Of 351 Reports on Outrageous Bell, Calif. Salaries, Only One Mentions Employees Are Democrats

August 13th, 2010 12:26 PM
In late July, NB Contributing Editor Tom Blumer busted the Associated Press for neglecting to mention the party affiliations of scandal-plagued officials in Bell, California. The AP piece was one of hundreds of reports on the scandal. Of those hundreds, one solitary report mentioned party labels for the five officials.

Can you guess which party they belong to? I'll bet you can.

The only news outlet that mentioned the officials were Democrats was the Orange County Register. And even that paper noted the absence of party labels only in response to reader complaints. "Our readers noticed one part of the story has been left out by virtually all media sources," the paper's editorial board wrote. "All five council members are members of the Democratic Party."

The most prominent of the officials in question, former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo, resigned after it came to light that he was making $1.5 million per year - in a town with a per capita income languishing at about half the national average.

Ann Coulter noticed the amazing absence of party labels in virtually any news coverage of the scandal. She called this blatant instance of media bias "the greatest party-affiliation cover-up since the media tried to portray Gary Condit as a Republican."

According to my own Nexis search, there have been 351 stories run by newspapers, wire services, and television news outlets.

Though 350 of those 351 stories neglected to mention Rizzo's party, many went out of their way to label California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who's also running for governor, a Democrat. Forty-one stories mentioned Brown's party affiliation, but not Rizzo's.

Brown is investigating the lavish salaries in Bell, and his tough talk has made for some good populist campaign soundbites. Journalists have been more than happy to call him a Democrat, while leaving Rizzo and his colleagues' party affiliations unmentioned.

Only the noble, populist warriors are Democrats. The reprobate, quasi-corrupt city managers of a destitute neighborhood in Los Angeles have no party affiliation.

In the fantasy realm of politically-neutral media, the Democrat label would be played up by the media, for reasons that Ace explains:

When a Republican is caught in a sex scandal, his party affiliation is extremely relevant because the Republican Party stands broadly for family values and sexual restraint, so party affiliation is very relevant, as it shows hypocrisy, that is, it tends to undermine the public image of the party....

Now, what happens when a Republican is caught in a money scandal? Well, that's not really hypocrisy, really, as Republicans have the reputation of being into dirty filthy money. But in that case -- in the case of a money scandal -- the media says noting the Republican's affiliation is relevant because it reinforces widely-held public opinion about the party...

If the Republican Party is supposedly money-grubbing and only cares about big business and corporate interest, then the Democratic party is, supposedly, the party that cares about the little guy, that stands stubbornly against monied interests in favor of Joe Six Pack.

Is it not the case, therefore, that if hypocrisy dictates that party affiliation is intensely relevant as regards a sex scandal involving a Republican, then hypocrisy should dictate that in a scandal involving a Democrat taking money from big business that the Democrat's party affiliation should be similarly intensely relevant?

And yet, the media continues to report such stories without granting party labels to the villains.

But the hero in the MSM narrative - AG Brown - earns a party label, as he upholds the "Democrat-as-friend of the little guy" narrative. By shifting the focus of party label onto him, the media avoid the hypocrisy angle Ace elaborates, and can go on neglecting to give party label to Rizzo and his cohorts. It's all very circular.

In fairness, it is true that candidates for city board in Los Angeles do not list their party affiliations on the ballot. But does that absolve news outlets from doing a bit of, you know, reporting? Even the OC Register, which noted the lack of party labels in the course of a lukewarm defense of its own sins, claimed:

On balance, though, party affiliations of elected officials should be noted and easily accessible so voters can make informed decisions about who they elect to public office. Voter registration is public information, but it currently is somewhat difficult to obtain - you need to contact a county's registrar of voters in person or by phone and provide a full name and city.

That brings us to Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, who was quick yesterday to make political hay out of the Bell scandal, declaring he was starting an investigation. He was identified in most news stories as a Democrat. Does that make him a white hat while the Bell officials, whose party affiliations were unreported, become the black hats - from another party? Readers should know both.