Democrats across America are measuring the drapes for the majority in the House and the Senate, preparing to swear in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. One of their major talking points this year has been the Republican majority's "culture of corruption."
In January on PBS, Jim Lehrer asked Sen. Reid why lobbying reform was moving so slowly. Reid replied, "Jim, it's taken a while for this culture of corruption the Republicans have developed to come into the fore." Aspiring "Speaker Pelosi" just gave a speech at Georgetown University pledging to "drain the swamp" of GOP corruption on Capitol Hill. The Democratic National Committee even had a page on their website devoted to the "Republican Culture of Corruption."
But that "Culture of Corruption" page on the DNC home page has disappeared. Something funny happened on the way to the polls this year. The Democrats have shown they have their own contemporary ethical problems. Luckily for them, it probably won't matter much on November 7. The national news media have decided to ignore them.
Look no further than Senator Reid himself. Associated Press reporters John Solomon and Kathleen Hennessy reported that Senator Reid scored a windfall of $700,000, turning a $400,000 real-estate investment in Las Vegas in 1998 to a $1.1 million land deal in 2004 - even though he apparently had sold the property to a casino lobbyist buddy in 2001. He did not report the facts on his Senate financial disclosure forms - while he served on the Senate Ethics Committee. When AP called Reid for comment, he hung up on them. You would think that an aggressive, fair and balanced media would have been incensed and activated. But we don't have a fair and balanced national media.
It should be said that major newspaper editorial pages were not impressed with Reid's defense. The Washington Post suggested "Mr. Reid's professions of transparency and full disclosure are transparently wrong."
But the network distaste for saying anything critical of the Democratic leader was obvious. ABC aired nothing. CBS aired nothing. NBC's Chip Reid offered a few words on "Nightly News" - after the latest full story on "Foley fallout." There was no "Harry fallout."
CNN stood out as especially pathetic. On CNN's "American Morning" the day after the Reid story broke (and nearly two weeks after Foley resigned), they aired 18 minutes of Foley stories, and 35 seconds on Harry Reid. On "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer quarantined the Reid story to little dribs and drabs heavy on Reid protesting his innocence. Meanwhile, CNN was devoting minutes to more substantial stories, like Arnold Schwarzenegger joking on the "Tonight" show that connecting him to Bush was like connecting him to an Oscar. Toxic Bush - now that's Blitzer-tickling news.
But the networks were not alone in displaying fall-campaign favoritism. The New York Times put its Harry Reid story the next day on page A-19. The headline? "Senator to Amend Financial Forms." Could the Times have possibly come up with a better "please don't bother to read this, no real scandal here" headline?
In case you're wondering if the Times favors Democrats on scandal stories, this was the Page One headline on the very same day: "Foley Case Snags Incumbent In Ohio Race for House Seat." Reporter Adam Nagourney found Republican House leader Deborah Pryce in deep trouble in Columbus. On that day, the Foley news spilled over into 74 column inches of text and pictures. By contrast, the Reid story was merely 18 column inches. Clearly, the Times doesn't hide its partisan priorities.
How about the news magazines? Last week their covers taunted and jeered at Republicans. Time's cover showed the back of an elephant's behind, signaling a goodbye to Republican corruption. Newsweek had a big picture of Mark Foley with the words "Off Message." This week, Time has a cover hailing the greatness of liberal Democrat Senator Barack Obama. Neither one even mentioned Harry Reid. U.S. News mentioned Reid, but not his disclosure forms. They merely warned "Republican leaders trying to outrun their own scandals" would attack Reid and Pelosi.
This week, another little story erupted, again featuring Senator Reid. He was paying a few thousand dollars in Christmas bonuses to employees of his condominium at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, out of his campaign funds, not his own wallet. That's a clear violation of campaign laws. And besides, isn't this a juicy story by today's TV standards? The Senate Democratic leader, living at the Ritz-Carlton? And tipping the hired help with someone else's money at Christmas time?
Predictably, NBC gave it a few seconds. The other networks did nothing. The papers buried it inside. And they wonder why there are bumper stickers saying "Don't Trust the Liberal Media."