Politico's Revealing Coverage Double Standard on Challenges to House Leaders

JonesAndBoehner0509Those who believe that Politico is a hangout for former establishment media journalists who want to recreate a combination of the New York Times and Washington Post on the web -- complete with the insufferable biases of those two publications -- can look to the disparate treatment of two challenges to party congressional leaders as affirmative evidence.

In a search on "Cindy Sheehan" at Politico, I found that in covering the congressional candidacy of former media darling Cindy Sheehan in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Northern California district, the online news site carried two tiny items. Only one of them was originally produced there.

The first, carried at its Crypt blog in July 2007, noted that the anti-war activist was planning to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an independent -- "unless she introduces legislation to impeach President Bush within the next two weeks." The second was a five-paragraph Associated Press item noting that Sheehan had qualified to run as an independent against Pelosi in the general election. Sheehan was runner-up to Pelosi on November 4, with 16.2% of the vote, even though the U.S. military victory in Iraq was self-evident by that time.

But on May 11, Politico's Josh Kroushaar posted a two-page, 887-word treatise about a less well-known though colorful county sheriff who is thinking -- only thinking -- about running against House Minority Leader John Boehner in the 2010 GOP Primary.

As you'll see, Politico even interviewed the challenger, Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones:

Even before Jones explored the race, his penchant for attracting headlines earned him the nickname “Spotlight Jones.” A conservative with a populist streak, he regularly appears on Cincinnati conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham’s radio show to speak out against illegal immigration, and Jones has attracted attention for refusing to evict homeowners facing foreclosure.

In an interview with POLITICO, Jones said he is thinking seriously about running against Boehner because he’s been dissatisfied with Republican congressional leadership.

“The party is in the toilet and in the wilderness. I don’t know where they’re going. Being an incumbent in Washington is not really the best thing right now,” Jones said.

“Remember David and Goliath? It sounds like [Republicans] are saying: ‘How dare he challenge someone who’s so powerful?’ Well, I’m not a person who’s intimidated,” said Jones, who was first elected sheriff in 2005. “I always do what I believe is the right thing to do. I don’t have any lobbyists who control me. I try to do the right thing, and I’ve never forgotten that.”

Jones, once described by the Dayton Daily News as a “cross between John Wayne and Rush Limbaugh,” said he would focus on immigration as a major theme if he runs. As sheriff, Jones has posted billboards in the county warning employers not to hire illegal immigrants and has lobbied for local law enforcement officials to crack down on immigration violations. During the presidential campaign, he bought an ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer accusing Republican presidential nominee John McCain of being weak on immigration.

..... “Politics is a contact sport. It’s not for sissies,” Jones said. “I don’t want to get into something I’m going to lose. I’ve got to have the resources and the support. And at this point, that’s something I’m trying to garner.”

..... To illustrate his conservative credentials, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour cited his leadership against President Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation, his long-standing refusal to accept earmarks for the district and his high-profile opposition to former President George W. Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Seymour noted that Jones requested millions in stimulus money to help refurbish his sheriff’s office, which could undermine his attempts to win over conservative primary voters.

As one of the party’s top fundraisers, Boehner will have little trouble mounting a defense of his seat.

Though Jones is conservative on many issues, Politico "somehow" missed Jones's announcement late last year (link is to a blog post; original story was in the Cincinnati Enquirer, whose original link no longer available) that, until winter ended, he was "ordering his deputies to disregard eviction orders when people have nowhere else to live."

Yes, Jones is an elected official, and Sheehan never has been, but no one can credibly claim that Jones is more well-known in John Boehner's entire congressional district, which includes part or all of five other counties in the Dayton media market, than Sheehan was in San Francisco last year.

By devoting so much attention to Jones, who again is only thinking about a challenge, Politico appears to be giving away its interest or hope that Boehner will have to deal with a viable challenger. Regardless of whether that's the case, the fact that it virtually ignored the real candidacy of much better-known Pelosi challenger Sheehan, whose sentiments against the Iraq war were arguably more in line with the far-left views of voters in California's 8th Congressional District than some of Jones's positions are in Ohio's 8th, is a pretty clear example of a double standard.

Thus, Politico seems well on its way to achieving its goal of becoming a NYT-WaPo online clone. Coverage disparities such as the one demonstrated here may also lead it to clone the two print publications' shrinking popularity and lack of profitability.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.