Tapper Scandal Docs Include 14 Party Labels For Sanford, 0 For Blagojevich

February 20th, 2024 3:00 PM

CNN’s new documentary series, United States of Scandal, hosted by Jake Tapper, debuted on Sunday with two episodes. One detailed the extramarital affair of former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and the other involved former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s scheme to sell the Senate seat that would be vacated by Barack Obama. However, only Sanford got the party label.

In the Sanford episode, the words “Republican” and “Republicans” appeared 14 times, while "conservative" appeared an additional five. Most of the remarks had to do with Sanford’s desire to cut the state’s budget. For example, the AP’s Meg Kinnard recalled, “Mark Sanford, he's a Republican. The legislature for years has been controlled by Republicans, so they're all on the same party and ostensibly, from the outside, you would think "Oh, okay. Well, these guys are all going to get together and get a lot of things done." That's not really what happened when Mark Sanford was in the governor's mansion.”



Tapper followed up, “Instead, Mark Sanford leaned further into character and started slashing his fellow Republicans budgets with a vengeance.”

Later on, he would add, “Voters across South Carolina Governor tuned in as their Manila envelope governor seemed to reveal the one issue that could stir him to reckless passion: protesting his fellow Republicans bloated park filled budget with actual pork.” 

An archived clip from 2009 of Jack Cafferty included the news that “South Carolina's Republican governor has become the nation's first to reject some of the economic stimulus money.”

By contrast, the words “Democrat,” “Democrats” or “Democratic” were not spoken at all in the Blagojevich documentary. The closest the show came was a graphic from CNN’s coverage of the 2002 Illinois gubernatorial race where the Democratic donkey and party name is seen above Blagojevich's head, but if viewers simply had the show on as background music, they would’ve missed the party identifier.  

Like the Sanford documentary, there was some time focused on the subject’s pre-scandal politics, but where Sanford was portrayed as some sort of wild-eyed conservative budget slasher, Blagojevich was merely a “populist.”

Lobbyist and radio personality Maze Jackson recalled, “He ran on some things that were uniquely important to black people: health care for kids is a good idea. When he said free rides for seniors on public transportation, that resonated with black people specifically.”

Blagojevich himself sat down with Tapper and declared, “How do I say this in a way where I don't sound like a guy without any humility, but I truly believe I was a great governor. I can't think of any governor in my life that did anything for anybody I knew. That can walk around and say, you know what? Thank you. Governor, my daughter had health care through you, free public transportation for seniors and disabled? I did that because they raised the sales tax, which hurts working people and poor people and seniors.”

Tapper himself noted, “With the legislature raising taxes that hit lower-income Illinoisans hardest and Rod’s striking back with policies to offset that, it's no surprise that his populist agenda made him a lot of enemies amongst the big political families.”

Tapper and CNN may try to defend themselves by saying that it is common knowledge that Illinois is a deep blue state, but South Carolina is a deep red state, so why the 14-0 discrepancy? Do sex scandals deserve party labels more than corruption scandals? CNN will soon have another opportunity to label a Democrat as this Sunday's episode features former North Carolina Sen. and vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

Here is a transcript for the February 18 shows:

CNN United States of Scandal: Mark Sanford


10:08 PM ET

SCOTT ENGLISH [MARK SANFORD’S CHIEF OF STAFF, 1996-2015]: His brand was focusing very much on limiting the size of government and balancing the budget that was for him, that was his way of connecting what the audience.

NARRATOR [1995]: Congressman Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, is the fresh face of this new breed. 

JAKE TAPPER: But when he actually got to work at the statehouse, Sanford found his passion for cutting budgets had also made him some enemies.

MEG KINNARD [AP REPORTER]: Mark Sanford, he's a Republican. The legislature for years has been controlled by Republicans, so they're all on the same party and ostensibly, from the outside, you would think, “Oh, okay. Well, these guys are all going to get together and get a lot of things done." That's not really what happened when Mark Sanford was in the governor's mansion. 

TAPPER: Instead, Mark Sanford leaned further into character and started slashing his fellow Republicans budgets with a vengeance. 

TOM DAVIS [STATE SENATOR, FRIEND]: I mean, one year he vetoed the entire budget. I mean, just sent the entire budget back. We never got to a budget cycle where there weren't dozens of budget vetoes. 

BAKARI SELLERS [STATE REPRESENTATIVE]: There was no Democrat versus Republican. It was, you know, us versus Mark Sanford. So, he would send hundreds of vetoes back and we would just get together and all override them because it was Mark.

TAPPER: During one particularly volatile session in 2004, Sanford kept vetoing budgets and the legislature overrode 105 of those vetoes in 90 minutes. 

This is a Republican legislator.

ENGLISH: A Republican legislature. And that's, I mean, that's how bad this was. 

TAPPER: Voters across South Carolina Governor tuned in as their Manila envelope governor seemed to reveal the one issue that could stir him to reckless passion: protesting his fellow Republicans bloated park filled budget with actual pork.

ENGLISH: It was good timing because we had a primary just coming up a week later and one of the Republicans who ended up losing their seat was the House majority leader and he said point-blank that his polling numbers flipped completely because of that pig episode. So we had a number of incumbent Republicans who ended up losing the challengers they started taking him a lot more seriously.

TAPPER: It worked?

ENGLISH: Yeah. It was very effective 

In 2009 he topped pork and barrel with a bigger stunt that would catapult him from South Carolina local legend to the national spotlight.

JACK CAFFERTY: South Carolina's Republican governor has become the nation's first to reject some of the economic stimulus money.

TAPPER: South Carolina was still reeling from the 2008 recession when Sanford was offered relief funds from President Obama's economic stimulus plan. 

JOEL SAWYER [COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR]: You know if Mark Sanford is a stock. Like in, spring of 2009, your buying, right? Anybody who knows anything about politics or about Republican politics, you're buying Mark Sanford stock in spring of 2009.

TAPPER: Mark’s re-entry into politics wasn't stumble-free. In 2014, he broke up with Maria via a 2,300-word post on Facebook, but after all that, it was in 2018 that Sanford finally faced a foe he could not bounce back from when he denounced Trumpism as bad for the Republican Party and Trump clapped back in a tweet.

Donald Trump endorsed Sanford's opponent in the GOP primary race and for the first time in his entire political life, Sanford lost.

Sanford lost his primary race because to a degree, he stood up to Donald Trump to a degree. 

ENGLISH: If you need that narrative, that's fine.

TAPPER: I don't-- if you don't think it's true to tell me what I think it's.

ENGLISH: I think it’s bullshit. He doesn't have a campaign manager. He doesn't have campaign staff, he has a campaign account and doesn't spend it, the guy spent $300,000 on ads and the night he was declared the loser in a Republican primary, he had one-and-a-half million dollars in his bank account. He took a dive.


CNN United States of Scandal: Rod Blagojevic


9:15 PM ET

MAZE JACKSON [LOBBYIST AND RADIO PERSONALITY]: He ran on some things that were uniquely important to black people: health care for kids is a good idea. When he said free rides for seniors on public transportation, that resonated with black people specifically.

TAPPER: Blagojevich became governor in 2003. 

MARY ANN MCMORROW: Congratulations governor, May god bless you.

TAPPER: How do you view your time as governor apart from the scandals.

ROD BLAGOJEVIC: How do I say this in a way where I don't sound like a guy without any humility, but I truly believe I was a great governor. I can't think of any governor in my life that did anything for anybody I knew. That can walk around and say, you know what? Thank you. Governor, my daughter had health care through you, free public transportation for seniors and disabled? I did that because they raised the sales tax, which hurts working people and poor people and seniors.

TAPPER: With the legislature raising taxes that hit lower-income Illinoisans hardest and Rod’s striking back with policies to offset that, it's no surprise that his populist agenda made him a lot of enemies amongst the big political families.

JACKSON: To the people and the masses, he was on our team and to the aristocracy into the political elites he was this guy that was taking their resources and giving him to the peasants. And so he became Robin Hood.