Name That Party: Blago’s, Burris’s Party IDs Largely MIA in Latest Revelations

May 27th, 2009 4:02 PM

Burriss0509Maybe it should be put to music:

Blago and Burris,
Sitting in a tree,
But they'd rather we not know their political party.

There has been yet another revelation about contacts between Democratic President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate successor, Democrat Roland Burris and former Illinois Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich over Blago's pre-Senate appointment, uh, deliberations. A released FBI audio recording reveals that Burris offered to make a campaign contribution to Blago as he lobbied to be selected.

This news has brought on yet another wave of stories that fail to tell us what party Blago and Burris belong to.

The Washington Post is the only publication that identified the party of both men in the course of reporting their story. The Post's Peter Slevin and Perry Bacon Jr. also identified the Democratic Party affiliation of the Senate Ethics Committee's Barbara Boxer:

Burris Offered to Write Check To Governor Before Appointment

CHICAGO. May 26 -- Sen. Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) can be heard on an FBI audio recording promising to make a campaign contribution to then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) at the same time he was pressing the governor for a Senate appointment.

The recording, secretly made by the FBI and released Tuesday by a Chicago federal judge as part of a Senate ethics investigation, contradicts a Jan. 5 Burris affidavit in which he said under oath that he had not discussed the Senate seat with Blagojevich or any of his representatives.

During the Nov. 13 conversation, Burris told the governor's brother, Rob Blagojevich, that he was willing to join a fundraising event and would send a personal check.

"I will personally do something. And it'll be done before the 15th of December," Burris said. He added, "And tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?"

Rod Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 8 on corruption charges that included allegations of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Three weeks later, he appointed Burris to fill the remainder of Obama's term.

Burris did not send a check. He also did not mention his discussions with Rob Blagojevich, who headed the governor's fundraising operation, with state lawmakers investigating the governor -- either in his Jan. 5 affidavit or during sworn testimony Jan. 8.

.... A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate ethics committee, declined to comment on the judge's decision, citing a committee policy against speaking about ongoing investigations

Here are a couple of clear press failures to identify the party of either Burris or Blago:

  • Compared to the Post's headline above, the New York Times's headline was extraordinarily message-free ("Burris-Blagojevich Ties Come to Life in Transcript"). The report by Monica Davey and Karen Ann Cullotta is also party ID-free.
  • The Chicago Tribune's coverage by Jeff Coen and John Chase ("Burris talks cash on wiretap") seems oddly tolerant of what transpired at one point, when they write that "The transcript provides a behind-the-scenes portrayal of the give-and-take world of Illinois politics." An adjective like "seamy" might have been a bit more appropriate. Though Coen and Chase never identify Burris's or Blago's party, the reporters somehow manage to name the parties of Democrat Harry Reid, Democrat Dick Durbin, and a Illinois Republican legislator Jim Durkin in two of their final five paragraphs.

Other observations:

  • CBS2 in Chicago did manage to hang a "D-Ill." tag in the caption under a photo of Burris in two different reports (here and here). The text of both items is party ID-free.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times ("Burris on tape: Promises to 'do something' for Blagojevich") waited until the ninth paragraph to identify Burris's party, and never identified Blago's.
  • Early Associated Press coverage that seems to no longer be available did not identify either man's party. The AP, perhaps with the help of the search engine titans, seems to be getting better at audit-proofing the evolution of its work product, unless you happen to monitor it -- and save it as revisions take place -- in real time.

Reinforcing the point made in the last bullet, a search on Burris's last name at the Cincinnati Enquirer has a listing for last night's AP story. But clicking on that search listing's link takes you to a related but very different story at Enquirer Gannett affiliate USA Today. The story, with today's date, is by Michael Robinson, and is about Burris touring central Illinois while attempting to fend off his latest troubles. That story identifies Burris as a Democrat in its third paragraph:


This evolution may indicate that AP has a "clever" strategy in place. By keeping Burris's party out of initial reports when the story is hot, AP was able to keep his party ID out of radio and TV broadcasts that depend on its feeds. Once the story cooled down a bit, they put his party into a later story to demonstrate that they really, really do follow their Stylebook rules.

This could be evidence that the wire service is looking over their shoulders to see what their blog critics are saying.

If so, "Hi guys!"

Cross-posted at