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CBS Sympathizes With 'Beloved' Mayor Who Lost $1 Billion Gambling; Omits She's a Democrat

Bill Whitaker, CBS News Correspondent; Screen Cap From 22 February 2013 Edition of CBS This Morning | MRC.orgBill Whitaker did his best to depict former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor as a tragic figure on Friday's CBS This Morning, but glossed over her Democratic affiliation. Whitaker sympathetically asked O'Connor, "What's the worst of it for you?" The correspondent also spotlighted how the former mayor "brought in light rail, a convention center – helped transform San Diego from a sleepy navy town to the country's eighth largest city."

Anchor Norah O'Donnell introduced Whitaker's four and half minute-long report by labeling the politician a "beloved former mayor," Whitaker later followed suit by pointing out how "San Diego once loved her".

The CBS journalist led the segment with his "worst of it for you" question to O'Connor and her teary answer. He continued by portraying the former mayor's story as a real-life drama: "Maureen O'Connor says her story plays out in two acts. Maureen I was mayor of San Diego. Her second act is unfolding in national headlines, a tawdry tale of gambling and lost fortunes."

Whitaker then played two extended clips from his soft interview of the Democratic politician where she described her apparent plight. He soon continued by pointing out, "Increasingly desperate, she started to sell off properties to raise millions more, including a house in this exclusive beach community in La Jolla, right by neighbor Mitt Romney."

Later in the report, the correspondent did play three soundbites from federal prosecutor Phillip Halpern. But Whitaker followed his second clip from Halpern with a sympathetic sentence about O'Connor, and before playing the third one, he highlighted how the former mayor had a "golf-ball-sized tumor doctors removed from her brain...She says she believes the slow-growing tumor contributed to her gambling addiction." He even turned to O'Connor's neuropsychologist, who outlined the possibility that the cancerous growth could have contributed to her excessive gambling.

Exactly a week earlier, on February 15, 2013, CBS This Morning, along with the other two Big Three morning newscasts, ignored her party ID as they reported on the story. It is part of a continuing trend documented by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens in a Thursday media reality check – that "all too often when reporters are discussing Democrats caught in scandals, they develop a peculiar speech impediment that prevents them from uttering the 'D' word. However, when members of the GOP stumble, the word 'Republican' cascades out of the mouths of reporters."

The full transcript of Bill Whitaker's report from Friday's CBS This Morning:

NORAH O'DONNELL: Maureen O'Connor was a beloved former mayor of San Diego, but O'Connor's life took a stunning turn after it was revealed that she gambled away a fortune.

CHARLIE ROSE: Prosecutors believe she won and lost more than $1 billion playing video poker.

O'Connor sat down with our Bill Whitaker to explain what she thinks led to the addiction that has left her bankrupt. It's an interview you'll see only here on 'CBS This Morning'.

[CBS News Graphic: "Fall From Grace: Former SD Mayor Gambled A Billion Bucks"]

BILL WHITAKER (off-camera, from pre-recorded interview): What's the worst of it for you?

MAUREEN O'CONNOR, FORMER SAN DIEGO MAYOR: I couldn't do it in private – very public. If I had my wish, I wish it'd be Gamblers Anonymous, not 'here's Maureen story'.

WHITAKER: Maureen O'Connor says her story plays out in two acts. Maureen I was mayor of San Diego. Her second act is unfolding in national headlines, a tawdry tale of gambling and lost fortunes. The widow of Robert Peterson, the founder of the West Coast fast food chain Jack in the Box, she inherited as much as $50 million, say federal prosecutors.

O'CONNOR: I used some of that fortune to help people. And then, some of that fortune, when I started to become Maureen II, went into an addiction of gambling.

WHITAKER (on-camera): You lost it.

O'CONNOR: Yes, I lost a fortune, and I'm – for that, I'm sorry.

WHITAKER (voice-over): Her game of choice: video poker. She was such a big spender, casinos in San Diego and Las Vegas would lavish her with gifts to keep her coming. She would have come anyway.

O'CONNOR: It was electronic heroin. You know, the more you did, the more you needed, and the more you it wasn't satisfied.

WHITAKER (on-camera): How much would you lose in a day?

O'CONNOR: I could lose more than a hundred thousand [dollars] in a day.

WHITAKER: In one day?

O'CONNOR: Yes.

WHITAKER: Increasingly desperate, she started to sell off properties to raise millions more, including a house in this exclusive beach community in La Jolla, right by neighbor Mitt Romney.

PHILLIP HALPERN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: And only after all that was done did she then go and raid a private foundation of over $2 million.

WHITAKER (voice-over): She took the money from her husband's charity. She called it a loan to be paid back. Federal prosecutor Phillip Halpern called it money laundering, and says she won and lost a staggering amount.

HALPERN: Oh, we're talking about billions with a 'B'. It's not against the law to bankrupt yourself. The violation was that she raided that charity of $2 million.

WHITAKER: For O'Connor, now penniless, it's a public humiliation.

O'CONNOR: That I never meant to hurt the city I loved.

WHITAKER: San Diego once loved her. She was the first woman mayor. From 1986 to '92, she brought in light rail, a convention center – helped transform San Diego from a sleepy navy town to the country's eighth largest city.

O'CONNOR: I was interested in doing everything I could to make the city a better city.

WHITAKER: As mayor, she was always in control. Her gambling was out of control.

O'CONNOR: I thought I could beat that machine, and when it got worse, I didn't know I had the silent grenade in my head that could go off at any time.

WHITAKER: The 'silent grenade' was a golf-ball-sized tumor doctors removed from her brain. They discovered it two years ago when she started hallucinating. She says she believes the slow-growing tumor contributed to her gambling addiction.

O'CONNOR: It's not an excuse for my gambling, but I think that was – yes, part of it. You lose your sense of control.

WHITAKER: The tumor could have affected her behavior, says her neuropsychologist.

DR. BARBARA SCHROCK, NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST: In about 20 percent of cases in tumors, psychiatric, personality, or behavioral changes oftentimes are the first symptom of a tumor.

HALPERN: She began her gambling run in 2001, a decade earlier. It would have to be a pretty slow-growing tumor.

WHITAKER: Halpern says the Justice Department will drop the charges if O'Connor repays the charity and gets help for her gambling addiction.

O'CONNOR: After the tumor was taken out and I started healing, I have no desire to gamble.

WHITAKER: She does desire her city's forgiveness.

O'CONNOR: I hope they would remember Maureen I; and Maureen II, I hope that they would understand.

WHITAKER: For 'CBS This Morning', I'm Bill Whitaker in San Diego.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.