Media Myth Exposed! Greg Orman Was No Independent

The campaign's worst-kept secret was uncovered when the Kansas City Star, on Sunday, reported that Democrats had financially backed so-called independent candidate Greg Orman in his race to unseat Republican incumbent Senator Pat Roberts.

The facade that Orman was an independent was kept up, throughout the campaign, by supposedly shrewd political reporters at ABC, CBS and NBC -- even after Democratic candidate Chad Taylor had dropped out in early September. 
On the November 2 Good Morning America, co-anchor George Stephanopoulos advanced Norman’s independent charade: “Greg Orman, independent, has come on like fire. And this is a neck and neck race right now against Pat Roberts, the Republican. Could be a loss for the Republicans, but Orman has not said who he will caucus with if he wins. Whether he’ll go with the Democrats or Republicans. Of course, the Democrats hoping, if he wins, he stays with them.”

Stephanopoulos’s colleague Jonathan Karl, on the November 4 Good Morning America, offered: “You have an independent, Orman, Greg Orman who could win this race. And then there’s an all-out bidding war, because he hasn’t said whether or not he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans.” 

NBC’s Chuck Todd also seemed to buy the spin, as on the November 2 Today show the Meet the Press host analyzed the Kansas race this way: “I think voters are looking for a vehicle to say I want to punish both parties. Well, Kansas voters have it. Greg Orman, this independent...What’s fueled him I think is disgust with both parties.” 

For her part NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell passed along some skepticism via a soundbite from Pat Roberts, in her November 2 Nightly News report, but concluded: “If Greg Orman wins, he could become a power broker if the two parties are really neck-and-neck. As an independent, he might be able to throw control.”

In hindsight, perhaps the most gullible piece of network reporting of Orman’s so-called independent status came from CBS’s Nancy Cordes on the November 2 CBS Evening News:  “Independent Greg Orman is either neck and neck or slightly ahead of longtime Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. Now because Orman is an independent, he doesn’t have a traditional party apparatus behind him, helping him to get out the vote on Election Day.” 

In a December 7 online article The Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske detailed how Democrats had been backing Orman’s campaign all along: 

Campaign reports filed late last week revealed that key Democrats funneled money to Greg Orman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Kansas. A political committee known as the Senate Majority PAC run by former advisers to Majority Leader Harry Reid sent about $1.5 million to two other campaign committees that were backing Orman’s campaign. By law, Orman and his campaign could not have been involved in the transaction. 

The money exchange was secret until last week’s reports because they were made on or after Oct. 16, meaning they didn’t have to be disclosed until last week. Political interests often exploit that loophole to keep some transactions secret until after the election.

In this case, Reid’s advisers wanted to keep the donations from public view because they didn’t want to fuel the idea that Democrats were backing Orman. That was one of incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ chief arguments against Orman in bright-red Kansas, which was that ideologically the independent was more closely aligned to the Democrats than to Republicans.

Orman had refused to say which party he would caucus with had he won.

Bloomberg reported that the Senate Majority PAC sent $1.31 million to the Committee to Elect an Independent Senate in five installments beginning on Oct. 16. The Reid-aligned PAC also sent $151,000 on Nov. 3-4 to Kansans Support Problem Solvers, which also backed Orman.

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.