NBC Highlights Charges Against Torricelli, But Fails to Tag Him as a Democrat

Lisa Myers delivered an enterprising report, on Friday's NBC Nightly News, on how a Senate committee is investigating possible UN “oil-for-food” program misdeeds by former Senator Robert Torricelli. But no where in her story did she identify Torricelli's party. He's a Democrat. The only party label in the story came in an on-screen "(R) Minnesota" for Senator Norm Coleman. Anchor Brian Williams summarized the oil-for-food program and then noted how “there are allegations that a former member of Congress may have been involved in part of the scandal.” Myers began by reminding viewers of how “former Senator Robert Torricelli, forced to abandon a Senate race four years ago because of ethical lapses today is back under investigation again.” She explained: “In 1996, then-Congressman Torricelli repeatedly lobbied Iraqi officials to give lucrative contracts to a company owned by Korean-American businessman David Chang, who later went to prison for making illegal campaign contributions to Torricelli.” (Hat tip to NewsBusters contributor Tom Johnson.)

The online version of the Myers piece, posted by MSNBC.com with video, also avoids identifying Torricelli's party.

Transcript of the May 19 NBC Nightly News story. Brian Williams set it up:
“It was after the first Gulf war when the UN began what had become known as the oil-for-food program in Iraq. The idea was, with Iraq under UN sanctions, Saddam Hussein should be allowed to sell some of Iraq's oil to buy food and medicine for Iraqi citizens, so they wouldn't suffer. As it turns out, Saddam skimmed billions of dollars from the program. And now, for the first time, there are allegations that a former member of Congress may have been involved in part of the scandal. Allegations now being investigated by the Senate. We get details tonight from NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers.”

Lisa Myers: “Former Senator Robert Torricelli, forced to abandon a Senate race four years ago because of ethical lapses-”

Robert Torricelli, September 2002, name not on screen: “It is the most painful thing that I've done in my life.”

“-today is back under investigation again. The allegations, first reported by two European newspapers [Financial Times in London and Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore], involve the UN's scandal-ridden oil-for-food program. Iraqi documents, obtained by NBC News, indicate that in 1996, then-Congressman Torricelli repeatedly lobbied Iraqi officials to give lucrative contracts to a company owned by this Korean-American businessman, David Chang, who later went to prison for making illegal campaign contributions to Torricelli. Senate investigators probing corruption in the oil-for-food program confirm they are now pursuing these allegations against Torricelli.

Senator Norm Coleman, with “(R) Minnesota” on screen: "We take it seriously, and we're going to actively investigate."

Myers: “Sources familiar with the documents say, while pressing the deal for Chang, Torricelli reportedly offered to help improve U.S.-Iraq relations.”

Bill Allison, government ethics expert: “Senator Torricelli was willing to, on behalf of a contributor, take official actions, go to a foreign government and say, 'Help this guy out,' and that's something that an elected official should not be doing."

Myers: “This former U.S. ambassador says he remembers being uncomfortable when Torricelli asked for a meeting on the oil-for-food program and showed up with a Korean businessman, whose name he doesn't remember.”

Edward Gnehm, Jr., former UN representative: "I wasn't sure who I was speaking in front of, so, yes, it was awkward and I thought a bit strange."

Myers: “Today Torricelli told NBC News he was only trying to help companies in his state get a piece of the oil-for-food business -- a program sanctioned by the U.S. and the UN. He says he did nothing wrong.”

Torricelli, standing outdoors, with no on-screen tag: "Nothing was suggested that there was anything inappropriate about this. [edit jump] It was the right thing to do. What is regrettable is that they refused to buy American products."

Myers: “The deal eventually fell through when tensions between the U.S. and Iraq flared up. But investigators want to know whether there was an effort to conceal the arrangement and whether Torricelli was to receive anything in return. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
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