Back in 2010, when ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was convicted on money laundering charges related to campaign fundraising, all three network morning and evening news shows made sure to tell their viewers. But Thursday night and Friday morning, after an appeals court overturned that verdict and completely acquitted DeLay of those charges, none of the broadcast networks bothered to even mentioned the former Republican leader’s exoneration.
On their November 24, 2010 evening newscasts, all three networks made gave time to the late-breaking news, accompanied by photos of DeLay with various captions: “Guilty Verdict” on ABC; “Convicted” on CBS; “Guilty” on NBC. The next morning (Thanksgiving Day), all three networks revisited the story again, and ABC carved out even more time for a full report on World News that night.
Correspondent Jon Karl that night described the “feared” DeLay as “defiant” for refusing to acquiesce in a conviction that an appeals court has certified as incorrect: “Tom DeLay was once one of the most powerful and feared political figures in America. Now, he stands convicted of money laundering, a crime that could mean real prison time. Defiant as ever, DeLay says it was the prosecutors, and not he, who abused power.”
Friday morning, the editors at National Review branded  the prosecution of DeLay as the work of a “hyperpartisan Democratic prosecutor,” Ronnie Earle, who shopped his case against DeLay to multiple grand juries until he could finally secure an indictment. As National Review explained:
To charge Mr. DeLay with money laundering and conspiracy to commit same was a desperate maneuver never destined to stand up to final judgment. That is because to be guilty of money laundering, one must be guilty of producing the money in question through some prior felony offense. There was never any serious evidence that Mr. DeLay had done so. His alleged wrongdoing under campaign-finance laws consisted of using corporate “soft money” donations to offset “hard money” campaign donations in order to circumvent the Texas law prohibiting direct corporate contributions to political candidates....
The attempt of Texas Democrats to criminalize politics, and the decade-plus persecution of Mr. DeLay that resulted from it, is an act of corruption in the most literal sense of that word, eroding the legal and political institutions that enable democratic self-rule in a constitutional republic. Mr. DeLay has cause to celebrate today, but for the rest of us this matter, even though properly resolved at last, is a cause for nothing but shame.
But Thursday night, none of the three networks had a moment to notify audience of DeLay’s acquittal, let alone explore the motivation and ethics of the prosecutor who pushed the case. (Showing off her priorities, however, Diane Sawyer’s World News did have time for a feature story on “the secret lives of dolphins.”)
And Friday morning, none of the three had a second for DeLay’s acquittal, either.
That compares to how they scrambled to get the news into their November 24, 2010 evening broadcasts, on the eve of a major holiday and with NBC fill-in anchor Lester Holt broadcasting from Afghanistan. But despite the obstacles, they all managed to trumpet DeLay’s conviction:
# ABC’s World News, November 24, 2010:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: There is a verdict tonight in an infamous political trial. A jury in Texas found former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay guilty of money laundering and conspiracy. He was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. They called him "The Hammer." Now he could face years in prison.
# CBS Evening News, November 24, 2010:
HARRY SMITH: He was once the most powerful Republican in Washington. Tonight, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is a convicted felon. A jury in Austin convicted him today of money laundering charges. Prosecutors said he illegally funneled corporate donations to legislative campaigns in Texas. DeLay, who is 63, could get anywhere from five to 99 years in prison. His lawyer called the verdict a miscarriage of justice and vowed to appeal.
# NBC Nightly News, November 24, 2010:
LESTER HOLT: Breaking news tonight. Tom DeLay was once one of the most powerful people in Congress. Tonight, he faces the possibility of life in prison after a jury verdict this evening. Our justice correspondent Pete Williams is in our Washington bureau now. Pete:
PETE WILLIAMS: Lester, these are the charges that brought Tom DeLay's political career to an end, forcing him to resign five years after he was indicted. He stepped down from his powerful position as the House majority leader. But tonight a jury in a Texas state court convicted him of illegally channeling nearly $200,000 in corporate donations to candidates who were running for the state legislature. Prosecutors accused him of doing it to get more Republicans in the legislature, who would then help draw more congressional districts with Republican majorities.
Now, he did appear on the TV program "Dancing with the Stars" in 2009, but he has stayed mostly out of the public eye since losing his Washington responsibilities, except to attend to his trial. He'll be sentenced later and he could face some prison time, Lester.
HOLT: Pete Williams tonight. Pete, thanks.
In addition, when DeLay was formally sentenced to three years in prison (he’s been out on bond during his successful appeal), CBS and NBC put that news on their January 10, 2011 evening broadcasts, while all three morning shows picked it up on January 11, 2011.
There’s no doubt that a jury conviction of a former congressional leader is news. But fairness would suggest that an exoneration of the same leader is equally important news.
— Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Rich Noyes on Twitter.