by Brent Baker
The networks' fascination with the initial investigation of Jenna Bush for using another person’s ID to buy an alcoholic drink at an Austin restaurant Tuesday night contrasts with how the networks last summer ignored the speeding and reckless driving citations issued to Albert Gore III for going 97 mph in a 55 mph zone. While Gore was 17 at the time of his offense on an August weekend before the Democratic convention, and so still a minor, and Bush’s daughters are now 19, the media-applied standard has been that offspring are only off-limits until they make “the police blotter.”
On Thursday, Jenna Bush was cited by Austin police for using a false ID to obtain alcohol and sister Barbara was cited for consuming an alcoholic drink.
Unlike the case with Al Gore’s son, in which the North Carolina state police officer had no idea who was driving the speeding car before he pulled it over, the Bush daughters were caught because restaurant employees recognized Jenna which means she was pretty foolish to think she wouldn’t be recognized but also that she was treated differently than the average 19-year-old in a bar in Austin. Pete Slover reported in the May 31 Dallas Morning News:
“According to a police statement and interviews, officers were called after a manager at Chuy's restaurant in south Austin dialed 911 to notify police that Jenna Bush, who was with her twin sister Barbara, offered another person's ID to try to buy a drink. She was not served, police said.
“‘In this instance, I think they (restaurant workers) recognized who they (the Bushes) were, which may have prompted the call,’ said Capt. David Ball of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which was consulting with Austin police.”
Last summer the Washington Post and New York Times held themselves to one edited AP dispatch on the Gore incident a week after it occurred. The Washington Post reported in full on page A6 on Sunday, August 20, three days after the Democratic convention.
Demonstrating the lack of media interest in the case, I could find nothing in Nexis about the disposition of it during the September 13 hearing or since.
Last Thursday, the New York Times remained consistent and confined the Bush story to a wire dispatch at the bottom of an inside page. The Washington Post, however, increased its attention on the Bush daughters with a story on the front page of the “Style” section on Thursday and another on Friday by media reporter Howard Kurtz about the media’s focus on the incident.
Not surprisingly, the worst offender of the established media standard in the Bush twins' case was NBC's Today, which gave the story maximum prominence. Matt Lauer opened the broadcast: “Good morning. Double trouble in Texas. President Bush's 19 year-old daughter, Jenna, brought her twin sister Barbara along when she allegedly tried to buy a drink at a local restaurant. Her second brush with the law. She's under investigation for underage drinking today, Thursday May 31st, 2001.”
Katie Couric then chimed in: “Geesh. You can only imagine the phone conversations going on between the White House and the two Bush daughters. And this, what, just two weeks ago Jenna pleaded no contest to other charges about underage drinking.”
Lauer: “That's right and the judge who presided in that case ordered her to undergo alcohol counseling and perform some community service. Now she could be facing more of the same. We're gonna get details on what happened in Austin in just a moment. We'll find out how students at Jenna's school, the University of Texas, feel about all this.”
Today made the case its “Close Up” segment, starting with a full report from reporter Jim Cummins who recalled: “There was another incident involving Jenna back in February. The sheriff in Ft. Worth, Texas claimed Secret Service agents in a black Chevy Suburban came to the county jail late one night to pick up this man, 18 year old William Bridges, who was under arrest for public intoxication. Deputies say Bridges claimed to be Jenna's boyfriend and they were told she was in the black Suburban.”
Next, Matt Lauer talked with Marshall Maher, Editor of The Daily Texan at the University of Texas in Austin. Lauer’s questions, which included raising the possibility that Jenna had been “singled out”:
“Your newspaper has decided not to give any special coverage to these incidents, why?”
“So in this situation with incidents involving underage drinking I guess you would not cover underage drinking were it happening with other students.”
“The drinking age in Texas is 21, Marshall, is that correct?”
“So, so are there sweeps done in the local bars? I know it's not uncommon to find students who are under the age of 21 in the local bars in Austin. Are there sweeps conducted in those bars to try to prevent that?”
“Yeah in this case I understand the manager of the bar actually called the police. Do you think in some ways the President's daughter was singled out?”
“Perhaps a tough question for you to answer, Marshall. But she has Secret Service protection there. And yet where was the Secret Service during these two incidents?”
But Today wasn’t done as it used the Bush daughters as a hook for one more segment. Katie Couric set it up as thoroughly as possible: “The most recent investigation of President Bush's 19 year-old daughter Jenna for allegedly trying to buy alcohol illegally has brought even more attention to underage drinking. That combined with the results of University of Michigan survey that has found in the past two weeks almost one third of twelfth graders have had five or more drinks in a row. Well that all makes it a good time for parents to talk with their kids about drinking. Here with some help is psychologist Dale Atkins.”
(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)