Media Avoid Linking Democratic Party With NJ Scandals

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - New Jersey = Corruption. That is the conclusion when reading news stories about the latest round of criminal charges involving public officials in the Garden State, according to political scientists and media analysts.

However, the political scandals that continue to beset New Jersey have not translated into negative press coverage for the Democratic Party, which has been disproportionately affected by the corruption charges and arrests.

A criminal probe targeting elected officials operating at most levels of government in New Jersey resulted in the arrest of 11 public officials and one private citizen last week. Only one Republican was ensnared in the corruption investigation organized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The other 10 elected officials were all Democrats, and the private citizen was active with the Democratic Party.

All 12 suspects have been charged with taking cash payments in exchange for influencing the distribution of public contracts, according to the criminal complaints. As part of the investigation, the FBI created an undercover insurance brokerage firm to offer bribes through undercover agents. The suspects are accused of accepting payments ranging from $3,500 to $32,000.

Although the scandal has been widely reported, a Nexis search indicates the establishment media have been reticent so far to link the alleged criminal infractions with the Democratic Party.

The Nexis search showed more than 30 media citations using innocuous phrases such as "public officials" instead of "Democratic Party officials" or a similar label.

A headline in the Associated Press, for example, reads: "11 N.J. Officials Arrested on Corruption," while a Philadelphia Inquirer headline states: "In NJ, Political Corruption's Roots Are Deep." Some of the articles mention party affiliation but they do not suggest there is any type of scandal tainting the Democratic Party.

If the ratio were reversed -- if 11 Republicans and only one Democrat had been charged in New Jersey -- some media analysts suspect the coverage would focus more attention on party identification.

Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center (MRC), told Cybercast News Service this notion has some merit. (The MRC is the parent company of Cybercast News Service. )

"The media have a habit of dropping the D (for Democrat) when these scandals come up," said Graham. "They never seem to turn around and say there is a big problem with the Democratic Party, but they are quick to make these links with the Republicans."

A sharp contrast exists, for instance, between the coverage the media devoted to former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), said Graham. Condit was questioned over the disappearance of Chandra Levy, a young intern from his district, who later turned up dead. Condit acknowledged having a relationship with Levy.

Craig pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge stemming from "lewd conduct" in a Minneapolis Airport bathroom. Homosexual activists have called Craig a hypocrite because he has consistently opposed gay rights.

"There is a double standard," Graham said. "The media are trying to take the actions of one person in a bathroom and transfer it over to the whole conservative movement. But they can never find hypocrisy on the liberal side."

Democrats who react to sex scandals are more focused on what the political fallout might be and less concerned with the actual ethics involved, Graham added.

"What makes you unethical in the Democratic Party is calling for someone to resign --that's what puts you in disfavor," he said.

Instead of upholding ethics for both parties, the media seem more interested in working to keep Democrats in power, he added.

But having a "double standard" for Republicans might actually have some benefits in an odd way, Cliff Kincaid, an editor for Accuracy in Media (AIM) told Cybercast News Service.

"When you have one party excusing the kind of behavior and doing everything to stay in power, it's probably a good thing for Republicans to hold themselves to a higher standard" Kincaid said. "It would be okay for the media to do this too, so long as they made it clear this is how they operated."

John Weingart, associate director of politics at the Eagleton Institute, a part of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said the arrests are likely to sour people about the political process. But he does not see the scandal attaching itself to the Democratic Party in a way that would be damaging in upcoming elections.

Even so, he said, the corruption charges will almost certainly reinforce negative images of New Jersey.

"We are welcoming new students and we tend to give upbeat talks about politics, Weingart said. "But you can't ignore this."

A Recent History of Corruption in New Jersey

Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) 1996-2002

Declined to run for a second term after it was revealed that he took bribes from David Chang, a Chinese businessman. Chang was allegedly part of a scheme by Chinese officials to influence American politics and improve China's image in the United States. Although Chang went to prison, Torricelli was given a slap on the wrist by the Senate Ethics Committee, which voted to admonish him. Torricelli would later go on to raise money for Senator John Kerry's presidential bid in 2003.

Gov. Jim McGreevey (D-N.J.) 2002-2004

Resigned his position as governor in 2004 after it was revealed that he had a gay sexual relationship with his homeland security advisor Golan Cipel, who he had continually promoted despite a lack of qualifications. Cipel threatened to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against McGreevey, though McGreevey alleged their relationship was consensual. McGreevey later went on to the General [Episcopalian] Theological Seminary and currently teaches ethics, law, and leadership at Kean University.

New Jersey Government Corruption Indictments and Sentences in 2007 (so far):

08-27-07 - Newark: Terrance D. Weldon, the former mayor of Ocean Township and the city manager for Asbury Park, was sentenced today to 58 months in federal prison for extorting more than $60,000 in cash bribes from three developers between 1998 and 2001.

08-02-07 - Newark:A former City of Paterson housing inspector pleaded guilty today to one-count Information charging him with conspiring to solicit and accept corrupt payments for performing housing inspections and other official assistance.

08-01-07 - Newark: A former Passaic Valley Water Commission employee pleaded guilty today to a one-count Information charging him with soliciting and accepting corrupt payments for his official action and inaction as an employee of the water commission.

07-27-07 - Newark: A former director of housing rehabilitation for the City of New Brunswick was arrested today, charged in a 54-count Indictment with extorting and accepting approximately $112,500 in corrupt cash payments, as well as cut-rate home improvements, in exchange for official favors.

07-12-07 - Newark: Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D) was charged in an Indictment today with using city-issued credit cards to spend lavishly on himself, eight female companions, and others during personal trips and vacations to such places as Martha's Vineyard, Rio de Janeiro, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

06-13-07 - Trenton: A former Federal Aviation Administration supervisor at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center pleaded guilty today in connection with a procurement fraud scheme in which he received approximately $159,000 in corrupt payments for steering government contracts to a company headed by a former FAA employee.

05-02-07 - Camden: Two former Atlantic City councilmen (Ramon Rosario and Gibb Jones) were sentenced today for accepting bribes in exchange for using their influence on city contracts, while a contractor who offered bribes was sentenced on an unrelated drug charge.

04-20-07 - Newark: A former construction inspector and assistant zoning officer for the City of New Brunswick pleaded guilty today to accepting more than $30,000 in corrupt cash payments and other benefits in exchange for official favors.

04-19-07 - Camden: Former Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan El (I) was sentenced today to 20 months in federal prison for accepting $36,000 in bribes in exchange for steering Camden redevelopment work to a contractor.

03-29-07 - Trenton: New Jersey State Sen. Wayne R. Bryant (D) was indicted today by a federal grand jury, accused of unlawfully using his power and influence to obtain a paid, no-work job at UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in exchange for lobbying and bringing millions of dollars in extra funding to the school, and using that job and others to fraudulently nearly triple his state pension.

03-27-07 - Newark: Former West Long Branch councilman Joseph DeLisa (D) was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison today on a charge of extortion for taking a $1,500 cash bribe in an Atlantic City hotel room from someone he believed to be a corrupt contractor seeking business with the borough.

03-26-07 - Newark: Fourteen current and former public officials and employees from Paterson and Passaic - including the former Deputy Director of Paterson's Section 8 housing program and a Paterson Municipal Court clerk - have been charged with soliciting and accepting bribes from an individual they believed to be a local property manager who in fact was cooperating with federal agents.

03-13-07 - Newark: A Newark Municipal Court Clerk was arrested today, charged with extorting cash bribes from an undercover agent for using his official position to help an individual unlawfully sanitize that person's criminal record and pass a U.S. Department of Homeland Security background check.

03-13-07 - Camden: Former Atlantic City Councilman Craig Callaway (D) was sentenced today to 40 months in federal prison for accepting $36,000 in bribes to assist a contractor in obtaining major construction work in Atlantic City.

03-07-07 - Newark: Former Sussex County political party chairman Charles W. Cart (D) was sentenced today to six months in federal prison and six months of house arrest for conspiring to use his health benefits management company to pilfer from and ultimately bankrupt the labor union he once founded.

02-28-07 - Newark: A former Post Office operations manager for the U.S. Postal Service has been indicted for conspiring to defraud the United States, for making false statements and entries and falsifying material facts, and accepting corrupt payments from the owner and operator of a Newton automobile repair and mobile wash service.

01-25-07 - Newark: A business partner of former state Sen. John A. Lynch (D) was sentenced today for tax evasion to three months in federal prison and seven months of home confinement with electronic monitoring.

01-25-07 - Camden: An electronics technician with the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlantic County was convicted today on all six counts against him in connection with his receipt of $100,000 in federal workers' compensation benefits while running an aviation-related business on the side and failing to report income while receiving the federal assistance.

01-17-07 - Newark: The former mayor of Keyport pleaded guilty today to extorting bribe payments for himself.

01-08-07 - Newark: The former mayor of Brick Township pleaded guilty today to accepting cash bribes from an unnamed real estate developer in Brick.

( Correspondent Matt Purple contributed to this report.)

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