CNN has barely covered the corruption trial of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, but the network didn’t always have an aversion to the corruption trials of sitting U.S. senators.
Back in 2008, Republican Senator Ted Stevens got plenty of attention from CNN for his own corruption trial. When it came to reporting on Stevens, CNN rarely missed a day, and often updated viewers on the status of the trial multiple times in the same day. In the first three weeks of his trial (Sept. 20, 2008 to Oct. 11, 2008), CNN aired 36 stories about Stevens, compared to only 7 for Menendez in the exact same time period (Sept. 5, 2017 to Sept. 26, 2017) – a six-to-one disparity.
If CNN journalists thought that the Stevens trial was worth covering, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be covering Menendez – other than the obvious partisan bias.
- CNN managed to cover Stevens trial amid other major stories: Yes, there have been hurricanes, earthquakes and ramped-up tensions with North Korea since the Menendez trial began, but the Stevens trial in 2008 happened during the heat of a presidential campaign and a once-in-a-generation financial crisis, and CNN found a way to cover that case.
- The charges against Menendez are actually more severe: Stevens was accused of failing to report a gift in the form of home renovations. However, there was no accusation of bribery or tit-for-tat. In contrast, Menendez is accused of reciprocating with multiple political favors following multiple unreported gifts over the course of a decade.
- Both trials threatened to overturn party control of a Senate seat: Stevens lost re-election to a Democrat shortly after his conviction; if Menendez is convicted, Republican Governor Chris Christie will appoint a replacement.
Menendez is accused of taking bribes worth $60,000 from wealthy friend Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors. According to prosecutors, Menendez started accepting gifts from Melgen in 2006 – the same year he was first elected to the Senate.
Stevens was accused of failing to report gifts totaling $250,000. Although he was initially found guilty, the conviction was later dismissed before he sentencing when it came to light that the prosecution concealed evidence from the defense lawyers on multiple occasions. The case against Stevens was so badly managed that The New York Times called it an “embarrassing cautionary tale about overzealous prosecuting.”
In the scant coverage it has provided, CNN conceded that the Menendez trial is a huge deal. “At stake: a lot,” CNN Newsroom co-anchor Poppy Harlow admitted on September 25. “And it is huge. Not just for the senator, but if Menendez is found guilty, he would be the first senator to be convicted in corruption charges in decades. And if he leaves his seat within the next four months, well, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey would pick his replacement, likely flipping that blue seat to red. So this is high stakes.”