April 8, 2014

CNN.com Finally Get to the Leland Yee Story — 13 Days Late

Let it be noted that at 7:17 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, CNN.com finally broke down and posted a story on the alleged criminal behavior of California State Senator Leland Yee. The headline at the story by Matt Smith and Jason Carroll (“Feds: Calif. pol Leland Yee schemed to trade arms for campaign cash”) gets to the heart of the matter — unlike the headline (“LAWMAKER YEE PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO FEDERAL CHARGES”) at the Associated Press’s most recent story on Yee. But Smith and Carroll waited until the fourth paragraph to tag Yee as a Democrat (the AP story at least got there at Paragraph 3).

CNN’s story arrives 13 days after Yee’s initial arrest, and 11 days, 9 hours and 58 minutes after a snippy person at the “CNN.com Writers” Twitter account — apparently one Eliott McLaughlin, according to the account’s home page — claimed that its non-coverage of the Yee story was “in line with us covering state senators & state secretary of state races just about never.” Yours truly disproved that assertion in about three minutes on March 29.

CNNwritersWide

The CNN tweet also insolently asked: “You see another conspiracy?” No, guys, just dereliction of duty.

At times, CNN’s coverage tonight seem oddly sympathetic (bolds are mine):

Feds: Calif. pol Leland Yee schemed to trade arms for campaign cash

Leland Yee needed cash.

First, the ambitious California state senator had to fund his 2011 race for mayor of San Francisco. When he came in fifth, he was stuck with $70,000 in campaign debt that he had to retire before he could mount his next run, for secretary of state — a costly statewide venture.

And that’s how prosecutors say Yee ended up sitting across from an undercover federal agent in a coffee shop in early March, brokering what he was told was a $2 million arms deal that would include the purchase of shoulder-fired missiles from Islamic rebels in the Philippines.

“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money,” Yee told the agent in a conversation recounted in a 137-page arrest affidavit. “Do I think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods.”

The veteran Democrat, an advocate for gun control and campaign finance reform in Sacramento, is now one of about two dozen people charged in a sprawling racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. His co-defendants include a former San Francisco school board president and a previously-convicted Chinatown mobster dubbed “Shrimp Boy.”

He’s accused of putting his public office up for sale, and promising to push donors’ agendas in Sacramento and in his district in exchange for contributions. The allegations have stunned his constituents in San Francisco and its suburbs and cast a shadow over his state Senate colleagues, who have suspended Yee and two other Democrats who have run afoul of the law in recent months.

Yee has been free on $500,000 bond since his arrest. Though neither he nor his lawyer have commented to CNN on the allegations, the senator pleaded not guilty in a court appearance Tuesday morning. And he got a sort of backhanded defense from longtime California powerbroker Willie Brown.

“I don’t think any of the allegations are anyplace close to any reality,” Brown told CNN — but he said that’s because Yee lacked the clout to fulfill any of the pledges he made.

The CNN pair come fairly close to inferring that it’s natural that Yee would have resorted to illegal means to cover his debts, while Willie Brown can arguably be seen as poisoning the jury pool by claiming, in essence, that Yee may deserve to be declared not guilty by reason of lack of influence.

In “CNN.com Writers” (presumably McLaughlin’s) defense, it tweeted a response to someone who complained about its lack of coverage shortly after the snippy post mentioned above:

Apologies, @TheINDYpundit. Thought you were alluding to reluctance to chase on our part. We’ll make sure politics crew is across it. Thanks!

Well, okay. But that means the “politics crew” also failed to report the original story, and sat on the news for 11 more days. Maybe the problem at CNN is that its bureaucracy is as bad as the government’s.

CNN stopped running AP stories in June 2010 because it thought it could do a better job posting relevant stories, including breaking news. Not that the AP’s journalistic track record is admirable — unless selective, left agenda-driven, economically ignorant, and conservative-hostile news is your cup of tea — but CNN’s laxness in the Yee story indicates either that it isn’t doing a good job of catching stories when they first break, has become even more insular in its attitude than it was before the AP split, or both.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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