December 8, 2010

Government Officials Ensnared in Scandal

% of Newshole
Blagojevich Dec 8-14 2008 28
Spitzer Mar 10-16 2008 23
Craig Aug 26-31 2007 18
Gonzales Mar 18-23 2007 18
Libby Mar 4-9 2007 13
Sanford Jun 22-28 2007 11
Cheney Jun 24-29 2007 5
Rangel Nov 15-21 2010 5

8-Rank of the Charles Rangel saga among biggest political scandal stories since 2007

The corruption scandal surrounding Representative Charlie Rangel accounted for 5% of the newshole the week of November 15-21, when the 20-term New York Democrat was found guilty on 11 ethics violations by a House subcommittee. That makes the Rangel case the eighth-biggest weekly scandal story since PEJ began the New Coverage Index in January 2007.

In addition, the Rangel story filled 2% of the newshole the week of November 29-December 5, when his Congressional colleagues censured him.

But that level of coverage pales in comparison to some of the top political scandals in recent years. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich became a household name when he was arrested on corruption charges, including allegations that he was trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat. The week of the arrest, December 8-14, 2008 the Blagojevich saga filled 28% of the media newshole.

Attention to the scandal remained relatively high throughout early 2009 as Blagojevich was removed from office and his choice to replace Obama, Roland Burris, was later accused of fundraising for him. Indeed, in the period between December 8, 2008, and January 11, 2009, the Blagojevich scandal was the nation’s No. 1 story, according to coverage studied by PEJ.  (When a jury eventually found Blagojevich guilty on one count, but deadlocked on 23 others, that story accounted for 6% of the newshole the week of August 16-22, 2010.)

The No. 2 scandal story involved another deposed Democratic governor. On March 10, 2008, the New York Times reported that former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer had used campaign funds to pay for high-priced prostitutes and stays at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Spitzer resigned two days later. That week (March 10-16, 2008), coverage of the scandal filled 23% of the overall newshole. Spitzer is now the co-host of a new CNN prime-time talk show.

Next, at 18%, is former Idaho Republican Senator, Larry Craig who was arrested for lewd behavior in an airport restroom on July 11, 2007. The story first broke, however, the week of August 26-31, 2007. Craig pled guilty to lesser charges of disorderly conduct and finished his full term.

Also at 18%, for the week of March 18-23, 2007, was the political scandal involving former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and charges that politics played a role in the firing of seven U.S. attorneys  That week, Gonzales battled for his job while George Bush voiced support for him and Congress issued subpoenas in connection with the case.

The No. 5 scandal story was the conviction of Scooter Libby, advisor to Vice President Cheney, for his involvement with the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valarie Plame. The week that Libby was convicted, March 4-9, 2007, the story filled 13% of the newshole.

Outgoing South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was the leading figure in the sixth-biggest story. The week of June 22-28, 2009, when Sanford admitted to an affair with his “soul mate” after he had been missing for six days, the story reached 11% of the newshole.

And former Vice President Cheney makes the list for the Washington Post series, on his secretive methods, his power in the Bush Administration and his possible involvement in the use of harsh interrogation methods on “enemy combatants.” Analysis of the Vice President filled 5% of the newshole the week of June 24-29, 2007.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ