Note: See update in bold below.
On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN's Howard Kurtz brought up the scarcity of media attention paid to the revelation that high-profile Democratic Senator Max Baucus nominated his girlfriend to be a U.S. attorney for his home state of Montana, as the CNN host even took to task CNN for ignoring the scandal, calling it a "stunning lapse in judgment," and recounted that he had monitored the news channel on Saturday and did not see Baucus mentioned. Kurtz: "Washington Post has it on page three, New York Times has it on page 33. I watched CNN all day yesterday. I didn’t see any mention of this story, which I thought was a stunning lapse in judgment."
When Kurtz questioned why there was so little media attention, guest Chip Reid of CBS News asserted there was "no scandal" in the story. Reid: "I don’t think it has legs because there’s no sex scandal, and it’s not like Vitter. It’s not like Ensign. There’s no scandal here."
Update: It turns out that CNN increased its attention to the Baucus scandal on Sunday. For more, see "CNN Catches Up On Baucus Scandal & Labels As Dem More Than Other Nets."
Notably, on Saturday, ABC's Good Morning America did not divulge Baucus's party identity in its report on the subject, while reports on CBS's The Early Show, NBC’s Today show and the NBC Nightly News did label Baucus as a Democrat.
Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Sunday, December 6, Reliable Sources on CNN:
HOWARD KURTZ: Friday night, a new scandal story emerged involving Senator Max Baucus, one of the leading Democrats in the health care debate. Turns out that he recommended to be the U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor in his home state of Montana, his girlfriend, a woman who had been on his Senate payroll and suddenly was being, she did not get the job, and she was on this list. And so my question is, I looked at the papers this morning. I’ll start with you, Chip. Washington Post has it on page three, New York Times has it on page 33. I watched CNN all day yesterday. I didn’t see any mention of this story, which I thought was a stunning lapse in judgment. Why isn’t this a bigger story?
CHIP REID, CBS NEWS: Well, I don’t think it has legs because there’s no sex scandal, and it’s not like Vitter. It’s not like Ensign. There’s no scandal here. There is, and there is a long history-
KURTZ, JUMPING IN: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Baucus was married, okay, he was separated. He has a relationship with a woman on his Senate-
REID: He was beyond separated. His wife wasn’t even on his Christmas cards anymore. They were done.
KURTZ: All right, he has this relationship with a woman on his Senate payroll, and he pushes her for a top job in the Justice Department. Why would that not be a scandal?
REID: It’s because there’s a long history of Senators nominating people they are very close to for U.S. attorney.
KURTZ: "Very close to" is the key phrase.
REID: Yeah, exactly.
DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: It is enormous because the U.S. attorney there is the chief anti-corruption officer in that district. And what are the odds that that anti-corruption officer would ever investigate anything Max Baucus doesn’t want to investigate.
MICHELLE COTTLE, NEW REPUBLIC: It’s not a story because she didn’t get it. If she had gotten it, this would have more legs, but they basically had her voluntarily withdraw from the process once the relationship got more serious or more involved or whatever. I mean, as far as scandals go, there’s no hookers, there’s no payments, there’s no, you know, this doesn’t rise to the level of juiciness.
KURTZ: Now you’ve zeroed in on it. Right. I just think that news organizations that have played this down have left themselves open to charges after the John Ensign story and after the Mark Sanford story that they’re a little bit less enthusiastic about Democratic scandals.
COTTLE: Eliot Spitzer? Come on. Eliot is everybody’s favorite.
KURTZ: Well, Eliot Spitzer broke the law!
COTTLE: Well, that’s it.
FRUM: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -the Mayflower hotel, he may as well, he might as well done it in Grand Central Station.
KURTZ: There are examples on both sides.