Bruce Bartlett
One of the things that drives Republicans crazy is the media’s enormous double-standard in how it covers various scandals. While day after day we read on the front pages about how awful it was that a Republican congressman played golf with some lobbyist—as if that is the epitome of unethical behavior—cases of actual criminality by Democrats are buried on the back pages.

For example, on Jan. 12, the New York Times ran yet another article on page one linking Rep. Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, along with two columns about Abramoff on the inside pages. There was absolutely nothing new in any of these articles.

That same day, however, there was real news about a former aide to Rep. William Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, who pleaded guilty the day before to bribing the congressman. The aide, Brett Pfeffer, said that his former boss had demanded a stake in Pfeffer’s business in return for his support. He also alleged that Jefferson had insisted that two of his relatives be put on Pfeffer’s payroll.

Apparently, the FBI has been investigating Jefferson for some time. It has raided his home and wired conversations with him in a sting operation.

So how did the Times handle this hot news? It appeared on page 28. Moreover, the Times couldn’t even be bothered to have one of its own reporters look into the case and instead ran Associated Press wire copy.

Also on Jan. 12, on page five of the second section, the Times reported that a state assemblyman who had formerly headed the Brooklyn Democratic Party was sentenced to jail a day earlier for receiving illegal contributions. The assemblyman, Clarence Norman Jr., faces other charges as well.

On Jan. 23, the Times reported that former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell is on trial for receiving payoffs of $150,000 from companies doing business with the city, as well as $100,000 in illegal campaign contributions and other gratuities. This article appeared on page 12.

Nowhere in the article was Mr. Campbell’s political affiliation mentioned. I had to do an Internet search to discover that he is a Democrat. Yet the article had plenty of space to discuss at some length what a great mayor Campbell had been.

I’m not saying that these stories should necessarily have been front-page news. But it does seem suspicious when news about Democratic corruption is systematically buried on the back pages, while the front page carries yet another rehash of the DeLay/Abramoff connection containing nothing new.

Ever since Watergate, a key media template has been that the Republican Party is the party of corruption. Thus every wrongdoing of any Republican tends to get page one treatment, while Democratic corruption is treated as routine and buried on the back pages, mentioned once and then forgotten.

Yet any objective study of comparative party corruption would have to conclude that Democrats are far more likely to be caught engaging in it than Republicans. For example, a review of misconduct cases in the House of Representatives since Watergate shows many more cases involving Democrats than Republicans.

Skeptics can go to the web site of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, popularly known as the House Ethics Committee. Click on “historical documents” and go to a publication called “Historical Summary of Conduct Cases in the House of Representatives.” The document was last updated on November 9, 2004 and lists every ethics case since 1798, when Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut attacked Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont with a “stout cane” and Lyon responded with a pair of fireplace tongs.

By my count, there have been 70 different members of the House who have been investigated for serious offenses over the last 30 years, including many involving actual criminality and jail time. Of these, only 15 involved Republicans, with the remaining 55 involving Democrats.

I have no doubt that any poll of the American people asking which party had more frequently been the subject of House ethics investigations would show an overwhelming majority naming the Republicans, when the truth is that Democrats, historically, have been far more likely to have been investigated.

The reason is that the liberal media harp on Republican misdeeds monotonously because to them the subject never gets boring. By contrast, Democratic wrongdoing tends to be treated in a perfunctory manner with no follow-up. This imbalance of coverage, which is unrelated to the seriousness of the charges, naturally tends to make people think Republicans are more corrupt, when a reasonable person reviewing all the evidence would have to conclude that Democrats are much more likely to be corrupt.

Of course, another explanation for the disparate treatment may be that Democratic corruption is so commonplace that it really isn’t “news.” Democrats should consider that possibility before launching a campaign against Republican corruption.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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