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Networks Rush to Label Former Governor Bob McDonnell a Republican

Less than 24-hours after former Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) was indicted on 14 charges including conspiracy and fraud, all three network morning shows immediately identified McDonnell as a Republican. While McDonnell’s potential crimes are serious, the media failed to uphold the same party ID standard when it involved a scandal plagued Democratic governor.

NBC led their January 22 coverage of the McDonnell scandal with Today host Savannah Guthrie introducing the segment by saying, “And now to that bombshell indictment of the former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party.” ABC provided an on-screen graphic identifying McDonnell as a Republican and CBS This Morning’s Nancy Cordes said that “McDonnell was once considered a possible presidential contender for the GOP.”

In contrast, in March 2008 Democratic Governor Elliot Spitzer of New York was identified as “Client Number 9” in a prostitution ring, but for two straight days ABC and NBC failed to label Spitzer as a Democrat. At the time, my colleague Brent Baker noted how “in lead stories Monday night about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring, neither ABC's World News nor the NBC Nightly News verbally identified Spitzer's political party.”   

At the time, NewsBusters noted how:

On ABC, the only hints as to Spitzer's party were a few seconds of video of Spitzer beside Hillary Clinton as they walked down some steps and a (D) on screen by Spitzer's name over part of one soundbite. NBC didn't even do that.

In total, NBC and CBS referenced McDonnell’s Republican affiliation three times by name, whereas it took ABC three days to identify Spitzer as a Democrat in 2008 and even longer for NBC to do so. In fact, in 2008, both ABC and NBC found time to “applaud his [Elliott Spitzer] reputation and effectiveness as the Empire State’s Attorney General before becoming Governor.”   In contrast, both CBS and NBC noted how McDonnell is “the first Virginia governor ever to be charged with a crime and the charges he’s facing carry the possibility of decades behind bars.”

CBS’s Nancy Cordes hyped how, “It wasn't that long ago that McDonnell was considered a rising Republican star and possible presidential candidate in 2016” and ABC’s Josh Elliott said McDonnell was “once considered a possible presidential candidate.” In contrast, in the first two days following the Spitzer scandal, NBC’s Today ran seven Spitzer-related segments and one interview with then-candidate Barak Obama, without once mentioning Spitzer’s Democratic affiliation.

While both governors were embroiled in highly politicized scandals, the networks have made a concerted effort to let their viewers know when a Republican is in trouble but punt when it comes to identifying a Democrat. Unsurprisingly, this practice by ABC, NBC, and CBS is nothing new and they will likely continue to rush to identify Republicans plagued in scandal while giving Democrats a pass.

See relevant transcripts below.

CBS This Morning

January 22, 2014

7:11 a.m. Eastern

CLARISSA WARD: Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife face 14 criminal charge this morning including conspiracy and fraud. The case involves big money gifts from a political supporter. Nancy Cordes is in Washington with the governor’s response to the corruption charges. Nancy, good morning. 

NANCY CORDES: Good morning to you, Clarissa and Charlie. McDonnell was once considered a possible presidential contender for the GOP. But now he's the first Virginia governor ever to be charged with a crime and the charges he’s facing carry the possibility of decades behind bars. With his family at his side last night, Governor Bob McDonnell insisted he's guilty only of poor judgment, not a crime. 

BOB MCDONNELL: I never promised and Mr. Williams and his company never received any government benefit of any kind from me or from my administration. 

CORDES: Federal prosecutors say McDonnell and his wife Maureen accepted more than $135,000 in gifts and loans from one person, Johnny Williams, the former CEO of the Virginia-based company Star Scientific, a manufacturer of dietary supplements. The two men met when McDonnell was running for governor in 2009 and the money started flowing soon afterwards. According to a 43-page indictment, Williams gave Governor McDonnell and his wife free flights on his private jet and shopping sprees worth tens of thousands of dollars. Williams even paid for the catering at the governor’s daughter's wedding and bought the governor a $6,500 Rolex at Maureen's request. In exchange the indictment says Virginia’s first couple performed official actions on an as needed basis to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies for Star Scientific’s products. It wasn't that long ago that McDonnell was considered a rising Republican star and possible presidential candidate in 2016. 

RICK TYLER: I think it would be very difficult for Governor McDonnell to run for president in 2016 because of the indictment. But you never know. Stranger things have happened in politics.

CORDES: This fraud investigation cast a dark shadow over McDonnell’s final year in office and helped to propel a Democrat Terry McAuliffe into the governor’s mansion behind him. McDonnell and his wife had their first court appearance and arraignment in federal court in Richmond on Friday. 

 

NBC

TODAY

January 22, 2014

7:19 a.m. Eastern

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And now to that bombshell indictment of the former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party, also a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012. He and his wife are accused of accepting cash and gifts. These are charges that the couple strongly denies. Pete Williams is NBC's justice correspondent, he's got the story. Pete, good morning to you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Former VA Gov. & Wife Indicted; Charged With Accepting Lavish Gifts From Donor]

PETE WILLIAMS: Savannah, good morning. Some states have a long tradition of seeing their top officials indicted, but not Virginia. Bob McDonnell becomes the first man charged with committing crimes in the Virginia governor's office. But he says he did nothing illegal.

In response to the charges, Bob McDonnell describes himself this way.

BOB MCDONNELL: Someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused. And whose public service has been wrongfully attacked.

WILLIAMS: Federal prosecutors say Governor McDonnell and his wife Maureen asked for and received thousands in money and gifts from a Virginia businessman, Johnny Williams, eager for state help in promoting his company's line of dietary supplements.

Prosecutors say Mrs. McDonnell asked the businessman to take her dress shopping in New York, where he spent almost $11,000 at Oscar de la Renta, $5,600 at Louis Vuitton, and $2,000 at high-end retailer Bergdorf Goodman. She wanted them, court documents say, for her anniversary and daughter's wedding. But prosecutors say two years later, after they started investigating, she sent some of the dresses back to the businessman, suggesting they were only loaned, and that a charity might welcome the chance to auction clothes, quote, "worn only once by the first lady of Virginia."

Prosecutors also say she persuaded the businessman to give the McDonnell's a $50,000 loan and to pay $15,000 for catering at their daughter Cailin's wedding. And the charges say McDonnell persuaded Williams to make a $50,000 loan to a business co-owned by the Governor. Standing with his wife a daughter, McDonnell said all of it amounted to personal favors.

MCDONNELL: I never promised, and Mr. Williams and his company never received, any government benefit of any kind from me or from my administration.

WILLIAMS: McDonnell also says he repaid all the loans with interest. He and his wife appear in court Friday to face the charges. Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Pete Williams in our Washington newsroom, thank you. 

 

ABC

Good Morning America

January 22, 2014

7:13 a.m. Eastern

JOSH ELLIOTT: And a former governor once considered a possible presidential candidate has been indicted on corruption charges. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of taking gifts from a local businessman including a $70,000 loan, a Rolex watch, use of a luxury vacation home and the Ferrari you see there, as well as catering for their daughter's wedding. McDonnell insists he did nothing illegal. 

— Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Jeffrey Meyer on Twitter.