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Newsweek Weighs in on Fred Thompson

Although Fred Thompson has yet to formally announce that he is running for President, the media are already looking for ways to take down his campaign and make Thompson less appealing to Republican primary voters. Thompson, referred to as “a Southern-fried Reagan” by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, was the subject of an article [1] in the June 25 issue of Newsweek magazine that ran with the subtitle: “The right has a crush on Fred Thompson, but his own papers suggest he is less conservative then they think.”

By questioning Thompson’s conservative credentials, Newsweek writer Holly Bailey appears to be discouraging the rise of Thompson’s poll numbers within the Republican Party. According to the article, conservatives have “latched onto him as something of a political messiah” because they are “underwhelmed” with the current 2008 Republican presidential candidates. According to the latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll cited in the article, Thompson is running a “close second behind the current leader, Rudy Giuliani―and beat everyone, including Giuliani, among self-described ‘religious right’ voters.”

Thompson’s poll numbers are dangerous for Democrats because, as Newsweek acknowledges, he has a “personal magnetism” and celebrity from his work on television shows like “Law & Order,” as well as a number of appearances in movies such as “Die Hard 2” and “Days of Thunder.” Thompson’s magnetism and popularity make him a potential threat to the Democrats and liberal media, and could explain why Newsweek is attempting to tarnish his support among conservatives. Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly conservative and by attacking Thompson’s conservatism, Newsweek could be attempting to push less viable candidates to the front to prevent the Democratic nominee from having to face Thompson in the election.

But, where exactly, according to Newsweek, has Thompson strayed from his supposed conservative values? In the article, Newsweek wrongly suggests that Thompson is not pro-life, is not liked by other Republicans, and differs with the Republican Party on campaign-finance reform. However, Newsweek’s revelations have little to do with Thompson’s voting record in the U.S. Senate and instead came from his Senate records and personal correspondences during his eight years in office. When Thompson left office, he agreed to put his Senate records and personal correspondence in a public archive at the University of Tennessee because, according to Newsweek, Thompson “apparently believed he had forever traded Washington for Hollywood.”

The article says that the archive may make conservative voters “disappointed to find that Thompson has been on the other side of some of their most important issues, including abortion and campaign fund-raising.” This is code; by saying Thompson is on “the other side” on the issue of abortion compared to conservatives, Newsweek implies that Thompson has flip-flopped on this issue to make himself viable in his apparent run for the Republican nomination. It alleges that when Thompson ran for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 1994, he was “more moderate on abortion than most Republican candidates.” In fact, Newsweek reports that “there are several files on Thompson’s campaign strategy on the subject that could roil his 2008 bid.” According to Newsweek, the files reveal that Thompson’s answers to a number of surveys in office “could be viewed as supporting abortion rights.” Not that they show he supports abortion or that he favors abortion, but “could be viewed” as someone who supports abortion rights, which is a loose term in and of itself.

What exactly were his pro-abortion responses he made on these surveys? According to Newsweek, “on a 1994 Eagle Forum survey, Thompson said he opposed criminalizing abortion.” Then two years later, “on a Christian Coalition questionnaire, he checked ‘opposed’ to a proposed constitutional amendment protecting the sanctity of human life.”

Thompson’s view about when life begins has also evolved since 1994. Newsweek reported that in a recent Fox News interview he said “he’s always been against abortion, but that the issue has ‘meant a little more’ since he saw the sonogram of his 3-year-old daughter.” Thompson added in the interview, “I’ll never feel that same way again. Not only is it in my head, it’s in my heart now.”

In the end, the article acknowledged that his Senate voting record included votes to block federal funding for abortions and in support of a partial-birth-abortion ban. The National Right to Life organization gave him a 100 percent rating.

Pointing out another supposed anti-conservative stance, Newsweek said that the archives showed that Thompson was closely involved in helping to write the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, and pushed colleagues to sign on. In fact, after the bill passed Sen. Russ Feingold (D- WI) sent Thompson a thank-you note saying “You were essential to our success.” The inclusion of Feingold’s thank-you note is an obvious attempt to portray Thompson as someone who works with liberal senators to the detriment of the majority views of his party.

To show just how close Thompson has been to Democrats, Newsweek says that Thompson was unwilling to only investigate Democrats in 1997 when he was appointed to lead hearings into Democratic fund-raising abuses in the 1996 campaign. Instead, Thompson broadened his investigation to look into alleged abuses by Republicans, and in doing so Newsweek reports he became “an enemy to his party.”

The article attempts to tarnish his campaign before it even starts, in the eyes of Republican voters, by portraying him as anti-conservative. But Thompson isn’t pro-abortion and never has been. He has expressed concerns about his vote on McCain-Feingold, and in refusing to play partisan politics in a corruption investigation, Thompson showed the signs of a fair and decent man―the qualities admired in a leader by both conservatives and liberals.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, told Newsweek that Thompson “has a good record on core social issues,” and added that Thompson’s statements about abortion in 1994 were made “before he was in the Senate. Once he was in, he was 100 percent pro-life.”

As for not playing politics in a Senate investigation of campaign corruption by both Democrats and Republicans, Newsweek quotes Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who defended Thompson by saying, “Fred was under considerable pressure to turn up and publicize evidence of wrongdoing [by Clinton], but his goal throughout was to be thorough and fair.”

Thompson may not be a “southern-fried Reagan,” but he is definitely not Newsweek’s mis-portrayal of him either. Like all candidates, the American people still need to learn more to determine who should be the next president. But, what the American people don’t need is a misinformation campaign by the media to take down a candidate because he could defeat the Democratic nominee. With the possibility of another Republican administration looming, Newsweek made a clear effort to slow down the emergence of Thompson as a leading candidate, while misleading their readers.

Newsweek’s job is to report and analyze. The job of damaging and defeating Fred Thompson should be left up to his political opponents.