One of the most common forms of sniper journalism is the unequal treatment that the establishment media give to political scandals.
If a Republican is the culprit, the story gets top billing, the party identity is mentioned prominently, and the feeding frenzy continues for days or weeks. If a Democrat crosses a legal or ethical line, journalists look for excuses not to cover the story, or they bury the story if they must run something and avoid mentioning the official’s party identification.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz highlighted the latest example Sunday on his CNN show, “Reliable Sources.” News broke over the weekend that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had recommended his mistress for the top federal prosecutor’s job in his home state. The scandal sparked plenty of coverage in conservative media but was virtually ignored by mainstream reporters.
“I looked at the papers this morning. … The Washington Post has it on page three; The New York Times has it on page 33,” Kurtz noted. “I watched CNN all day yesterday. I didn’t see any mention of this story, which I thought was a stunning lapse in judgment.
“Why isn’t this a bigger story?” he asked the journalists on the show, starting with Chip Reid of CBS. All but conservative commentator David Frum immediately started making excuses.
” It’s because there’s a long history of senators nominating people they are very close to,” Reid said.
Added Michelle Cottle of the liberal New Republic: “If she had gotten [the job], this would have more legs. But they basically had her voluntarily withdraw from the process once the relationship got more serious, or more involved, or whatever. I mean, as far as scandals go, there’s no hookers, there’s no payments. This doesn’t quite rise to the level of juiciness that’s required.”
Excuses, excuses. Thankfully, Kurtz noted the hypocrisy. “I just think that news organizations that have played this down have left themselves open to charges after the John Ensign story and after the Mark Sanford story that they’re a little less enthusiastic about Democratic scandal,” he said.
A little less enthusiastic? That’s the understatement of a year rife with double standards in coverage of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal found a better parallel than the Ensign or Sanford stories. “Suppose a public official is accused of recommending his girlfriend for a promotion, though he was the one who first flagged the potential conflict of interest and officials had refused to let him recuse himself from decisions about the woman. Should he lose his job? That’s precisely what happened in 2007 to Paul Wolfowitz, who was run out of the World Bank on the pretext that he had given his girlfriend a raise.”