when the dust clears

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Newt Bless the Child Who’s Got His/Her Own

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Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich hands out cash at a DC school, May 16 1995

Candidate Gingrich’s recent suggestion that urban school kids would make swell janitors took me back to a May afternoon in 1995. I was a photographer at US News, blessed with the task of trailing the Speaker to a school in DC that was implementing his “Earning by Learning” program.

The event was as bizarre as it was distasteful — Gingrich bending over to hand cash to black elementary schoolers for reading books as dozens of cameras rolled and snapped.

Gingrich described the program in a speech that Connie Bruck quoted in her brilliant opus Newtus, “The Politics of Perception,” which appeared in the October 9, 1995 issue of the New Yorker. “It’s very simple; no bureaucracy, very voluntaristic. We go into public housing projects, we pay little kids — second and third graders — two dollars for every book they read…. The only money in the program goes to the child, so for a thousand dollars you have five hundred books read.”

Newt’s questionable pedagogy aside, there was another conspicuous problem with his statement: The money didn’t just go to the kiddies. Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal revealed that $30,000 of the program’s $62,000 endowment went to Mel Steely, the nonchild who ran it — and who happened to be Gingrich’s authorized biographer. Gingrich was either lying or using Beltway math.

Gingrich called the article “malicious” in an interview with Bruck, another attack by the liberal media “designed to cause us pain.”

Sound familiar?

Bruck had the Speaker’s number all those years ago:

What is remarkable about Gingrich in the end is not the degree to which he dissembles but the theatricality of his outrage when he is charged with dissembling, and the self-righteous force of his counterattack. He is, of course, not original in this—history offers plentiful examples of leaders who intimidated their critics (especially the press) by charging them with bias, and these precedents are not pretty—but Gingrich is surely one of the most accomplished practitioners of this particular skill. His opponents are chameleons and demagogues, his critics are cynics and liars: it is a feat of projection amazing in its transparency, and yet, probably because it is so daring, it works.

Roughly 17 years later, Gingrich is playing the same game with the national news media, with near impunity.


Written by bxpnyc

2012/01/30 at 07:51

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