York publishing industry trying to bribe the speaker?
But what of the alleged smoking gun? As first reported in the New York Daily News, on November 28, before HarperCollins agreed to buy the book, Gingrich met with Murdoch and the top lobbyist for his TV holdings. True enough, the meeting took place. But Murdoch met with 17 other congressmen during the same trip.
If you were Rupert Murdoch and were going to talk to 18 congressmen, wouldnt you put the Speaker of the House on the list? But the Daily News didnt say anything about the other congressmen, nor did myriad other media outlets that simply repeated the story without investigating it. So eager were they to impugn the speakers motives that it never occurred to them that the Daily News itself might have a motivation — the bitter on-going feud between that newspaper and Murdochs New York Post.
Nor did it apparently occur to them that anyone who was really going to give a huge bribe to a famous public official would not negotiate the bribe in person. That would be an incredibly stupid act on the part of two people that even their detractors label as brilliant.
After the Republicans swept into Congress, the Democrats appeared to nobly throw down the gauntlet. "Okay, its your turn," they said. "You say youve got new ideas; lets try them out." Alas, the Envycrats have shown they havent the slightest interest in waging a battle of ideas. Could it be because they know that on those terms they cant possibly win?
Read Michael Fumentos additional work on the government and politics.