NBC Touts Menendez Dismissing Prostitute Scandal as 'False Attack' From 'Political Enemies'

On Tuesday's Today, while teasing NBC's third full report on the unfolding scandal surrounding New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, co-host Matt Lauer proclaimed: "...we're hearing from [him] this morning for the first time about claims that he was with prostitutes during some overseas trips. Coming up, his emotional response to what he says is a false attack."

In the segment that followed, Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell teed up a series of sound bites of Menendez denying the allegations and attacking those making them: "[He] denied that online story and grew emotional, saying political enemies launched a false attack." Referring to the story that broke on The Daily Caller, Menendez ranted: "...smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election...It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream..."

O'Donnell then parroted Menendez's defense: "A conservative website published a story before the November election that Menendez was with prostitutes during trips to the Dominican Republic in 2010. Menendez, who is divorced, points out that various news outlets have been unable to verify the original story, based on anonymous sources."

On Thursday, both Today and CBS This Morning reported on the scandal, but adopted a dismissive tone. NBC correspondent Pete Williams cited the liberal-leaning group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington casting doubt on the credibility of a tipster that contacted them with information about the controversy. Meanwhile, CBS's Jan Crawford declared that it had "all the earmarks of an orchestrated smear campaign."


Here is a full transcript of O'Donnell's February 5 report:

7:01AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Also ahead, we're hearing from high-ranking Senator Robert Menendez this morning for the first time about claims that he was with prostitutes during some overseas trips. Coming up, his emotional response to what he says is a false attack.

7:16AM ET SEGMENT:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is speaking out for the first time about an anonymous online report linking him to prostitutes during trips to the Dominican Republic. A claim the Senator is strongly denying this morning. Kelly O'Donnell is NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent. Kelly, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "All of Those Smears Are Absolutely False"; Senator Denounces Online Prostitution Story]

KELLY O'DONNELL: Good morning, Savannah. Well, this all comes just as Senator Menendez is becoming even more powerful here on Capitol Hill. He's reacting to the report based on anonymous sources that was posted online right before his re-election in November. I was among a small group of reporters who spoke to Menendez right off the Senate Floor and I made an audio recording of his responses.

ROBERT MENENDEZ [SEN. D-NJ]: Those smears are exactly that, smears, untrue.

O'DONNELL: Asked directly if he had been with a prostitute, Senator Menendez, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, denied that online story and grew emotional, saying political enemies launched a false attack.

MENENDEZ: The smears, the smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election and that is totally unsubstantiated. It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they've done successfully.

O'DONNELL: A conservative website published a story before the November election that Menendez was with prostitutes during trips to the Dominican Republic in 2010. Menendez, who is divorced, points out that various news outlets have been unable to verify the original story, based on anonymous sources.

MENENDEZ: Now nobody can find them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to them, but that's where we're at. So the bottom line is, all of those smears are absolutely false.

O'DONNELL: Menendez did travel to the Dominican Republic with a top campaign donor from Florida, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Pictured together at a gala last year for a Hispanic multimedia organization that Melgen chairs. Last week, the FBI was at Melgen's West Palm Beach offices, taking away boxes of material. Authorities have not disclosed the focus of the investigation. Menendez drew more attention because he just reimbursed Melgen last month. More than $58,000 for 2010 travel on Melgen's private plane. Menendez had not reported those flights under Senate rules, but says, that was simply an oversight.

MENENDEZ: When it came to my attention that it had not been paid, I came forth and paid it. And so I can't do anything better than that. Had I wished that in those travel schedules that we had, that we had a better process to make sure it didn't fall through the crack, yes. But when it came to my attention, I did the right thing and I paid for it.

O'DONNELL: And the Senate Ethics Committee says it's aware of these reports and is doing what it should in its own process. Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, says that whatever investigation should go forward, but he backs Bob Menendez. Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Kelly O'Donnell on the Hill for us. Kelly, thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC