Surprise: Nets ID Robert Menendez as a Democrat Nine Times in Less Than 24 Hours

April 2nd, 2015 12:22 PM

In a stark departure from the usual routine, the networks on Wednesday night and Thursday morning repeatedly identified scandal-plagued Senator Robert Menendez as a Democrat, mentioning his affiliation nine times in just six stories. NBC spotlighted Menendez's party four times. ABC highlighted it three times and CBS twice.

Yet, they avoided noticing Menendez's strong conflicts with the Obama administration. According to the Wall Street journal, the politician "has been a vocal opponent of two of President Barack Obama’s key foreign-policy initiatives: the rebuilding of ties with Iran and Cuba." George Stephanopoulos noted that "New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez" has been accused of trading influence for expensive travel arrangements and campaign contributions. 

Reporter David Wright pointedly referenced the Abscam investigation of the '80s and the fall of politician Harrison Williams. He underlined, "That Abscam senator was a New Jersey Democrat too. In fact, Menendez now holds his seat." 

On NBC's Today, Savannah Guthrie explained that "one of the most influential Democrats in Washington is gearing up for a fight." Kelly O'Donnell added that the "the 61-year-old Democrat says federal prosecutors got it wrong." She also derided his denunciations of the charges, insisting they "came with off-camera set dressing, a rally-like chorus of shouting supporters." 

Finally, O'Donnell concluded by alerting that Menendez "has temporarily given up his high profile post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee." 

Over on CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell claimed "the Democrat faces bribery" charges.  

None of the networks noted Menendez's vocal opposition to key Obama's policies. Nancy Cordes simply referred to the senator as a "leading voice" on "international affairs." It's not as though this conflict is unknown. The New York Times on February 15 explained: 

WASHINGTON — When Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said last week that he would give President Obama two months before defying a veto threat and voting for new sanctions on Iran, he made it clear that the delay was not out of loyalty to his fellow Democrat in the Oval Office.

“I don’t get calls from the White House,” Mr. Menendez said when asked whether the president or his team had lobbied him for the reprieve. It was a frank acknowledgment of the rifts that exist between Mr. Obama and Mr. Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The divisions have burst into public view in recent weeks as Mr. Menendez, a second-term senator, has taken on Mr. Obama over Cuba and Iran.

Mr. Obama’s advisers say they speak with Mr. Menendez regularly, and the senator described his relationship with the White House as excellent. But deep policy and political divisions remain between Mr. Obama and the senator, one of the Democrats best positioned to defend the administration’s foreign policy in Congress.

On Wednesday night, all three networks covered the story and each identified Menendez as a Democrat. 

A transcript of the April 2 GMA segment is below: 


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to get the latest now on a U.S. senator charged with corruption. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez is defiant this morning after the Department of Justice charged him with trading his influence for private jet rides, vacations and other perks. Prosecutors call it bribery. The senator says they were favors from an old friend. ABC's David Wright is tracking the case from Newark. Good morning, David. 

DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning, George. Later today Senator Menendez will walk into the federal courthouse here in Newark to answer these charges. Already he's making it clear he plans to fight. Cheered on by his supporters, the New Jersey Democrat defiantly vowed to clear his name against those shocking bribery and corruption charges. 

ROBERT MENENDEZ: I'm angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don't know the difference between friendship and corruption. 

WRIGHT: At issue is his friendship with this man, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist. According to the indictment filed Wednesday, the doctor used the Senator as sort of a personal errand boy on Capitol Hill, getting Menendez to intervene in a billing dispute over Medicare charges worth millions of dollars, getting him to push the State Department to help one of the doctor's business ventures and even allegedly helping the doctor's girlfriends with their Visa problems. In exchange, according to the indictment, the Senator accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from Melgen, plus lavish Caribbean holidays, deluxe hotel rooms in Paris and expensive trips on board the doctor's private jet. The last time a U.S. senator faced bribery charges was 1980, the Abscam investigation that inspired the movie American Hustle.

[Clip from American Hustle]

WRIGHT: Menendez insists the FBI is out to get him. 

MENENDEZ: They are dead wrong and this is not how my career is going to end.

WRIGHT: That Abscam senator was a New Jersey Democrat too. In fact, Menendez now holds his seat. He says he has no plans to resign but he will step down temporarily as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lara.