Bye-Bye, 'Culture of Corruption'

You may want to look fast, but the Democratic National Committee’s website still has a "Republican Culture of Corruption" page, implying that by installing the Democrats back in the congressional majority, we’ll have a virtual monastery of ethical restraint in Washington — with leaders like Patrick Kennedy setting the example.

The Democratic "culture of corruption" charge is taking more of a beating than the traffic barricade that introduced itself to Rep. Kennedy’s car last week. ABC, CBS, and NBC all devoted some serious airtime to the story, and the fact that Capitol Police supervisors waved off a sobriety test and protectively took the son of Ted Kennedy home.

It could be argued that by Friday, May 5, the network attention to young Mr. Kennedy was historic. Pundits and academics have spent the last 20 years lamenting that the networks can’t seem to give presidential candidates more than about seven seconds a clip in soundbites. Now ABC gave Kennedy an amazing 60 seconds to read his statement announcing he was returning to the Mayo Clinic for rehabilitation. Even that wasn’t enough for NBC. This network gave him a two-minute soundbite.

That’s not to say that airing Kennedy’s statement helped his case. It had an odd quality to it, as Kennedy announced he was disturbed by his own behavior — as if he had multiple personalities. But it signaled that the networks were indulging his political play for sympathy.

Should we feel sympathy? Yes. The man is a drug addict and/or a drunk. But we should also feel outrage that, like father, like son, he claims not to remember a thing that night — a slippery legal dodge, and nothing more. His behavior was disgraceful, and having disgraced his office repeatedly, he should resign.

Which is what every TV and newspaper pundit would be suggesting were Kennedy not a Kennedy, and a Democrat. Instead, in the dull glow of the network Saturday morning shows, ABC and NBC aired interviews with pro-Kennedy experts telling the viewers that Ted and Joan Kennedy’s divorce was tough on him as a child, and "we need to really feel for him."

NBC’s Tim Russert displayed the media’s distaste for the story as a forthcoming Republican crusade: "they want to suggest to the country it’s not just Republicans who misbehave or the culture of corruption or whatever." So "they’re going to really dig into this case." How often do we have to see Republicans attacked when Democrats are caught in scandals?

But at least the Kennedy story surfaced. Other Democratic ethics scandals have erupted in this election cycle — on the front pages of esteemed liberal newspapers, even– and have been ignored completely by the networks.

Just last week, The Washington Post reported that Vernon Jackson, a business associate of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson, pled guilty of bribery during the years 2001 to 2005, the second person to plead guilty to charges of bribing the eight-term Democrat. Coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC morning or evening news shows? Zip.

Tell that to Duke Cunningham.

The Washington Post also reported the tale of Alan Mollohan, a congressman from West Virginia who happened to be the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. After the Post reported a complaint filed by the conservative National Legal and Policy Center — showing Mollohan suddenly became a real-estate multi-millionaire at the same time his financial helpers were getting federal grants he secured — he temporarily resigned his committee post to fight the charges. Even editorials in the Post and the New York Times insisted he should step down. ABC, CBS, and NBC coverage? Nothing.

Tell that to Tom DeLay.

Having a leadership position in the Democratic Party and calling for ethical crusades, even impeachment of Republicans, doesn’t get your ethical scrapes any news coverage. Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, whose website boasts for the need to investigate and build an impeachment case against President Bush, has faced the allegations of former staffers that he violated House ethics rules by ordering members of his staff to perform non-official duties such as tutoring and baby-sitting his children.

CNN might deserve credit for reporting this story in April — but the story was surprisingly incomplete: The reporter, Drew Griffin, never mentioned Conyers’ party affiliation or his powerful position on the Judiciary Committee. ABC, CBS, and NBC coverage? Nothing.

Democrats in the media may whisper to each other that these ethical charges against their fellow Democrats mean nothing. But the fact that Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi are throwing out this "culture of corruption" talking point day after day ought to require the media to stop protecting the Democrats here as if they’re aping the Capitol Police in the middle of the night. Report the news — all of it. Not just the half that pleases your fellow Democrats.