March 27, 2012

AP National Headline: ‘Pa. GOP senator convicted,’ But Dem Former Pa. Senate Leader’s Guilty Plea a Local Story

That the Associated Press gives stories about corrupt and scandalous politicians disparate treatment depending on their party affiliation is not exactly breaking news. But it’s ordinarily difficult to point to situations involving fairly similar sets of facts occurring at roughly the same time which make the disparity between the wire service’s treatment of Republicans and Democrats so obvious.

A largely analogous pair of stories out of Pennsylvania during the past two weeks involves Republican State Senator Jane Orie and former Democratic State Senate leader Robert Mellow. If anything, Mellow’s guilty plea to “conspiracy to commit mail fraud and to filing a false income tax return” should be more worthy of national-story treatment by AP because of his former leadership position. But in fact, it appears that the opposite has happened. The story about Orie’s conviction is on the national wire, complete with “GOP” in the headline. Mellow’s guilty plea is a local story which I did not find at the AP’s national site in a search on his name, with no Dem ID in the headline (both have their parties ID’d early in their related stories). Here are the first four paragraphs from Monday night’s national story on Orie by Joe Mandak and Kevin Begos:

Pa. GOP senator convicted of theft of services

Republican state Sen. Jane Orie, accused of using her state-funded legislative staff to perform campaign work for herself and a state judge who’s her sister, was convicted Monday on 14 counts of theft of services, conflict of interest and forgery and likely will be forced from the Senate.

Orie, acquitted of 10 other counts including perjury and election code violations, declined to comment after the verdict but appeared to be shaken. Her attorney, William Costopoulos, said after leaving the courtroom: “I can tell you we’re disappointed, and there’s no positive spin I can put on it.”

Orie, 50, was elected to the Senate in a 2001 special election to fill an empty seat and was re-elected three times. The multiple convictions, including on five felony counts, mean she’ll almost certainly be removed from office and lose her state pension.

Prosecutors said Orie, who’s from McCandless, just north of Pittsburgh, had illegally used her legislative staff since 2001 to benefit herself and state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who wasn’t charged.

Here are excerpts from the AP’s coverage of Mellow’s guilty plea by Michael Rubinkam — who, it should be recalled, made sure that several stories about convicted Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, who sentenced thousands of juveniles to a private detention center in return for “Kids for Cash” kickbacks, didn’t get into AP stories:

Former Sen. Robert Mellow plans to plead guilty to mail fraud

Former state Sen. Robert Mellow, who once led Pennsylvania’s Senate Democrats and represented northern Monroe County, was charged Thursday with misusing Senate staff and resources for political fundraising and campaigning.

Mellow, who has indicated he plans to plead guilty, became the latest state lawmaker to be charged as a result of state and federal probes into the illegal use of public funds for electioneering.

A charging document filed Thursday in federal court in Scranton alleged that Mellow and senior advisers had Senate staffers raising campaign cash and doing other election work while they were being paid by the Senate.

U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said Mellow exhibited “willful blindness” while staffers were raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Friends of Bob Mellow campaign committee and for the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee — all while on the public dime.

Mellow, 69, plans to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and to filing a false income tax return for 2008. His plea agreement, signed March 2 and filed with the court Thursday, said that he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Mellow was the Democrats’ floor leader for most of the last two decades he was in office, and his portrait hangs in the state Capitol because he served as the Senate president pro tempore for about 16 months from 1992 to 1994.

… He was the Senate’s longest-serving member when he left two years ago after deciding not to run for an 11th term.

Mellow announced in February 2010 that he would retire at the end of the year because he wanted to spend more time with his daughters and grandchildren.

Rubinkam has a funny way of rounding; Mellow left the Senate on November 30, 2010, which was one year and four months ago. The rounding to “two years” without specifying Mellow’s departur date sure looks like an attempt to make this story look like old news. Also note that Rubinkam did not tell readers how far back Mellow’s offenses go — something Mandak and Begos did in their story on Orie.

So a 10-year Pennsylvania state senator gets her GOP party affiliation in the headline and national story treatment, while the guy who led the entire Pennsylvania Senate as Democrat for over 16 years who pleads guilty on similar charges avoids national coverage. It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.

Cross-posted at


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