USAT's Story on Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Sentencing Fails to Tag Him as a Democrat

August 14th, 2013 2:30 PM

USA Today's "breaking news" email ("Ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. sentenced to 30 months") opened with the following opening sentence: "The nine-term Democrat from Illinois and son of the former civil rights leader had pleaded guilty in February to using $750,000 in campaign money to pay for living expenses, clothes and luxury items."

So it seemed like it would be a waste of time to click through to confirm that Jackson would be tagged as a Democrat in the story itself, right? Wrong. (UPDATE, Aug. 15: USAT revised the story and included a couple of Democrat references later in the day. The original as it appeared when this post was written is here.) USAT's Fredreka Schouten applied the "Democrat" tag once — to describe Mel Reynolds, the disgraced Congressman Jackson replaced in 1995, in her 18th paragraph. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):

Ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is sentenced to 30 months in prison

Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday for using $750,000 in campaign money for living expenses, clothes and luxury items.

Jackson and his wife, Sandi Jackson, used campaign funds as a "personal piggy bank," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told him. "There may be gray areas in campaign finance This case did not come near to those areas."

... The sentence was handed down during a hearing where Jackson tearfully admitted wrongdoing.

... Jackson's crime and likely punishment mark a dramatic fall for a man once viewed as a fast-rising political star in his home state. ...

... The sentence was less than the four-year sentence sought by prosecutors Jackson who pleaded guilty in February to misusing campaign funds.

His lawyer Reid Weingarten pleaded for leniency, saying Jackson is a "good person" whose judgment was impaired by his bipolar disorder. The crimes are serious, Weingarten said, but "there are not widows and orphans surrounding the courthouse wanting his head."

... Weingarten noted that lawmakers in the 1980s were permitted to use campaign money for personal expenses. "If you took a microscope and looked at all these campaign (reports), you would find a lot of gray," he said.

... Graves, the prosecutor, said Sandi Jackson was not an unwitting accomplice to her husband's crimes. "The facts show that she stole and that she stole a lot of money," he said.

(Paragraph 18 — Ed.)

... Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in a 1995 special election to replace Mel Reynolds, a Democrat who resigned after he was convicted of having sex with a teenage campaign worker.

There was probably no point in giving Jackson the four-year sentence the prosecution wanted, given that the odds President Obama would have pardoned him or commuted his sentence 41 months from now in January 2017 would have to be rated quite high. President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds's sentence before leaving office in January 2001.

As to Jackson's lawyer's assertion that leniency would be all right in the circumstances because "there are not widows and orphans surrounding the courthouse wanting his head," I guess he wants us to believe that theft isn't a serious matter when it "only" involves campaign donors, at least some of whom are of lesser means. He is of course wrong.

To those who assert that having the Democrat tag in the email suffices, I would reply that it only does so for those who get to Schouten's story via that email. It's certainly unacceptable for those who navigate their way to the story based on its headline seen at another page either at USAT or elsewhere. Additionally, the historical record won't definitively show that Jackson Jr. is a Democrat. I would submit that this is far from accidental.

Cross-posted at