Harold Ford’s Uncle Convicted, Media Bury Relationship and Party Affiliation
Assume for a moment that a prominent Republican’s uncle that happened to be a former state senator was convicted of accepting bribes. Do you think:
- This would have been headline/front-page news
- The family relationship would have been in the lede and/or headline
- His party affiliation would have been in the lede and/or headline?
Well, on Friday, the uncle of former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D), former Tennessee State Sen. John Ford (D), was convicted of accepting bribes totaling $55,000. Yet, many media outlets buried the connection to his much more popular nephew, as well as the fact that he was a Democrat.
For instance, this is how the New York Times handled the story Saturday coincidentally on page A14 (h/t NB reader Joe Easley):
Ex-Tennessee Lawmaker Is Guilty of Bribery
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MEMPHIS, April 27 (AP) — Former State Senator John Ford, a prominent member of a politically powerful family here, was convicted Friday of accepting bribes.
But the federal jury deadlocked on the more serious charge of extortion, creating a mistrial on that count. The jury also acquitted him of three counts of witness intimidation. The charges resulted from a statewide corruption investigation.
It wasn’t until the seventh paragraph that Ford’s party affiliation was revealed. His connection to nephew Harold wasn’t revealed until the eighth:
The jury had been deliberating since Wednesday afternoon in the case against Mr. Ford, a Memphis Democrat who served in the Legislature from the 1970s until he resigned a few days after his arrest in May 2005.
Mr. Ford comes from a politically powerful Tennessee family that includes his brother Harold E. Ford Sr. and his nephew Harold Ford Jr., both former congressmen.
Think this is the way it would have been handled if these were Republicans?
Sadly, the Los Angeles Times was even worse. Although Ford's nephew was mentioned a little sooner in paragraph six, there was no “D” next to the former Congressman’s name, and the first reference to Democrats didn’t surface until paragraph nine. And, much like in the NY Times, this article was buried on page A17.
Now, for the cynically-minded that have recognized both of these articles emanated from the Associated Press thereby concluding that it is all the AP’s fault, consider how the Washington Post covered the wire service’s piece on page A4:
MEMPHIS, April 27 -- Former state senator John Ford (D), a prominent member of a politically powerful family, was convicted Friday of accepting $55,000 in bribes.
“D” right in the first paragraph next to Ford’s name exactly as it should be. Unfortunately, the connection to his nephew didn’t come until paragraph six, but the Post was at least honest enough to include “D’s” where appropriate:
Ford served in the state legislature from the 1970s until May 2005, when he resigned a few days after his arrest. He is the brother of Harold E. Ford Sr. (D), Tennessee's first black congressman, and the uncle of Harold E. Ford Jr. (D), who replaced his father in Congress and served 10 years until losing a race for the U.S. Senate last year.
What a difference a “D” makes, wouldn’t you agree?
For the record, the following news outlets reported this similarly to the way it was handled by either the New York or Los Angeles Times:
In the end, the Associated Press does a lot of versions of the same story, and it might share some responsibility. However, each news outlet does decide which version to publish if any, and has some editorial discretion.
As such, if it was important to be upfront concerning party affiliation, as it appeared to be for the Washington Post, these other outlets certainly could have accomplished it.