The October 12 edition of "American Morning" demonstrated the stark difference between how the media focuses on a Republican scandal, versus one involving a powerful Democrat. The CNN program devoted 18 minutes to investigating the Mark Foley scandal and only 35 seconds to the details of a questionable land deal involving Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Despite the recent revelations that Reid earned $1.1 million on a Las Vegas property that he hadn’t owned for three years, and despite the fact that he recently hung up on an AP reporter who dared ask him about it, "American Morning," which airs from 6a.m to 10a.m., only broadcast two brief anchor reads on the subject. In contrast, the program produced five full reports and one anchor read on the scandal involving former Congressman Mark Foley and congressional pages.
This is how guest anchor Betty Nguyen reported the Reid story at 7:14a.m. EDT:
Nguyen: "Well, a Senate Democrat is now under scrutiny this morning for a land sale. Property deeds show Democratic leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a land sale and there are questions about how he reported it. It happened in his home state of Nevada. Reid says he did nothing wrong. The Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing the case."
A second report followed an hour later:
Nguyen: "Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is denying any wrongdoing. Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a land sale in his home state of Nevada. But there are questions about how he reported it. The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into this land deal."
Note the distinct lack of interest in those comments. There’s no mention of whether a controversy involving the top Democrat in the Senate will hurt the party so close to the midterm elections. And nothing is made of whether this could negatively effect Democrats that Reid campaigns for. By contrast, the stories on Foley, in addition to being more frequent in number and time, also included more colorful phrasing. Take this exchange between Nguyen and reporter Dana Bash during the 7.a.m. hour. The two were discussing presidential support for House Speaker Dennis Hastert:
Bash: "But the key here is the President is going to try to send a signal to fellow Republicans that the speaker is not radioactive. But the truth of the matter is, this appearance, this fund raiser today, is going to be in Chicago, Betty. It's Dennis Hastert's home town, home area where he's got a lot of reservoir of, of friends there. What you're not seeing around the country right now is the speaker traveling to fund-raise and to meet publicly with his Republican colleagues. That is something that was planned before the Mark Foley scandal broke. But right now, a lot of his colleagues are simply saying, if you come here, Mr. Speaker, you're going to give me unwanted headlines, I'm going to get unwanted questions about Mark Foley, so, thanks, but no thanks.’ Betty."
Nguyen: "And hence the term radioactive, which you just referred to."
If the investigation of Reid continues, will CNN breathlessly discuss the "radioactive" Democrat? It seems unlikely.
And while Nguyen simply noted that Harry Reid denied any wrongdoing, she seemed more interested in the details of the Foley case. This is how she introduced a piece that aired at 8:08a.m.
Nguyen: "Who, what and when. That is what the House Ethics Committee is trying to pin down in the Mark Foley scandal. Some important answers to those questions could come today, when Foley's former chief of staff testifies."
Finally, at 7:50a.m., Bob Franken reported from Indiana on how voters in a competitive congressional district saw the Foley scandal. Note how the men and women respond when asked about the case:
Franken: "Fact is, many of the diners at Ryan's Restaurant, here, have already heard enough talk about Foley."
Unidentified Female: "I'm tired of hearing all the nonsense, you know, this one did this, and this one did that. Let's focus on what is important to the American people."
Unidentified Male: "What he's done is not going to affect my vote here in our congressional race."
Franken: "The Democratic candidate himself acknowledges that the Mark Foley scandal will not keep resonating....And many of the voters are getting weary."
Unidentified Male: "I don't think it will affect my vote that much. You know, you see a lot of the -- the thing that bothers me is we're getting so many of these kind of scandals from the people we're sending to Washington, whether it be Democrat or Republican."
Franken: "This is one of the districts, Betty, where House Speaker Dennis Hastert was supposed to make an appearance with the Republican candidate, but that appearance has been canceled citing scheduling difficulties -- Betty."
Nguyen: "Hmm. Very interesting."
There’s something ironic about voters complaining of "Foley-gate" overkill on a day when CNN devotes almost 20 minutes to that same subject. And it should also be pointed out, this is in the wake of the big three networks, over 12 days, airing 150 stories on the controversy.