Don't Know the Party of a Politician Caught in a Scandal? He's Probably a Democrat

Within the span of 40 seconds, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported on two politicians caught in scandals, one a Republican the other a Democrat, but he gave the party affiliation of only one of the troubled politicians. Can you guess which one?  

On the January 27 Nightly News, Williams reported that “Florida Republican Congressman Trey Radel has resigned effective tonight. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession.” In the very next news brief Williams announced: “A name from New Orleans’s recent past went on trial there today. Ray Nagin, mayor of the city during Katrina, in court on bribery charges.” Williams never noted Nagin was a Democrat.

Williams’ refusal to give the party identification of Nagin continues a curious trend by the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) network anchors and reporters to rarely identify corrupt politicians with the “D” label. That same courtesy is hardly ever extended to Republicans, as seen in the following political corruption stories that have broken over the past year:

■ When the Radel arrest was first reported on November 20, all six network newscasts on that Tuesday and the morning shows the following Wednesday made sure to point out Radel’s GOP affiliation. Many of them identified him with the Tea Party. ABC’s Good Morning America reporters actually mentioned “Tea Party,” “conservative” or “Republican” five times in less than two and a half minutes. In contrast, when federal corruption indictments against Nagin first came down, on January 18, 2013, all three broadcast networks ran short items on their evening newscasts, but none of them mentioned his party affiliation.

■  On January 22, less than 24-hours after former Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was indicted on 14 charges including conspiracy and fraud, all three network morning shows immediately identified him as a Republican. In contrast, in March 2008 when Democratic Governor Elliot Spitzer of New York was identified as “Client Number 9” in a prostitution ring, ABC and NBC failed to label Spitzer as a Democrat for two straight days.

■ On August 22, 2013 when it became clear that the Democratic Mayor of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was about to resign, after being accused of sexually 18 women, NBC and ABC refused to attach the “D” label on their August 22 evening and August 23 morning shows (Bill Whitaker, on the August 23 CBS This Morning, did mention Filner was a Democrat.) In contrast, on August 22 ABC reported on a controversy surrounding the Lieutenant Governor of Texas David Dewhurst that involved him allegedly intervening for his step-niece that was arrested for shoplifting. ABC’s John Muller made sure to note that Dewhurst was a “rising national Republican star.”

■ On February 15, 2013, all three network morning shows failed to mention the Democratic affiliation of another corrupt ex-San Diego mayor that had gotten into trouble. All three network morning shows reported that Maureen O’Connor (mayor of the city from 1986 to 1992) admitted to gambling away $1 billion on video poker and had stolen $2 million from her late husband’s charity in the process. Not one of the network reports mentioned she belonged to the Democratic Party.

>> The MRC has compiled many more examples of this double standard. For earlier instances, check our February of 2013 report: “Big Three Network Double Standard on Labeling Scandalous Politicians” <<


> July 9, 2014: “ABC, CBS Go 3-for-3: Refuse to ID Nagin as Democrat After Indictment, Conviction, and Sentencing

> April 28, 2014: NBC Nightly News identifies Grimm as Republican a year after ignoring Jackson’s party (“ABC Reports GOP Congressman’s Indictment, But Initially Ignored Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s Charges Last Year”)

> April 8, 2014: “ABC Reminds: Congressman Caught in an Affair Is ‘Conservative’ and a ‘Republican’”

> March 27, 2014: “ABC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS All Skip Political ID for ‘Shocking’ Corruption By Democratic Mayor

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