CNN Downplays Latest Democratic Scandal
Yesterday fundraiser Norman Hsu was convicted of of illegally funneling tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Wall Street Journal reported:
On Tuesday, a jury convicted Mr. Hsu of four counts of campaign-finance fraud after about 2½ hours of deliberations. Each count carries up to five years in prison.
The latest example of political corruption was met by much of the mainstream media with a collective yawn. CNN mentioned it only twice. The Situation Room featured CNN anchor T.J. Holmes briefly touching on the story:
Also, a name you might remember making some news again. He gave money to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And he was already found guilty for mail and wire fraud. Well, today, Norman Hsu was convicted of violating campaign finance laws. He was accused of getting donations from people, including from celebrities, who funneled money that exceeded campaign finance rules to Democratic campaigns. His sentencing is scheduled for August.
On Lou Dobbs Tonight, the host noted:
A top fund-raiser for the Democrats, Norman Hsu, today, convicted of corruption. A New York jury found Hsu guilty of breaking laws that restrict the amount of money an individual or group can donate to a political party. Hsu raised more than $800,000 for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, money that she later returned.
The lack of comprehensive coverage was notable, especially when considering how CNN has treated other political scandals. On January 3, 2006, for example, lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. CNN couldn't give its viewers enough information on Abramoff, whose activities primarily targeted Republican politicians.
So on Your World Today at 12:00 PM (ET), CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry reported live from outside the federal district court building. The following hour on Live From. . . , Henry spoke with anchor Kyra Phillips:
PHILLIPS: All right. Let's talk about how this scandal could affect congressional elections, leadership in the House. What do you think?
HENRY: That's the main event this year. As you know, the president's no longer on the ballot. It's the midterm elections this coming November. And the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and others have been making this case they believe there's a culture of corruption in the Republican Congress, which has now been in power since 1995. Republicans, of course, reject that argument. But this is going to add more fuel to the Democratic fire that, in fact, this was a Republican super-lobbyist, mostly had contacts with high-profile Republican leaders like Tom DeLay.
But again, I want to underline there are Democrats who have been implicated here. So while Democrats are sort of feasting on this right now, they may have some of their own lawmakers pulled down by this as well, Kyra.
Henry again talked with Phillips about the Abramoff story during the 3:00 PM segment of Live From. . . The next hour on The Situation Room, anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Ed Henry once again and then spoke with CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who identified two schools of thought on the matter:
SCHNEIDER: President Bush himself called Abramoff -- quote -- "an equal money dispenser to people in both political parties."
JACK ABRAMOFF, LOBBYIST: I have no choice but to assert my various constitutional privileges.
SCHNEIDER: The second school points out that most of Abramoff's money seems to have gone to his fellow Republicans, including one very high profile Republican. And even if voters turn against all incumbents, Republicans have more at stake. Most incumbents in Congress are Republicans.
When asked in October which party in Congress would do a better job dealing with corruption, Democrats held an 11-point advantage, not because people believed Democrats are less corrupt, but because people know Democrats are out of power and money follows power.
Still, Blitzer wasn't through talking about Abramoff. CNN Internet reporter Abbi Tatton, correspondent Dana Bash, Democratic strategist Bill Press, and Human Events editor Terry Jeffrey all had their say. The next hour of The Situation Room included mention of Jack Abramoff no fewer than 20 times.
At 6:00 PM, CNN host Jonathan Mann devoted a full hour to the "Jack Abramoff Scandal" on Headline News. Lou Dobbs Tonight at the same time included more than two dozen references to Abramoff and featured senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and longtime Democratic operative Stanley Brand.
Wolf Blitzer got back in the saddle during the 7:00 PM Situation Room, allotting plenty of time to the Abramoff story and coaxing from Democratic attorney Richard Ben-Veniste that, "This is the biggest scandal to come down the pike in a long, long time."
Both the Abramoff and Hsu scandals involved politicians at the highest levels of government. Both involved huge contributions to candidates. Both involved the possibility of lengthy jail sentences. The disparity in coverage by CNN can't be explained away with a claim that Abramoff's offenses were so much more serious than Hsu's that they warranted wall to wall coverage for most of the news day while the Hsu story merited merely two brief references.
One striking difference is that Hsu, unlike Abramoff, almost exclusively favored Democrats with his artificial largess. Is it possible - just possible - that could make a difference in CNN's treatment of the stories?