ABC Ignores Democratic Congressman’s Criminal Indictment; NBC Mentions Wife’s Ties to Network

ABC failed to cover on Wednesday’s World News Tonight the criminal indictment of Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah (Penn.) on charges related to alleged racketeering and conspiracy that resulted in the misuse of campaign funds and federal grant money for his personal gain.

Surprisingly, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News covered the story and labeled Fattah as a Democrat in news briefs on the matter. In addition, NBC disclosed the fact that Fattah’s wife is a news anchor with the peacock network’s station in Philadelphia, NBC 10 (but neglected to note that she’s been placed on leave following Wednesday’s events).

NBC Nightly News reserved a scant 30 seconds for the indictment with anchor Lester Holt reporting that “[a]n 11-term member of Congress from Philadelphia has now been indicted in an alleged racketeering conspiracy” as “Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah and four associates are accused of schemes to misuse funds in connection with his unsuccessful 2007 mayoral bid.”

Maintaining that Fattah “denies any wrongdoing,” Holt explained how Fattah's wife works for an NBC station (as the weekday 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. co-anchor at an owned-and-operated station, for that matter): “His wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, is an anchor on our Philadelphia station. She is not charged, but the indictment refers to her as part of an alleged plot to disguise a payment from a lobbyist as a car sale.”

On the CBS Evening News, fill-in anchor and Obama supporter Jane Pauley teased going to a commercial break that coming up was news concerning “a congressman” who “faces a laundry list of criminal charges.” 

Pauley followed with a 22-second news brief on the indictment that went further than NBC in highlighting some of the charges that she deemed are “the most sweeping criminal indictment against a member of Congress in decades”:

A veteran U.S. Congressman was charged today with corruption, Democrat Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia. In the most sweeping criminal indictment against a member of Congress in decades, he's charged with taking bribes, laundering money, racketeering, and using campaign funds to pay personal expenses. Fattah denies all the charges. 

It’s also worth pointing out that the coverage and labeling of scandal-ridden elected officials aren’t always created equal. Back on November 19, 2013 when the arrest then-Congressman Trey Radel on a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession was made public, all three networks mentioned the arrest and that Radel was a Republican on both their morning and evening newscasts.

When former Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was indicted on February 15, 2013 for improper use of campaign funds, ABC ignored it that day and devoted only 18 seconds to the story on the next day’s Good Morning America. While CBS and NBC devoted full reports to it, neither one of the networks brought up Jackson’s party affiliation. 

The transcript of the news brief from July 29's NBC Nightly News can be found below.

NBC Nightly News
July 29. 2015
7:11 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Congressman Indicted]

LESTER HOLT: An 11-term member of Congress from Philadelphia has now been indicted in an alleged racketeering conspiracy. Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah and four associates are accused of schemes to misuse funds in connection with his unsuccessful 2007 mayoral bid. The congressman denies any wrongdoing. His wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, is an anchor on our Philadelphia station. She is not charged, but the indictment refers to her as part of an alleged plot to disguise a payment from a lobbyist as a car sale.

The tease and brief that appeared on July 29's CBS Evening News are transcribed below.

CBS Evening News
July 29, 2015
6:48 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Congressman Charged]

JANE PAULEY: A congressman faces a laundry list of criminal charges. That's next. 

(....)

6:51 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Corruption Charges]

PAULEY: A veteran U.S. Congressman was charged today with corruption, Democrat Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia. In the most sweeping criminal indictment against a member of Congress in decades, he's charged with taking bribes, laundering money, racketeering, and using campaign funds to pay personal expenses. Fattah denies all the charges.


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