ABC on Wednesday and Thursday continued to ignore the developing prostitution scandal surrounding Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. NBC highlighted the story on the Today show. CBS covered the story, but reporter Jan Crawford suggested the allegations have "all the earmarks of an orchestrated smear campaign."
ABC's World News on Wednesday and Good Morning America on Thursday skipped the news that federal agents are removing evidence from the office of Solomon Melgen, a Florida doctor who flew Menendez on trips to the Dominican Republic. There, the New Jersey senator allegedly engaged prostitutes. On CBS This Morning, Crawford charitably explained, "Now, on the one hand, they've got all the earmarks of an orchestrated smear campaign. But the question is, are they true?" [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
The allegations were broke by the Daily Caller last fall. Crawford explained, "At the time, a spokeswoman for Menendez said he was not going to respond to a completely false accusation, and Menendez easily won re-election to a second Senate term."
The CBS journalist made sure to play a clip of Harry Reid defending Menendez: "I always consider the source, and all anyone here has to look at is the source where this comes from."
The investigation has centered on whether the Senator improperly accepted the free flights. Crawford did note: "But while Menendez said he paid for all those flights on that private jet, he did so only recently."
Pete Williams on Thursday's Today managed to cover the story without hinting that the accusations were an "orchestrated smear campaign." However, he did note that the prostitution claims were "sent to a political watchdog group in Washington called CREW" and added that "a CREW official says when the tipster repeatedly declined to talk on the phone or agree to a meeting, the group turned the messages to the FBI."
Williams didn't explain that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a liberal organization that mostly goes after conservatives. The journalist featured a clip of Melanie Sloan of CREW. She derided the tipster: "It seems that he has no real interest coming forward and making sure this matter can be investigated as a law enforcement issue."
None of the nightly newscasts on Wednesday covered the latest on Menendez. ABC featured the Democrat on Sunday's This Week. However, no questions were asked about prostitution.
As a comparison, when lewd details came out about Republican Congressman Mark Foley in 2006, the networks filed an amazing 152 stories in just the first 12 days.
A transcript of the January 31 CBS This Morning segment is below:
NORAH O'DONNELL: And a prominent U.S. senator is fighting for his reputation. New Jersey's Bob Menendez is being forced to deny allegations of accepting free plane rides and engaging with prostitutes. This as the FBI scrutinizes one of his friends, who's made big donations to his campaigns.
Jan Crawford is in Washington. Jan, good morning.
[CBS News Graphic: "Menendez Mess: NJ Senator Denies Wrongdoing Allegations"]
JAN CRAWFORD: Well, good morning, Norah. Good morning, Charlie. These allegations, really, first surfaced back in November, right before the election, and from the beginning, Menendez has denied them. Now, on the one hand, they've got all the earmarks of an orchestrated smear campaign, but the question is, are they true? The raid on the office of Menendez's friend, who seems to be at the center of all this, could be a signal that the FBI is applying pressure to see whether the allegations have any merit.
CRAWFORD (voice-over): Federal agents on Wednesday hauled away boxes of documents from the office of a south Florida eye doctor, a prominent Democratic donor with ties to New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. The FBI is refusing to say publicly why it's investigating Doctor Salomon Melgen. CBS News has confirmed the agents were joined by inspectors with the Department of Health and Human Services, which investigates health care fraud. And Melgen currently has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for back taxes.
But it's his relationship with Menendez that has become the focus. Last November, an article on the website, 'The Daily Caller', accused Menendez of accepting prostitutes at Melgen's mansion in the Dominican Republic, and using the Florida doctor's private jet for transportation. At the time, a spokeswoman for Menendez said he was not going to respond to a completely false accusation, and Menendez easily won re-election to a second Senate term.
Wednesday, with Melgen under federal scrutiny, and Menendez assuming a more prominent role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the senator was more forceful. In a statement, the New Jersey Democrat called Melgen a 'friend and political supporter for many years', and he acknowledged he traveled on Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which had been paid for and reported appropriately. But his denial of wrongdoing was categorical: 'Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.'
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed that sentiment.
SEN. HARRY REID, (D), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER (from press conference): I always consider the source, and all anyone here has to look at is the source where this comes from.
CRAWFORD (on-camera): But while Menendez said he paid for all those flights on that private jet, he did so only recently. His office confirmed last night he reimbursed Melgen more than $58,000 for two flights, after complaints were made to the ethics committee. Norah and Charlie?