Just as occurred Monday night, viewers of Tuesday's ABC and NBC evening newscasts never heard the word “Democrat” applied to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, nor did they even put a “(D)” on screen by his name as ABC did briefly Monday. CBS didn't announce his party either on Tuesday night, but Katie Couric had done so Monday night. The ABC and NBC newscasts, however, did put “(R)” on screen over soundbites from Republicans and NBC's Mike Taibbi twice referred to the reaction from “Republican” politicians.
Fill-in ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas avoided any party tag: “New York's Governor, Eliot Spitzer, spent most of the day today huddled behind closed doors debating whether to resign after being linked to a prostitution ring.” On NBC, substitute anchor Ann Curry led: “Tonight, the investigation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace is broadening...”
Viewers could only figure out Spitzer's party by implication as both shows aired a soundbite from Republican Congressman Peter King with an “(R)” on screen. ABC's Brian Ross led into it by referring to how Spitzer will soon “end what even his political enemies called a once-brilliant career.” NBC's Taibbi cited King's party as he described “Republicans threatening impeachment if he doesn't resign.” Before video of State Rep. James Tedisco with an “(R-NY)” on screen, Taibbi also noted how “some Republicans in Albany would welcome” the move up by Lieutenant Governor David Paterson.
Ross concluded with a reference to Republicans: “With no resolution of the case in sight by the end of the work day today, Republicans in the state capital, Albany, say they have every intention of moving ahead with impeachment proceedings if Spitzer is not out by tomorrow.”
Also noteworthy, Spitzer's media backers: Taibbi paired a “gleeful” former target of Attorney General Spitzer, former Home Depot Chairman Ken Langone -- who satisfactorily observed: “We all have our own private hells. I hope his private hell is hotter than anybody else's” -- with a “supporter” of Spitzer, a member of the news media: “Time magazine's Adi Ignatius.”
(In between Monday and Tuesday nights, the Tuesday ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows, in multiple stories/interviews, also failed to annunciate Spitzer's political party. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS's Early Show [Kyle Drennen's NB item on CBS] only identified Spitzer's party by putting a “(D)” on screen by his name for a few seconds while NBC's Today show [NB posting by Geoff Dickens], in eleven segments, didn't even do that in its complete blackout.)
My March 10 NewsBusters posting, “'Straight Arrow' Governor 'Eliot Ness' Spitzer (?-NY),” recounted:
Incredibly, in lead stories Monday night about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring, neither ABC's World News nor the NBC Nightly News verbally identified Spitzer's political party. Must mean he's a liberal Democrat -- and he is. CBS anchor Katie Couric, however, managed to squeeze in a mention of his party. Last August when news of Larry Craig's arrest broke, both ABC and NBC stressed his GOP affiliation.
On ABC, the only hints as to Spitzer's party were a few seconds of video of Spitzer beside Hillary Clinton as they walked down some steps and a (D) on screen by Spitzer's name over part of one soundbite. NBC didn't even do that....
The networks hardly hesitated last August to identify Senator Larry Craig as a Republican and, in October of 2006, to highlight how then-Congressman Mark Foley was a Republican, but back in 2001 they rarely identified then-Congressman Gary Condit, part of the Chandra Levy missing person scandal, as a Democrat -- as documented at the time in a Media Reality Check written by the MRC's Rich Noyes, "Avoiding Gary Condit's Democratic ID; MRC Study: Networks Failed to Label California Congressman as a Democrat in 92% of Levy Stories."
In the Craig case, fill-in ABC anchor Kate Snow opened the Tuesday, August 28 World News: "Good evening. A Republican Senator is fighting to save his political career and personal reputation....”
That same August night, Brian Williams led the NBC Nightly News: “We begin this evening with a drama that is the talk of the nation's capital and the talk of the state of Idaho tonight. It is the story of a Republican United States Senator, arrested for an alleged sexual advance to an undercover police officer in an airport men's room in Minneapolis....”
Since writing that, I've been reminded of another on point Media Reality Check, by the MRC's Tim Graham, in 2003, “How Disgraceful Democrats Lose the 'D': TV Networks Often Develop Amnesia When Democratic Politicians Bring Embarrassment to the Party.”
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed captioning against the video to provide highlights of the Tuesday, March 11 coverage on ABC and NBC:
ABC's World News:
ELIZABETH VARGAS, IN OPENING TEASER: Fall from grace: Pressure mounts on New York's Governor to resign. Why do so many powerful politicians betray their office and their families? We'll take "A Closer Look."
VARGAS: To politics now, and the sex scandal that is making headlines in nearly every paper across the country, and is lighting up the blogs. New York's Governor, Eliot Spitzer, spent most of the day today huddled behind closed doors debating whether to resign after being linked to a prostitution ring. Here's our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, with the latest on that investigation. Brian?
BRIAN ROSS: Elizabeth, lawyers close to the case say the Governor has drafted a letter of resignation, but the holdup is his negotiations with federal prosecutors. At issue: Should he follow the advice of some to fight the case or accept a plea deal that could include prison? Spitzer spent the day today at his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City, as he prepared to step down as Governor, and end what even his political enemies called a once-brilliant career.
REP. PETER KING (R-NY): He had the highest popularity ratings in the history of New York. He had everything going his way. And over the last year, he let his lust for power and his hypocrisy keep him from doing his job.
ROSS: With no resolution of the case in sight by the end of the work day today, Republicans in the state capital, Albany, say they have every intention of moving ahead with impeachment proceedings if Spitzer is not out by tomorrow, Elizabeth.
NBC Nightly News:
ANN CURRY, IN OPENING TEASER: On the broadcast tonight, under pressure: New York's Governor threatened with impeachment if he doesn't step down in the wake of a prostitution scandal.
CURRY: Good evening. I'm Ann Curry, in for Brian Williams. Tonight, the investigation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace is broadening, as is the expectation that he'll be forced to resign. We have new information now on the extent of the accusations against the man once called "Mr. Clean." NBC's Mike Taibbi now joins us with details.
MIKE TAIBBI: Now, he's holed up with his family in this Manhattan apartment, Republicans threatening impeachment if he doesn't resign.
Rep. PETER KING (R-NY): Governor Spitzer has very few friends in Albany or anywhere else, for that matter.
TAIBBI: Former targets are gleeful at his fall.
KEN LANGONE, FORMER HOME DEPOT CHAIRMAN: You know, we all have our own private hells. I hope his private hell is hotter than anybody else's.
TAIBBI: And even supporters, like Time magazine's Adi Ignatius, think the end is near. What do you think he's going to do?
ADI IGNATIUS, TIME MAGAZINE: I think it's going to be very, very, very difficult for him to stay in office.
TAIBBI: If Spitzer does quit, Columbia-educated Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, who's legally blind, would become the state's first African-American Governor, a move even some Republicans in Albany would welcome.
STATE REP. JAMES TEDISCO (R-NY): He's a hard worker. He's a compromiser, something that, of course, this present Governor wasn't.