More Games with Party Labeling in Yet Another Democratic Corruption Scandal

Dith Pran/ The New York TImes

See below for an update in coverage:

The indicted former Newark Mayor and current NJ state Senator Sharpe James sure is mysterious. According to the New York Times, WNBC and via the AP, the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo, Philadelphia Inquirer and the UK's Guardian, among others, James seemingly does not belong to a political party. Maybe he belongs to the same non-party as Rep. William Jefferson who was indicted on corruption and bribery charges earlier this year (hat tip to a NewsBusters reader):

Strangely, after a little digging, I discovered that James is a Democrat and that according to the prosecution, some of his alleged expenses included costly trips to Jamaica, Rio de Janeiro and Puerto Rico on the taxpayer's dime, as well as letting a girlfriend buy city property at bargain-basement prices.

For some reason, the media seem reluctant to identify that James is a Democrat and even those articles which do, bury his affiliation up to 11 paragraphs down into the text as the AP did on ABCNews.com. Even Wikipedia. minimized James' connection to the Democrats.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times was the worst offender. In a detailed 29-paragraph two-page spread (on the on-line version), the Times just didn't see fit to divulge James' party, even though the first three paragraphs provided several opportunities:

Sharpe James, the former mayor who towered over politics in this city for two decades and was a charismatic if combative cheerleader as it struggled to regain businesses and middle-class residents, was indicted on Thursday on charges of using city credit cards for personal expenses and letting a companion buy municipal property for a fraction of its worth.

Mr. James, who built a patronage machine largely through cult of personality, is accused of illegally charging more than $58,000 on two city credit cards for Jacuzzi dips, alcohol, movies, meals and weekend getaways for tennis tournaments with friends.

The United States attorney for New Jersey, Christopher J. Christie, said the case against Mr. James contained “stark examples of the greed and arrogance of unchecked power.”

The Times meticulously detailed James' financial exploits, right down to the $207 Martha's Vineyard ferry reservation for his Rolls-Royce, yet it couldn't slip in his party affiliation. Even the paper's “Times Topics” page which is supposed to link extra info to the first reference of a significant person, place or thing within an article didn't contain the elusive D-word when James' name was first mentioned.

The AP was just as bad. All the AP articles seemed to have been written by Janet Frankston Lorin and either did not reveal the party outright or buried it from seven to eleven paragraphs, with the Washington Post being the exception at three. Why Lorin would minimize and exclude such a significant piece of information is something that should be answered, particularly since the AP's own guidebook for journalists, the AP Stylebook, recommends including party when relevant. The AP tends to find party relevant when a Republican is caught in a scandal.

Even Wikipedia got in on the act by not listing James' party in the main body of the entry instead relying on the side bar that includes a picture and lists his name, date of birth, spouse, etc, as opposed to former Rep. Mark Foley, who was identified in the first sentence as a Republican and several times throughout in addition to the side bar.

Why so many media sources would exclude a vital part of the story isn't stated, but it is plain that the media went out of its way to avoid exposing James' party. Think about this the next time you read “Republican” in the first sentence during the next scandal.

Updated (July 14 at 18:50 EDT and at 20:45 EDT ): Today at 00:44, James' Wikipedia entry was updated. “Democratic” was inserted before “Senator” in the first sentence. This is what it looked like before the change.

Contact Lynn at tvisgoodforyou2 AT yahoo DOT com