Not Subtle: ABC Touts Cocaine Arrest of 'Conservative' 'Tea Party' 'Republican'
ABC's Good Morning America may be many things, but subtle isn't one of them. George Stephanopoulos and Pierre Thomas on Wednesday made sure to point out to viewers that it was a "conservative," "Tea Party" "Republican" congressman who was arrested for buying cocaine. The journalists found the story so enticing, the show led with it, bumping an "exclusive," "frightening" story about al Qaeda operatives secretly living in America.
All six network newscasts on Tuesday and the morning shows on Wednesday made sure to point out Representative Trey Radel's GOP affiliation. Many of them identified him with the Tea Party. But GMA reporters mentioned "Tea Party," "conservative" or "Republican" five times in less than two and a half minutes. Stephanopoulos reminded, " He's a Tea Party favorite from Florida." Thomas informed, "He's a conservative congressman." [MP3 audio here.]
Teasing the segment, Stephanopoulos opened the show by combining the two labels: "Breaking new details on the Republican Congressman caught buying cocaine in a federal sting. Busted in one of Washington's most famous neighborhoods, the Tea Party talk radio host now facing prison time in his own real life drama."
An ABC graphic alerted, "Republican Congressman in Court."
In the news judgment of these network journalists, the drug arrest of a Florida Congressman bumped terrorism from the lead: "Al Qaeda operatives living right here in the United States, slipping through the cracks of a refugee program," according to co-host Robin Roberts.
On CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell told viewers that "Republican Trey Radel" faces jail time. Reporter Nancy Cordes recounted, "For Republicans, Trey Radel was a fresh young face."
Today journalist Pete Williams insisted that Radel won a "hard-fought Republican primary" with "support from Tea Party members."
On Tuesday, the NBC Nightly News, ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News all identified Radel as Republican.
Earlier this year, the same networks repeatedly failed to identify San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, accused of repeated sexual harassment, as a Democrat. While the story got wide coverage, his party label was minimized.
Certainly, Radel's drug problem is news-worthy. But it would be nice if network journalists would be consistent in their partisan identification.
A transcript of the November 20 GMA segment is below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Breaking new details on the Republican Congressman caught buying cocaine in a federal sting. Busted in one of Washington's most famous neighborhoods, the Tea Party talk radio host now facing prison time in his own real life drama.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But we're going to start with this congressman making headlines for buying cocaine. Trey Radel is going to court today after being caught up in a sting. He's a Tea Party favorite from Florida, calls himself the hip-hop congressman. And ABC's Pierre Thomas has all of the details on how he was caught. Good morning, Pierre.
ABC GRAPHIC: U.S. Rep. Busted for Cocaine: Republican Congressman in Court
PIERRE THOMAS: Good morning, George. Today, a sitting U.S. Congressman won't be on Capitol Hill. No. He will be in a D.C. courthouse, facing drug charges that could land him in jail for up to 180 days. He's a conservative congressman --
TREY RADEL: A compromise is essential.
THOMAS: –and self-proclaimed rap music connoisseur.
RADEL: Public Enemy, "Bring the Noise" is one of my favorite tracks.
THOMAS: But this morning, Florida Congressman Trey Radel has been accused of buying cocaine. Sources tell ABC News the Congressman was snared in a point FBI/DEA sting operation after being identified by a cocaine dealer. Radel allegedly purchased the cocaine in Washington's Dupont Circle. Undercover agents let him leave the scene. But authorities later went to his home and informed him he had just purchased cocaine from a federal agent. They did not arrest Radel, but told him he would be hearing from them soon. In a statement, the Congressman acknowledged the charge but did not specifically mention cocaine. "I am profoundly sorry," he said "and I struggle with the disease of alcoholism. And this led to an extremely irresponsible choice." Radel recently supported legislation, forcing food stamp recipients to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. He also co-sponsored a bill, lowering mandatory sentencing for some drug offenses. In this March blog, the Congressman also admitted that his favorite vacation spot is Cartagena, Colombia, once a notorious hub for drug trafficking. His story drawing comparisons to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who also admitted to using cocaine.
ROB FORD: I have nothing left to hide.
THOMAS: And to the bottle-carrying, sporadic-drug-using congressman in the Netflix series House of Cards."
UNIDENTIFIED: I know I have a problem, Frank. I accept that.
THOMAS: Like that character, Radel says he'll get treatment.
THOMAS: A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement, members of Congress should be held to the highest standards. But he said, ultimately, this is between the congressman, his family and his constituents. George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Pierre. Thanks very much. Cartagena, Colombia.
— Scott Whitlock is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Scott Whitlock on Twitter.