ABC Alone Covers Dem Mayor Accused of Perjury; Ignores Party ID

On Tuesday's "Good Morning America," reporter Dan Harris covered the growing sex scandal of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and, at the same time, skipped the fact that he is a Democrat. The story, which has, thus far, been ignored by both NBC and CBS's morning shows, relates to testimony Kilpatrick gave in the summer of 2007 when he denied having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, and of using security to cover up the relationship. (14,000 just discovered text messages between the mayor and Beatty tend to refute the Mayor's statement.)

During Harris's segment, the GMA correspondent described the embattled politician who, prior to the scandal, was "considered a talented politician with a very bright future" in apolitical terms. Other than a brief, onscreen graphic, he didn't verbally mention Kilpatrick's Democratic Party affiliation. Harris also brought up related examples of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, both of whom are Democrats. (Those facts also went unspoken.) In contrast, a 2006 Media Research Center study found that the three networks of ABC, CBS and NBC filed 150 stories in less than a two week period about Republican Mark Foley and his sex scandal.

Now, it is true that major elements of the Kilpatrick story are just emerging, but it will be interesting to see how aggressively the media cover this case of perjury and a prominent Democratic politician. (It goes without saying that GMA made no comparison to former President Bill Clinton and his problems relating to a sex scandal and lying under oath.) And while Kilpatrick is not a Congressman like Mark Foley, he is a major mayor of one of America's big cities.

NewsBusters has covered previous examples of media outlets ignoring Kilpatrick's party affiliation.

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:32am on January 29, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: But now, we turn to the headlines out of Detroit this morning, the political scandal brewing there. The city's mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick and his female chief of staff under fire for allegedly lying under oath about a personal relationship, denying that they had one, a physical relationship. Monday, the chief of staff resigned amid revelations of newly discovered cache of nearly 14,000 text messages between the two. ABC's Dan Harris has more on all of this.

DAN HARRIS: Diane, good morning. What this really is a cautionary tale about the dangers of communicating in this text saturated age. It is also a story that has provoked near political paralysis in a major American city. When Kwame Kilpatrick was elected mayor of Detroit in 2001 at age 31, he was the youngest big-city leader in the country, considered a talented politician with a very bright future.

MAYOR KWAME KILPATRICK [Footage of mayor testifying]: At one setting, she did tell me that.

HARRIS: But, that future is now threatened by what's being called a techno sexual tragedy, involving the mayor and his chief of staff. Christine Beatty. Last week, the Detroit Free Press made public these text messages with the married mayor telling his chief of staff who was also married things like, "I'm madly in love with you" and "I need you so bad" and also making explicit references to making love. Beatty's replies include, "In case you haven't noticed, Im madly in love with you, too" and "did you miss me sexually?"

VOICE OF PROSECUTOR: Were you and Mayor Kilpatrick either romantically or intimately involved with each other?

CHRISTINE BEATTY: No.

HARRIS: The text messages seem to contradict testimony given by both Beatty and the mayor last summer in a lawsuit accusing the mayor of using his security unit to cover up extramarital affairs.

KILPATRICK (D-Detroit, Michigan): I think it's absurd to assert that every woman who works with a man is a [censored]. I think it's disrespectful, not just to Christine Beatty, but to do a professional job that they do.

HARRIS: At the Detroit Free Press, they say they were shocked when they found the text messages.

PAUL ANGER (VP, Detroit Free Press): We were just agog at what they were seeing. It was just, for goodness sake, look at what we've got. This is tragedy. This is sad. This is a great story. We take no joy in it, but we're going to handle it right.

HARRIS: The county prosecutor is now investigating whether Kilpatrick and Beatty lied under oath. On Monday, Beatty announced her resignation. Saying in a statement, "I painfully regret the devastation that the recent reports have caused." Mayor Kilpatrick, meanwhile, is, essentially, in hiding. Holed up in his mansion, issuing only a brief statement saying, "These five and six-year old text messages reflect a very difficult period in my personal life. My wife and I worked our way through these intensely personal issues years ago." Other big city mayors including San Francisco's Gavin Newsom and L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa have weathered sex scandals recently, but people in Detroit are now split over whether this mayor should step down. .

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think it's a disgrace. What does that say for our children?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's a black eye for the city, that's what it is.

SECOND UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nobody is perfect and nobody should be judged in their personal life as long as he's doing what it takes to help the city.

HARRIS: Now, if Mayor Kilpatrick and his chief of staff are charged and convicted of lying under oath, they could each face 15 years in prison. The mayor has now reportedly hired a high-powered, $600 an hour lawyer and, meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press is refusing to say how it got a hold of those text messages.

SAWYER: So many questions.

HARRIS: A lot of questions.

SAWYER: About all those text messages, for one thing. I mean, as you said, it really does raise a cautionary list of text messages, among many others.

HARRIS: As somebody once told me, don't put anything in an e-mail or text that you wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org