Media Whistle Past Menendez Prostitution Scandal

Allegations of shady campaign contributors and procurement of prostitutes are usually the ingredients of a political scandal that send the media into a feeding frenzy – unless, of course, the figure involved is a Democrat.

When news broke that the FBI opened an inquiry into New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez’s jaunts (that may have included solicitation of prostitutes) to the Dominican Republic with a longtime campaign contributor, the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks responded with barely a murmur.

From January 24 through the morning of February 11 there have been a total of just seven stories (CBS three, NBC four) aired on the Big Three network’s evening (ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News) and morning (ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s This Morning, NBC’s Today) shows.

Even a February 9 New York Times editorial headlined “Mr. Menendez’s Ethics Problem,” did not spur the networks into a frenzy of stories. The only mention after the Times editorial came on the February 10 Meet the Press when NBC’s David Gregory asked Democratic Senator Richard Durbin about Menendez facing “financial donor and other questions” from the Ethics committee.

ABC has yet to do a single morning or evening story on the brewing sex scandal. Menendez actually appeared on the January 27 edition of ABC’s This Week. But guest host Martha Raddatz failed to ask about the controversy. There was only one mention of the scandal, on the February 3 This Week, when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, asked Democratic Senator Harry Reid: “Are you comfortable with [Menendez] serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as these investigations continue?...There are some relatively serious allegations here. Are you confident he did nothing wrong?”

PBS has also been slow to report on the Menendez allegations, offering only one brief on the February 7 NewsHour.

The lack of coverage of the Menendez scandal is in stark contrast to how the Big Three handled various sex scandals of Republican figures. As MRC’s Scott Whitlock found in November 2011:

“When Herman Cain faced harassment charges, the networks reacted quite differently. A Media Research study found: In only eight and a half days, NBC, CBS and ABC have devoted a staggering 99 stories to sexual harassment charges against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.”

With regards to ABC, the MRC’s Rich Noyes found that in July 2007, when Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter’s name surfaced in the phone records of the “DC Madam” Deborah Jean Palfrey, ABC had within a week, “talked about Vitter twice on World News and twice on Good Morning America, labeling him as a ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative Republican’ all four times.”

Back in 2006 ABC, CBS and NBC aired 152 stories in the first 12 days of former Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s scandal involving explicit messages with congressional pages.

The double-standard is staggering but sadly not surprising.  Since allegations of illicit contributions and sex haven’t sparked the media to hound the Democratic Senator, one has to ask what will it take to get the Big Three to cover the Menendez scandal? A party switch to the Republican Party?

-- Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.