Name That Party: In Birmingham, Ala. Democratic Mayor's Sentencing for 60 Felonies, Reuters Gets It Right, AP Avoids

Langford

Former Birmingham, Alabama mayor Larry Langford (pictured at right in AP photo), who is a Democrat, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday for bribery.

In reporting the story, Reuters did what a competent wire service should do, informing readers of Langford's party affiliation early on:

The former mayor of Alabama's largest city, Birmingham, was sentenced on Friday for his role in corrupt bond deals that threaten to mushroom into a massive U.S. bankruptcy case.

Larry Langford, a 63-year-old Democrat, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a term of at least 24 years after Langford's conviction on an array of fraud and bribery charges last year.

As has sadly come to be expected, the same cannot be said for the Associated Press. Though it eventually got around to identifying two associates of Langford as "former Democratic Party" officials, it avoided tagging Langford. In the process, the wire service may have set a "Name That Party" record for most felony convictions (60) handed to a politician whose party affiliation was never identified.

The AP's breaking news report opened the pathetic journalistic enterprise (HT to two e-mailers):

Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for taking some $235,000 in bribes in return for lucrative bond work.

U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler imposed the sentence Friday. Langford was convicted on 60 felony counts in October and removed from office.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to send the 63-year-old Langford to prison for at least 24 years, saying he hasn't shown any remorse. The defense asked for no more than five years.

Two men who admitted bribing Langford while he was president of the Jefferson County Commission already have been sentenced to prison for at least four years each.

As you can see, no one's party was named. This breaking report is more than likely what most AP subscribers who jumped on the report used as their source material.

The later full report by the AP's Jay Reeves seemed to imply that Langford's two business associates used to be Democrats, never directly identified the former Birmingham mayor's party, and sent the astonishing 60 felony convictions statistic down the memory hole:

Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison for taking clothes, Rolex watches, loan payments and cash worth more than $240,000 as bribes in return for lucrative bond work.

... Langford and his wife have blamed his conviction on vindictive prosecutors, inattentive jurors and racism. Langford is black; most of the jurors were white.

Defense lawyers already are working on an appeal.

Langford, a dapper political figure, was convicted in October of taking cash, loans and gifts - including expensive clothes and jewelry - while he was president of the Jefferson County Commission. In exchange, prosecutors said, he steered county bond work to an investment banker who paid the bribes.

... The defense claimed the cash and other items were personal gifts and loans from friends and did not influence Langford's decision on the bond work.

But investment banker Bill Blount pleaded guilty to making the payments, and lobbyist Al LaPierre admitted being the middleman. Blount, the former state Democratic Party chairman, last week was sentenced to more than four years in prison. LaPierre, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party, got four years. Blount also was ordered to pay $1 million to the government, and LaPierre $470,000.

There doesn't seem to be any good reason why the reference to 60 felonies disappeared.

But then again, there wasn't any good reason for Reeves to avoid naming Langford's party, so the removal of the felonies stat is least consistent -- consistently journalistically negligent.

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