Howard Kurtz Admits Press Buried Murtha’s Ethics Problems Until After The Elections

November 19th, 2006 12:43 PM

As NewsBuster Tim Graham reported Sunday, the media were quite late in bringing up Congressman Jack Murtha’s (D-Pennsylvania) ethics issues, as well as his connection to Abscam in the late ’70s. Instead, such matters waited to come to the front pages until after the Democrats safely regained control of Congress. Quite surprisingly, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz (who also writes for the Washington Post) completely agreed that the media dropped the ball on this issue, and grilled his guests about this on Sunday’s program. This segment began:

Since calling for a U.S. pullout from Iraq one year ago, Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha has drawn all kinds of media coverage for his stance. But after the election, when incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed the ex-Marine for next Majority Leader, stories suddenly popped up about Murtha’s relationship with lobbyists, and whether he had helped a company that hired his brother as a lobbyist. And suddenly, television was replaying a 26-year-old videotape from the Abscam scandal in which Murtha was offered a bribe by FBI informants posing as Arab sheiks.

Kurtz then asked the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page:

Clarence Page, there was a big LA Times expose last year about Jack Murtha doing favors for companies that contributed to his campaign and that sort of thing. It got almost no national pickup until after the midterm elections. Why?

Page amazingly responded:

I think after the midterm elections, suddenly Jack Murtha became a political candidate. An internal election in Congress, but nevertheless, a candidate. Before that, he was a spokesperson and advocate for a strategic point of view with regard to Iraq. When you become a candidate, suddenly now you’ve got political enemies. And that means people start digging up stuff on you, and suddenly things that weren’t relevant before like the old Abscam scandal suddenly become very relevant.

Umm, Clarence, were you unaware that Murtha was running for reelection in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district against Diana Irey? Didn’t that make him a candidate, Clarence, or is there something I’m missing here?  Kurtz seemed to recognize this hypocrisy as well, and quickly moved to another guest:

John Fund, there were during the campaign a lot of stories, legitimate stories about Republican corruption – Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham – Murtha not in the same league here, haven’t been convicted or anything. But, was there a reluctance on the media’s part during the campaign to go after a prominent Democrat?

Great question, and Fund (Wall Street Journal) was quite prepared:

Well, I think there was because Jack Murtha was a candidate for Majority Leader for six months before the election. He’d announced back in the spring. And let me tell you, in 2003, the late George Crile, the “60 Minutes” producer, did a book on Charlie Wilson, the Texas Congressman that got involved in the Afghan war. In there he reported that Jack Murtha had escaped severe penalties from the House ethics committee only because of a corrupt deal struck with the House Speaker’s office. It was all documented, there were quotes on the record, and Mr. Wilson has confirmed the account. None of that was covered. I think that there was this sense that Jack Murtha was in the Iraq critic box, and he wasn’t in the “I’m about to be a Democratic Leader” box. I think both roles should have been discussed before the elections.

Kurtz then asked Roll Call’s Mary Ann Akers: “Don’t you wish that you had done some of the ethics stories before the election? Don’t you wish you had gotten that wave before everybody else was doing it?”

Akers absurdly responded:

Well, I think, look, I think we all knew he was involved in Abscam for years. And, his constituents obviously didn’t mind it. The earmarking story sort of came out later. Once some of the watchdog groups really went over…

Kurtz was having none of that, and accurately pointed out: “Big LA Times piece, 2005. It was all there if somebody wanted to look it up.”

In fact, what was more absurd for Akers to make that statement is that a colleague of hers, Mary Jacoby, wrote extensively about Murtha’s earmarking back in 1994 as reported by NewsBusters on November 19, 2005.

Regardless, kudos go out to Kurtz for a fabulous segment exposing extreme media bias concerning this issue.