Name That Party, RIP-Style: AP Runs National Story on Death of 'Disgraced' Long-Forgotten Ohio GOP Politician

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx40/mmatters/APabsolutelyPathetic0109.jpgnamethatparty-1When I saw the Associated Press's headline ("Disgraced former Ohio congressman dies at 79"), I started thinking about whom the wire service might be referring to.

Of course I knew he would be a Republican, because the establishment media never treats Democrats, even those who leave women who aren't their wives to drown in a submerged car, as "disgraced."

But even I never thought that the AP would reach back 20 years and attempt to give the national spotlight (raw feed proof as of 6:30 p.m. ET is here) to a former Ohio politician whom even most Ohioans -- even most Southwestern Ohioans -- don't remember. I clearly underestimated AP's cravenness. I guess "The Essential Global News Network" needed to find something to offset the hurt coursing through liberal circles today from seeing the GOP gain a seat, however temporarily, in Hawaii.

No "Name That Party" post would be complete without referring to how Democratic politicians in somewhat analogous situations were handled by AP upon their death. That's coming up.

But first, here is most of the wire service's story (for fair use and discussion purposes, of course) about the former congressman's death, complete with multiple party and political philosophy references, as well as guilt by association:

APonBuzLukensDeath052310

Let's go through a Name That Party media bias checklist for this story:

  • Status as a conservative mentioned in first paragraph? Check.
  • Party affiliation (a gimme thanks to the previous item) mentioned within the first four paragraphs? Check.
  • "Forgetting" which party had controlled Congress for decades was responsible for the operations of the House Bank, a scandal which snagged far more Democrats than Repuplicans? Check (NSF, naturally).
  • Bringing out the names of GOP icons for a guilt by association effect? Check. (Who would one expect a conservative to have supported? LBJ or Carter?)

Now for comparison's sake, let's look at how the AP handled the relatively recent death of a Democratic congressman, namely Gary Studds of Massachusetts in 2006, and one from the more distant past, that of former House Speaker Wilbur Mills in 1992. Other readers may be aware of other examples, and are welcome to note them.

The Studds story is similar to that of Lukens in that involves sex with an underage person. But being a Democrat, the Massachusetts congressman's transgressions were of little consequence, and were even accompanied by in-your-face defiance.

The AP story covering his death ("Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds Dies at 69") never directly noted that Studds was a Democrat, never tagged him as a liberal, and did not insert the names of any other more prominent Democrats of his era. Studds' party affiliation was only something that could be inferred (but not definitively) from the text of the story's eighth paragraph (excerpt is of Paragraphs 7-10):

In 1983, Studds acknowledged his homosexuality after the page revealed he'd had a relationship with Studds a decade earlier, when the page was 17. Studds was censured for sexual misconduct by the House, then went home to his constituents to answer questions in a series of public meetings and interviews with the press.

Studds defended the relationship as a consensual relationship with a young adult. The page later appeared publicly with Studds in support of him. The scandal recently resurfaced when former Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigned after exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with a page. Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy for savaging Foley, but saying little about Studds at that time.

Hara said Studds was never ashamed of the relationship with the page.

"This young man knew what he was doing," (Studds' gay "spouse" Dean) Hara said. "He was at (Studds') side."

As you can see, the AP also made sure to complete another checklist item for Democrats involved in scandals: "Always refer to Republican scandals in any story involving troubled Democrats (dead or alive)." As far as is known, Foley never had a physical relationship with a House page, let alone tried to describe any such relationship, which by law is considered non-consensual, as consensual and without shame.

AP's relatively well done May 3, 1992 Wilbur Mills story carried at the Hendersonville (NC) Times-News illustrates how far away from its own Stylebook standards the wire service has moved in the intervening years. The no-holds-barred first paragraph describes Mills as a "powerful congressman whose career was destroyed by a stripper's plunge into Washington's Tidal Basin." The fifth paragraph plainly says that Mills was "a Democrat." The story appropriately describes the circumstances of the Mills-"Fanne Foxe" incident in 1974 and its fallout. There is no reference to a Republican scandal, though Buz Lukens's transgressions occurred only three years before Mill's death.

Geez, at least the AP used to try to be fair. Now the bias is so obvious, to the point of even dancing on the grave of a long-forgotten dead man to make a political point, that it should be embarrassing. But it obviously isn't.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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