Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 09-22-2002

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Despite media grudges, Hostettler keeps moving along

We've all heard the phrase "fighting like cats and dogs". In Indiana's 8th Congressional District, that phrase could be modified to "fighting like John Hostettler and the media".

Media grudges against Hostettler aren't anything new. Herald-Times columnist Mike Leonard enjoys calling Hostettler a "dim bulb" in his column. Leonard, an admitted Leftist who often uses his column to launch withering attacks on local Republicans, stoops to this first-grade playground level name-calling quite often.

Leonard isn't alone in holding a grudge against John Hostettler in the Herald-Times newsroom. Eight years ago, there was an incident in which Hostettler was speaking before a class of school children, and was asked if the Second Amendment allowed private ownership of nuclear weapons. The bell rang before Hostettler had a chance to answer, so the McCloskey campaign seized on it, suggesting that Hostettler's non-answer shows he supports private ownership of nuclear weapons. When the Herald-Times editorial board recently weighed in on the controversy surrounding Hostettler's meeting with a group of cancer survivors, The H-T editorial writer brought up this eight-year-old issue, asking if we remember when Hostettler couldn't bring himself to say that the Constitution does not prohibit private ownership of nuclear weapons.

Is printing the whole story that difficult for the H-T, a newspaper that in many circles has earned the moniker "the Bloomington Half-Truth"? The editorial writer shows once again why the Herald-Times has earned this title. Yes, Hostettler didn't answer the question, but only because his time was up. This has been clarified numerous times, yet the Herald-Times didn't see fit to address the multiple clarifications in its staff editorial. For the H-T to bring up this long-dead issue to smear the area's Congressman without any regard for the facts shows a disturbing lack of journalistic integrity in Bloomington's main news outlet.

The strained relationship between Hostettler some media outlets has been highlighted in the last few weeks by a series of news stories in the Evansville Courier regarding a meeting between Hostettler and some breast cancer survivors. The Courier has allowed itself to be used as the mouthpiece of Brian Hartke's campaign, who faces an uphill battle to replace Hostettler in November. The women Hostettler allegedly "offended" met with an official of Brian Hartke's campaign before going to the media four months after the meeting, making it obvious that this is a political stunt designed to damage Hostettler leading up to the election.

On his Congressional Web site, Hostettler tells his side of the story. In his article, he points out numerous errors by the Evansville Courier and shows in detail how the Courier did not attempt to get both sides of the story before publishing an article on it. In response, Courier editor Paul McAuliffe wrote a column whining of Hostettler's "pettiness", hoping that this tempest in a teapot would cause Hostettler to lose his seat in November. In his column, McAuliffe opines that Hostettler is spending too much time defending himself on this issue, while the Courier is simultaneously continuing its "gotcha" campaign against the Congressman. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this statement?

Hostettler appears to be getting the better of the Courier in this situation. The way this non-issue came to be a front-page story and the fact that the reporter who wrote the article is an admitted liberal makes the Courier (rightly) look very biased and agenda-driven. On one side, we have a Congressman who has always stood firm on his principles and who has been willing to sacrifice political support, votes and campaign contributions rather than violate those principles. (In 1996, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich cancelled a fund-raiser for Hostettler because of a principled stand Hostettler took on an issue opposite of what the House leadership wanted.) On the other side, we have a newspaper that has been very critical of him and was shown to have published articles rife with factual errors and bias.

Hostettler, despite being a strict conservative in a swing district, gets stronger with each campaign because voters respect his principles and reject his opponents' tactics, and that trend will almost certainly continue in this campaign, much to the chagrin of both the Evansville Courier and the Bloomington Herald-Times.