On April 1, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray was denied a second term, defeated in the primary by upstart city councilwoman Muriel Bowser. The beginning of the end came on March 10, when U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen struck a plea bargain with a wealthy businessman who confessed he’d spent $668,000 on an illegal “shadow campaign” to fund get-out-the-vote efforts that helped Gray win the mayoral office in 2010.
So the corrupt mayor of America’s most important city is thrown out. A political scandal? The same networks that were utterly breathless over the local story of Gov. Chris Christie’s aides slowing traffic on a bridge into New York City didn’t breathe a word about corruption in the nation’s capital. Unlike Christie, the mayor is a Democrat.
The TV networks seem to have two tracks in covering Democratic scandals: Ignore them, or if coverage is unavoidable, ignore the party label of the unethical politician under investigation. Often, Republicans in an ethical probe are blown up into alleged national problems for the GOP.
On Jan. 24, “NBC Nightly News” had the audacity to report on a dilapidated Trenton, N.J. high school and blame its disrepair on Christie. “For his part, Governor Christie tonight is responding to an issue that’s been festering for years, right there in the shadow of New Jersey’s state house,” anchor Brian Williams noted of the school. Nowhere did NBC ever wonder about Tony Mack, the Democratic mayor of Trenton. The Associated Press reported that Mack’s “administration of New Jersey’s impoverished capital city has been plagued by accusations of cronyism and reckless spending.”
Or take San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Last August, he was preparing to resign after 18 charges of sexual harassment. Amazingly, ABC and NBC couldn’t utter the “D-word” in their stories. One has to go out of his way not to attach a party label to an elected politician. These networks continuously do so.
When ABC aired a story on Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst allegedly intervening for his stepniece that was arrested for shoplifting, guess what? ABC made sure to note that Dewhurst was a “rising national Republican star.”
The last few weeks have seen a stream of ethics probes for Democrats, but the networks can barely be bothered while they obsess over a vanished Malaysian jet. So there’s either one story, or none.
On March 26, NBC anchor Williams reported that Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Patrick Cannon was “busted today by the FBI after a sting operation several years in the making.” NBC aired the whole story with no mention that Cannon was a Democrat. CBS and ABC skipped the story altogether.
Also on March 26, California state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democratic candidate for secretary of state, was arrested in San Francisco. A gun-control fanatic, Yee was accused of trafficking guns — not just automatic weapons but shoulder-fired missiles! NPR covered it days later, with the online title “The Story Of Calif. Senator’s Arrest Reads Like Pulp Fiction.” Jon Stewart had a field day with it, too.
But the networks? Nothing on CBS and NBC. ABC gave it two sentences on “Good Morning America,” no party label: “And a California lawmaker who pushed for gun control has been arrested in a gun trafficking scheme. State Senator Leland Yee is fighting those charges.”
Yee is the third Democratic state senator in California in ethical trouble, and the state Senate voted to expel all three. But it’s still not newsworthy. Why? Consult a headline from Cathleen Decker in the Los Angeles Times, who sums up the reason for all this bias by omission: “For Democrats, politicians in handcuffs point to image problems.” Solution? Don’t show them at all.