'Straight Arrow' Governor 'Eliot Ness' Spitzer (?-NY)

Incredibly, in lead stories Monday night about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring, neither ABC's World News nor the NBC Nightly News verbally identified Spitzer's political party. Must mean he's a liberal Democrat -- and he is. CBS anchor Katie Couric, however, managed to squeeze in a mention of his party. Last August when news of Larry Craig's arrest broke, both ABC and NBC stressed his GOP affiliation.

On ABC, the only hints as to Spitzer's party were a few seconds of video of Spitzer beside Hillary Clinton as they walked down some steps and a (D) on screen by Spitzer's name over part of one soundbite. NBC didn't even do that.

While ABC and NBC failed to cite Spitzer's political affiliation in the four minutes or so each network dedicated to the revelations, both managed to find time to applaud his reputation and effectiveness as the Empire State's Attorney General before becoming Governor. Fill-in ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas hailed how “he gained a reputation around the country for aggressively cracking down on corporate corruption. He was elected Governor with a reputation for fighting crime.” ABC reporter Dan Harris maintained “Governor Spitzer is known as a straight arrow, an ambitious overachiever...” Substitute NBC anchor Ann Curry pointed to how Spitzer's “reputation for righteously prosecuting wrongdoing gave him the nickname Eliot Ness.”

None of the three networks wondered about the impact on New York's junior Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. ABC's George Stephanopoulos came the closest, in a list of reasons why it will be “very difficult, if not impossible, for him to continue in office,” with a vague reference to “the fact that this is a presidential election year where he would become fodder for the campaigns.”

The networks hardly hesitated last August to identify Senator Larry Craig as a Republican and, in October of 2006, to highlight how then-Congressman Mark Foley was a Republican, but back in 2001 they rarely identified then-Congressman Gary Condit, part of the Chandra Levy missing person scandal, as a Democrat -- as documented at the time in a Media Reality Check written by the MRC's Rich Noyes, “Avoiding Gary Condit’s Democratic ID; MRC Study: Networks Failed to Label California Congressman as a Democrat in 92% of Levy Stories.”

In the Craig case, fill-in ABC anchor Kate Snow opened the Tuesday, August 28 World News:

Good evening. A Republican Senator is fighting to save his political career and personal reputation, tonight. Police records have surfaced revealing Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested by an undercover officer for soliciting sex. A short while ago, Craig was adamant about a news conference denying the accusations. He says the only thing he did wrong was to plead guilty in the hopes the incident would go away. It has not. ABC's David Kerley joins us from Washington....

That same August night, Brian Williams led the NBC Nightly News:

We begin this evening with a drama that is the talk of the nation's capital and the talk of the state of Idaho tonight. It is the story of a Republican United States Senator, arrested for an alleged sexual advance to an undercover police officer in an airport men's room in Minneapolis. But despite pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, a plea Senator Larry Craig says he should now not have made, the Senator loudly and publicly claimed today he is not gay. Our NBC News senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, has been following this story for us...

On Monday night, Couric, who noted Spitzer's party, began her newscast:

In the turbulent world of politics, this could be a Category 5 storm. Today, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who built a national reputation as a crusader and reformer and built his political career fighting corruption, became entangled in a prostitution scandal.
A partial transcript from the start of the March 10 NBC Nightly News:
ANN CURRY, TEASE: On the broadcast tonight, fall from grace. New York's corruption-fighting Governor apologizes after being linked to a prostitution ring.

CURRY, TOP OF SHOW: Good evening, I'm Ann Curry in for Brian Williams tonight. In a stunning development this afternoon, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose reputation for righteously prosecuting wrongdoing gave him the nickname Eliot Ness, publicly apologized after being linked to a prostitution ring. NBC's Mike Taibbi joins with us details. Mike?

MIKE TAIBBI: And Eliot Spitzer always liked being called a sheriff of Wall Street or Time magazine's “Crusader of the Year.” But now the self-styled crime-figher, who busted prostitution rings back when he was Attorney General, has himself been linked to a sex ring and could be facing the end of his public career....
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this complete transcript of the coverage on the March 10 World News on ABC:
ELIZABETH VARGAS, TEASER: Welcome to World News. Tonight, political bombshell: The Governor of New York publicly apologizes after he's linked to a prostitution ring.

...

VARGAS: Good evening. When Eliot Spitzer was Attorney General of New York, he was nicknamed the "Sheriff of Wall Street." He gained a reputation around the country for aggressively cracking down on corporate corruption. He was elected Governor with a reputation for fighting crime, and it was widely believed he hoped to run some day for national office. So it was nothing short of a political earthquake today when it was revealed that Spitzer himself was linked to a federal investigation into a prostitution ring. He has not been charged with a crime. ABC's Dan Harris is here now with all the details.

DAN HARRIS: Elizabeth, good evening. Governor Eliot Spitzer came to office vowing to restore ethics and integrity. But, as he said today, he failed to live up the standards he set for himself. It was a supremely humiliating press conference for a man who made his name as a crusading public servant.

ELIOT SPITZER: I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family, and that violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong. I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public whom I promised better.

HARRIS: Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught up in a federal investigation into an alleged high-priced prostitution ring called Emperor's Club VIP, which charged up $5500 an hour. On its Web site the company claims to service a "select group of educated, refined and successful international clients." The allegations against the people who run the company are laid out in this affidavit. Client number nine, who, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation, is Governor Spitzer, is recorded arranging for a prostitute named Kristen to travel by train from New York City to Washington, D.C, on February 13, and come to his hotel room. ABC News has confirmed that Governor Spitzer booked a room at the Mayflower hotel [across the street from the ABC News Washington bureau] that night and testified before Congress the next day. In the affidavit, client number nine asks what Kristen will look like, and is told, "American, petite, very pretty brunette." This is a stunning fall from grace for a man who, as Attorney General of New York, prosecuted two prostitution rings and waged an aggressive, headline-grabbing campaign against Wall Street misdeeds -- a campaign some found overbearing.

SPITZER, FILE FOOTAGE: Reform is the key. It is only through real reform that investor confidence will be restored.

JOHN FUND, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I would say you could walk through the deepest sympathy for Eliot Spitzer on Wall Street and you would not get your ankles wet.

HARRIS: Governor Spitzer is known as a straight arrow, an ambitious overachiever who's been married to his wife Silda for 21 years. They have three children.

BROOKE MASTERS, Biographer: I was completely stunned. It seems so out of character, when you think about it. He seems to have a very good marriage.

ELIOT SPITZER: I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

HARRIS: This investigation actually began months ago when the Governor's bank alerted federal authorities to suspicious transactions in the governor's account. What started out as an investigation into public corruption has led to the revelation of this prostitution ring.

VARGAS: Dan, what charges might Governor Spitzer actually face?

HARRIS: So, obviously, local charges potentially for soliciting a prostitute. Also federal charges for transporting a prostitute across state lines. But legal experts we spoke to today say it's highly unlikely that he'll be charged. In these cases, usually the clients are not charged. So, at this point, he may not be in legal jeopardy, but he is definitely in political jeopardy.

VARGAS: All right. Dan Harris, thanks so much. And for that aspect of the story, we turn now to our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos. And, George, other politicians have survived similar type scandals, but with his reputation as a dogged law enforcer, not an option?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Very, very tough, Elizabeth. My guess is, right now, he's probably trying to negotiate with those prosecutors the kind of deals he made with top corporate officials he prosecuted that he would resign if they would choose not to indict. Given his record as a prosecutor, given the enemies he's made on Wall Street and in Albany, and given the fact that this is a presidential election year where he would become fodder for the campaigns, I think it's going to be very, very difficult, if not impossible, for him to continue in office.

VARGAS: If, in fact, he resigns, the Lieutenant Governor would be sworn in, and he would make history on several fronts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, he certainly would. David Patterson, the current Lieutenant Governor, he would be the first African-American Governor in the state of New York, the first legally blind Governor ever in the United States. And, of course, he would become only the second African-American Governor in the United States. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts is the only other one right now.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center