In the wake of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s admission to having an affair, evening and morning newscasts on NBC, CBS, and ABC all immediately identified him as a Republican. In contrast, in March of last year, the networks rarely identified disgraced New York Governor Eliot Spitzer as a Democrat in the wake of his affair with a prostitute.
In a 2008 study of evening and morning network newscasts following the Spitzer scandal, NewsBusters’ Rich Noyes found that within the first week of news coverage Spitzer was only identified as a Democrat 20% of the time. However, within the first 24 hours of Sanford’s confession to having an affair, he was identified as a Republican 100% of the time, during coverage on all the networks.
On Wednesday, the NBC Nightly News, which failed to give Spitzer’s party affiliation for three days following his scandal, immediately focused on Sanford’s national role in the Republican Party as anchor Brian Williams declared: "In a Republican Party hungry for young stars, he was one of them: Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina...Tonight his political career is in tatters. His state, his party are in some turmoil. And Mark Sanford is no longer being mentioned as a possible GOP nominee for the White House."
On the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric similarly exclaimed: "Tonight, a rising Republican star caught up in scandal. The missing Governor of South Carolina returns with a tearful tale of a foreign affair."
Anchor Charles Gibson on ABC’s World News was no exception, using almost the same language as Couric: "Governor Mark Sanford, a rising star in the Republican Party, considered a presidential candidate by some, came clean today about where he went and why."
The emphasis on Sanford’s Republican ties continued on the Thursday network morning shows, with NBC Today host Matt Lauer opening the show: "And this morning the political future of South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford, a once-rising star in the Republican Party, is very much in doubt." Later in the show, Lauer actually got reaction to the Sanford scandal from disgraced New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, whom he failed to identify as a Democrat.
On the CBS Early Show, correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported: "Sanford, a rising star in the Republican Party, also likely hurt his chances at higher office. Not only admitting to an affair but to misleading the public and his own staff about his disappearance."
ABC’s Diane Sawyer opened Good Morning America by declaring: "What was going on in the mind of South Carolina's governor? A onetime presidential hopeful for the Republican Party. Will he be forced to resign. And who is the mystery woman in Argentina who drove him to risk it all? We are live from South Carolina to Buenos Aires."