LA Times Backs Away from Bias – But Not All the Way

A July 31 Los Angeles Times article about a new House ethics bill lists seven corrupt Republicans, but not a single Democrat.  

The August 1 version of the article makes a small gesture to fairness, adding a brief reference to a single corrupt Democrat near the end of the story.

You'd never know from either version that the top Democrat in the Senate and the top Democrat in the House, along with several colleagues, are currently facing unresolved corruption allegations, or that Democrats as a party have historically been at least as corrupt as Republicans. 

A central strategy in the successful Democratic effort to retake control of Congress in 2006 was to criticize the Republican “culture of corruption” in Washington.  This approach was audacious, given that several leading Democrats were also tainted by scandal at the time, but it worked thanks to the forbearance of a sympathetic news media.  Democrats are free to ignore corruption in their own ranks, but the media should report both sides evenhandedly.

“The measure grew out of scandals that led to the imprisonment of Cunningham, former Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” the Times reported on July 31, and then proceeded to note four other lawmakers accused of corruption, all of them Republicans.   

The article ignored recent and current Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who have lately been dogged by serious corruption charges. 

    Rep. Pelosi violated federal law by failing to disclose her position as an officer of a family charity; her campaign committee was fined $21,000 in 2003 for accepting donations over federally prescribed limits.  Just this year, Pelosi was accused of trying to exempt the Samoan operations of StarKist Tuna, a major corporation headquartered in Pelosi's district, from a proposed hike in the minimum wage.  Pelosi is also accused of directing federal funds to a San Francisco port improvement project that would increase the value of property owned by her husband. Senator Reid came under fire in 2006 for alleged ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, earmarking a bridge in his home state that allegedly raises the value of his nearby real estate in Arizona and using campaign donations to reward supporters.  His shady real estate deal–with a partner allegedly linked to organized crime–surfaced in October 2006, in the heat of the campaign, but generated little media interest. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) has come under fire for funneling millions in pork to benefit his brother Robert “Kit” Murtha, a lobbyist, and former staffer Paul Magliocchetti.  Not surprisingly, Murtha last fall called proposed ethics rules “total crap” and voted against Tuesday's bill. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) allegedly channeled billions in contracts to military goods and services firms owned by her husband. She was forced to resign from the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee in 2007 but has not, inexplicably, faced an investigation.    Former Rep. Frank Ballance (D-NC) started serving a four-year prison sentence in 2005 after conviction for money laundering, mail fraud and conspiracy.  Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years after federal prosecutors indicted the lawmaker on 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.    

A presumably shamefaced Times editor added the following line to the August 1 version of the article: “Democrats also have come under an ethical cloud, with Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) being indicted after FBI agents reported finding $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer.”

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.