Derelict to the End: AP Fails to Tag Judge in Pa. Guilty of Racketeering in 'Kids For Cash' Case As a Dem
Friday, a jury convicted former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Judge Mark Ciavarella of "12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, but acquitted him of 27 counts, including extortion" in connection with "what prosecutors said was a 'kids for cash' scheme that ranks among the biggest courtroom frauds in U.S. history." Ciavarella was "accused of using juvenile delinquents as pawns in a plot to get rich," i.e., that "he incarcerated youths for money."
The quotes in the previous paragraph are from Associated Press reporter Michael Rubinkam's story on the verdict. Rubinkam's report caps two years of the wire service's consistent failure to tell its own readers and viewers, as well readers, listeners, and viewers at subscribing outlets, the political party affiliations of Ciavarella and former judicial colleague Michael Conahan, who separately "pleaded guilty to racketeering last year."
Both former judges are Democrats. From all appearances, the AP said so just once in a report two years ago when the judges were indicted, and quickly pulled the reference, as shown in the graphic that follows:
- The item on the left (original saved here) appeared at the Topix.com discussion forum. The Topix post references and links to a specific msnbc.com URL.
- As seen on the right, by the time I went to that same MSNBC URL, the story had been revised. "Both are Democrats" was gone.
- The revised 856-word AP report at MSNBC (saved here) did not contain any mention of the judges' party affiliation.
- "It is virtually inconceivable that Topix would have gratuitously added 'Both are Democrats' on its own. Those words were almost definitely present at MSNBC when Topix did its excerpt."
In the two years since, I don't recall coming across any other AP report on the two judges mentioning either's party affiliation.
So the AP writer who wrote the original story (it may have been Rubinkam, as readers will see shortly) thought it was important enough to mention that "Both are Democrats" right off the bat. That's because he or she was adhering to the wire service's published guidelines on when to include party affiliation:
party affiliation Let relevance be the guide in determining whether to include a political figure’s party affiliation in a story. Party affiliation is pointless in some stories, such as an account of a governor accepting a button from a poster child. It will occur naturally in many political stories.
For stories between these extremes, include party affiliation if readers need it for understanding or are likely to be curious about what it is.
But then, guidelines be damned, it was gone. As I wrote two years ago:
Since this is clearly a national story involving a horrible, orchestrated, large-scale betrayal of the public trust, there is little doubt that the rest of the nation is quite "likely to be curious" about Ciavarella's and Conahan's party membership. But the AP's Michael Rubinkam and MaryClaire Dale, who are bylined ... in the party-purged version of the story carried at DCexaminer.com, apparently didn't think readers were entitled to know.
Short of an open admission, the pulled party-affiliation sentence following a brief appearance is probably as convincing a piece of evidence as we'll ever see that the press is deliberately playing "Don't Name That Democrat" whenever it can.
Do we even need to ask what would have been reported if Ciavarella and Conahan had been Republicans?
As a bit of an aside, in "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michael Moore claimed that this "kids for cash" enterprise exemplified why capitalism is a failure. Really.
Rubinkam's story on Ciavarella's conviction tells us that the convicted judge was allowed to go free pending sentencing, outraging affected victims and their families, including one whose son later committed suicide:
Parents of juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella were outraged that he was released after the verdicts. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families. Some of the children he ordered locked up were as young as 10.
Sandy Fonzo, whose son was jailed by Ciavarella - and committed suicide last year at age 23 - screamed obscenities at the judge and even poked him as he and his attorneys held a news conference on the courthouse steps.
"My kid's not here anymore!" yelled Fonzo. "He's dead! Because of him! He ruined my ... life! I'd like him to go to hell and rot there forever!"
Ciavarella glanced at Fonzo, then turned his back.
Fonzo's son, Edward Kenzakowski, was a 17-year-old all-star wrestler with no prior record when he landed in Ciavarella's courtroom for possession of drug paraphernalia. She said her son never recovered from the months he served at the detention centers and a wilderness camp.
Tears streaming down her face, Fonzo said she couldn't believe Ciavarella was allowed to walk out of the courthouse.
"There's no justice, there's not. He's never going to get what he deserves," she said. "I just wanted to see him handcuffed and taken out. But when I saw him just being released with that stupid smirk on his face ..."
... Ciavarella faces a maximum of 157 years in prison at sentencing, but will more likely receive 12 1/2 years to about 15 1/2 years under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said.
A video of Ciavarella's appearance outside the courtroom after the verdict which includes the confrontation with Ms. Fonzo is here.
The New York Times carried a brief party affiliation-free AP blurb on the verdict on Page A16 in Saturday's paper.
None of this will ever change this truth about Ciavarella and Conahan during the time they committed their crimes: "Both are Democrats."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.