Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are Democrats. Is it okay to write that? Apparently, it’s not in an establishment media report, based on the last six months of coverage of these two corrupt Pennsylvania judges.
In February (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted that the Associated Press ran a story about two Pennsylvania judges “charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers,” and and initially told readers that “Both are Democrats.”
But AP removed the judges’ party affiliation from a subsequent version of the story (graphic proof comes later in the post), even though the later rendition added many other details in the case. This of course begged the question of why AP did what they did, especially since the wire service’s Stylebook says the following about identifying party affiliation:
party affiliation Let relevance be the guide in determining whether to include a political figure’s party affiliation in a story. Party affiliation is pointless in some stories, such as an account of a governor accepting a button from a poster child. It will occur naturally in many political stories. For stories between these extremes, include party affiliation if readers need it for understanding or are likely to be curious about what it is.
The idea that readers, especially those outside of Pennsylvania, would not be curious about the political affiliations of former judges Ciavarella and Conahan is absurd on its face.
Since that initial journalistic failure, there has been a media wall of silence about the party affiliations of the two men:
- A July 31 AP story (covered at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) continued the see-no-Democrats story.
- The July 27 New York Times ran a story (HT Reason’s Hit & Run) about how many of the 6,500 juveniles detained — many if not most unjustly, based on their offenses and criminal histories — were on the verge of having their records destroyed, hampering their ability to pursue litigation over their treatment. No mention of the two former judges’ party appeared.
- Last week, the local area TimesLeader.com (HT to Reason, again) ran a story about how the judges were withdrawing their guilty pleas. The judge overseeing their case has not been seeing a lot of remorse from the two disgraced men, or even any willingness to completely admit to the facts of what they did, and thus has been refusing to accept their proposal for seven-year sentences. Though you might argue that a local story carries no party-ID requirement because people in the area supposedly know it already (doubtful, in my opinion), the men were not ID’d as Dems.
- The Associated Press story doesn’t have the local-reader excuse available. A brief story that went over the AP’s national wire did not identify Ciavarella or Conahan as Democrats.
Here’s the original graphic comparison of the initial and subsequent AP reports:
As I have noted in previous posts — “The red box on the left shows where the story as carried at Topix identified the two judges as Democrats; at the time, it was the only place I found the identifying sentence. The red box at the right shows a paragraph that was added later by AP at the MSNBC link; the ‘Both are Democrats’ sentence originally in the previous paragraph is gone. No form of the word [Democrat’ appeared in the revised story at MSNBC; that is still true today. The green boxes show that the specific story linked by Topix is indeed the MSNBC story on the right.”
The first decision to identify the party of the two cretins was the right one. Every call since, at least among those I have seen (including Reason’s) has been wrong. It is highly doubtful, if the judges had been Republicans, that the press would be so accommodating as to hide their party affiliations so consistently and for such a long period of time — especially after initially spilling the beans.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.