Mark Sanford Wins, Washington Post 'He's Toast' Bias Loses

The Washington Post reported Mark Sanford’s “easy victory” in a special-election vote for Congress to replace now-Sen. Tim Scott. This had to be disappointing for columnist Dana Milbank, who predicted just last Thursday that “South Carolinians, asked to cross the line with Sanford on Tuesday, are likely to tell him to take a hike.”

The Post tried to paint Sanford as a goner. The only time his race made the front page in the last month was a Karen Tumulty story on April 18 headlined “Trespassing case, GOP's pullout rattle Sanford's bid.” You could smell the morning toast:

Just two weeks after former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won the Republican nomination in a special election for a House seat, his bid for a political comeback veered back into weirdness on Wednesday amid revelations that his former wife is taking him to court for trespassing and that the national GOP is washing its hands of his candidacy....

Sanford's stumbles have significantly brightened the prospects of Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a businesswoman and political newcomer who has been making few public appearances but who has benefited from the reflected celebrity and fundraising help of her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert. In a brief appearance at a diner here on Wednesday, Busch declined to comment on the latest controversy surrounding her opponent, saying she preferred to focus on jobs and the economy....

Busch's best hope of victory in this district, which went 58 percent for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential contest, is to win a significant share of the votes of women - both independents and Republicans, her strategists say. Sanford's behavior is one reason her team believes she has a chance of doing that.

Sanford even found that oh-so-typical WashPost Republican, the anonymous grave-digger:

A Republican familiar with the committee's decision, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss strategy, said it would be "foolish" for the party to invest in Sanford's campaign.

"It's not out of the realm of possibility for him to win - stranger things have happened in special elections," the Republican said. "But the fact that he wasted precious time and money rehabilitating his image, only to squander that, makes it very foolish for outside groups to commit resources."

If you didn’t catch this point in passing, Tumulty just barely acknowledged that Sanford opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch “made few public appearances.” On Tuesday night, Tumulty tweeted Colbert Busch ran a “laconic campaign” with little press availability. She expanded on that in Wednesday’s story: "Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, had run a campaign in the cautious style of an incumbent — surrounded by handlers, holding comparatively few public events, agreeing to only one debate and offering few specifics on issues."

When I challenged her that this was hardly the Post’s focus, she tweeted back “I'd come down to do a story on her when the [Sanford] trespassing stuff happened, so that story was, as they say, OBE [overtaken by events].” In fact, the words "Colbert Busch" were never in a Post headline in the last month. No one focused on her, on her positions, or on her own personal scandals (like being jailed for contempt).

Chris Cillizza called Sanford’s race the “Best Thing That Happened to Democrats” on April 22:

Mark Sanford. The Republican former South Carolina governor who is seeking a political comeback in a special congressional election for the seat he once held, began to implode. Early in the week, the Associated Press reported that Sanford's ex-wife had filed a complaint against him for trespassing in her home. By the end of the week, the national GOP had abandoned Sanford and Democrats began spending money on ads for Elizabeth Colbert Busch. If the GOP loses a district that went 58 percent for Mitt Romney,  it would be pretty embarrassing. Yet that seems to be quite possible come May 7.

This might be why Tumulty lamely claimed: "Special elections, which generally draw few voters, are notoriously hard to predict. And this one took so many wild bounces that it was harder to read than most." All the bounces were their attempts to beat Sanford.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis