The other night on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Katrina vanden Heuvel — America’s answer to a question no one asked — said that Jenna Bush has “a problem.” The editor of The Nation continued, “I just think, though, that if this had been in the Clinton family, that the press would have been all over this, talking about dysfunctionality in the Clinton family, talking about Democratic values, and I think that there’s a double standard there.”
How interesting. Let’s dissect that a bit. First of all, if the press isn’t “all over” the Jenna Bush story like Al Sharpton at an all-you-can-eat buffet, then I don’t really know what “all over” a story means.
The New York Post and the New York Daily News put Jenna on the cover. The Post’s headline ran “Jenna and Tonic.” The cable news nets were nearly giddy about the topic, with CNN’s Talk Back Live devoting a show to the dire questions raised by 19-year-old girls using fake IDs to buy booze at a Mexican fast-food restaurant (“Coming Tomorrow: Bears Are Using Our National Forests as Toilets! We’ll get to the bottom of the story.”).
In the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz has a front-page Style Section piece entitled, “Jenna Bush Gets no Free Pass this Time.”
Margery Eagan at the Boston Herald says, “Certainly our DWI president has set a very, very bad example for his impressionable girls. …The apples have not fallen far from the tree.” And Matt Drudge is proving thousands of people to be liars by drilling into the current president’s zone of privacy with as much gusto as he drilled into the last one’s. My unscientific Nexis-Lexis search of the past week found 206 stories mentioning Jenna Bush.
Regardless, Ms. vanden Heuvel believes that this patently hushed-up story could be a boon for the country. First of all, she explained to Matthews, if she were directing the news coverage of this story she would use it to agitate for an “investigation into the price gouging going on in the pharmaceutical or alcohol business.”
Such journalistic judgment goes a long way toward explaining why The Nation is as exciting and relevant as it is today.
If Ms. vanden Heuvel thinks she can turn the Jenna Bush affair into the “Silent Spring” of alcohol- or pharmaceutical-industry price gouging, then maybe she should stop ordering margaritas at her favorite Mexican restaurants.
As off-target as Ms. vanden Huevel’s verbal artillery may be, however, she does raise some relevant collateral issues. What if this was Chelsea?
It’s a good question that everyone seems to be asking. After all, the press gave Chelsea a lot of room to maneuver. But there’s a more relevant question no one seems to be asking: How do we know this wasn’t Chelsea?
Is it hysterical to assume that maybe, just maybe, Chelsea Clinton had a beer or a margarita when she was 19 years old? Is it outlandish to wonder aloud that perchance she even got busted with a fake ID? The question, “What if this was Chelsea?” assumes that Chelsea never lived such a rebellious life, when the more likely scenario is that she did in fact take such a walk on the timid side but the press said, “Who cares?” And, hence, we never heard about it.
The Real Double Standard
This is where the double standard resides. Until the Clintons used her as a prop during the Lewinsky scandal, there was a lead shield surrounding Chelsea. But from the get-go there’s been a see-through Plexiglas bubble around the Bush daughters.
Again, I can’t prove that Chelsea had a drink before she turned 21, but I would think she might actually want the world to know that she did. And frankly, I think at this point the press is cowardly for not asking her — or the specific journalists who covered her — “Did anything similar ever happen to you?” That would settle the issue of a double standard quite nicely.
But until that happens, we have to resort to other evidence to figure this out. And fortunately, we have some. First, there is the case of Al Gore’s son, Albert III. Al Gore, you may remember, was the Vice President of the United States. Now, I don’t want to violate the very tactics I’m criticizing the press for violating, but this is a matter of public record. When he was 13 years old, Albert Gore III was suspended from school for smoking pot.
Everyone, and I really do mean everyone, in Washington knew about this within days; high-school kids do not keep such secrets. But the Washington Post did keep such a secret, at the explicit request of the vice president. As James Adams of the London Times wrote in 1996, “A tearful phone call by Gore to senior editors ensured the story was never published.” The press was never “all over” this story (nor the story about his reckless driving arrest during last year’s presidential campaign).
We never saw a front page New York Post story about “Prince Albert’s Can-O-Reefer.” The Margery Eagans of the world never tut-tutted about how young Albert’s acorn hadn’t fallen far from the huge stalk of ganja that his father once enjoyed.
You might say, well, poor Albert was just 13 when he was cozying up with his bud, his earl, his skunk, skif, or chronic. And hypocrisy about the drug war notwithstanding, no charges were ever filed against Albert.
Fair enough. So, what about Al Gore’s daughter Sarah, who was cited by Maryland cops for alcohol possession at the age of 16? Again, without recounting the very dull details, this was a story that was buried in the metro section of the Washington Post and barely surfaced anywhere else. The press was hardly “all over” that. Etc., etc.
The Real Double and Triple Standards
Now, I think there are reasons for all of this. First, there’s media bias. Of course, there’s some old-fashioned liberal “gotcha” stuff involved, but that gets boring to discuss, so let’s stipulate it.
More relevant is the fact that the media generally thinks Republicans are moralizers and therefore they believe there is an inherent hypocrisy factor which always applies to Republicans but not to Democrats. There’s some legitimacy to that, though I’ve never met a Democrat who didn’t moralize also — they just tend to do it about “old-fashioned” moralizers, if you know what I mean. And if you compare what Republicans and Democrats say about drugs and alcohol it’s pretty much identical; the press just dislikes the Republicans for actually meaning it.
But there are a couple other reasons why the Bush daughters are receiving unfair coverage. First, it sounds like some scummy losers at the University of Texas are trying to make life difficult for Jenna. Hence some of the stories we’ve seen on Drudge. Second, Bush never came clean — as I think he should have — on his own partying past, and the press is punishing his children for the sins of omission of the father.
But there’s another explanation. Many commentators have pointed out that Chelsea was younger when she entered the national spotlight and therefore the press had time to give her space before she went to college. Good point. But let’s not discount another factor. The Bush girls make a better picture.
Take it from a former television producer: Attractive, 19-year-old debutante Texan twins who like to drink make “good visuals” (and good mentals), as they say in the business. Chelsea, who has turned out to be vastly more attractive than the odds-makers would have bet, elicited a lot of sympathy from most Americans when she was a gawky, metal-mouthed teenager who looked like an extra from Sixteen Candles. People want to look at the Bush daughters — and television producers and print photo editors know it.
If you think prurient interest has nothing to do with media coverage, ask yourself how many times you’ve seen Britney Spears in a Catholic school girl-skirt without ever having watched one of her videos.
The Big “So What?”
Anyway, as for the merits of the Jenna Bush story, I think there are none. Then again, my friends and I had — or to be more accurate, used — more fake IDs than Simon Templar, James Bond, Maxwell Smart, and Number 6 combined. I think the 21-year-old drinking age is ludicrous and while it is the law, it was forced on various states to keep kids from driving while drunk, and the Bush daughters have a Secret Service driver.
The idea that Jenna has “a problem” because she and her 19-year-old sister tried to get a drink at some tacky Mexican-themed restaurant is idiotic.
Of course, these kids should know that because of their dad, they’ll be held to a different standard. And yeah, this is a stone I couldn’t throw if I wanted to, but let’s get some perspective. The manager of the restaurant called 911 on the Bush girls. If that happened every time some 19 year olds in Austin ordered a frozen margarita, you could loot the whole city because there’d never be a cop when you needed one.
But, by all means, let’s launch that investigation into beer-industry price-gouging. That’s the real story here.
For those of you interested in such things, I have written a piece about Star Trek Voyager and the Trek universe that is longer than a New York Times twelve-part series on food safety — but twice as interesting! It will appear later today and stay up all through the weekend on the coincidentally named, NRO Weekend.
I will be on CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend discussing Jenna Bush, the latest papal encyclical and the story about the trashing of the White House that allegedly never happened. Okay, I lied about the encyclical thing.
As all of you should know, NRO runs a new “cool site” link every day on the home page. We encourage people like you (but not you) to submit nominations. We also encourage you to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My apologies to those who rightly suspected (and complained) that I mailed in Wednesday’s column. I sometimes suffer from writer’s block. And now that I am a stay-at-home dad (slave, whatever) to Cosmo the Wonderdog, I have more responsibilities. If you fell asleep before the end, I’d like to fully disclose for the last time that the Fair Jessica, my fiancée, is the Chief Speechwriter and Senior Policy Advisor to the attorney general. I mention this again, because (a) I’m proud of her, and (b) because now no one can say I kept it a secret, and (c) because, well, just because.