In reporting on the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), The New York Times consistently described the organization as politically neutral, using descriptors such as "nonpartisan" or referring to the organization as "a research group." But on the heels of misleading articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Hill painting CREW as a partisan, Democratic-leaning outfit researching alleged ethics violations by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) -- based largely on "GOP research" and statements from DeLay's office -- the Times adopted a different naming convention. In a May 19 article, the Times described CREW as "a campaign watchdog group indirectly associated with Democratic leaders." But notwithstanding the Times' joining The Wall Street Journal and DeLay in insinuating that CREW has a too-close relationship with the Democrats, CREW is in fact a nonprofit, nonpartisan entity that has targeted both Republicans and Democrats.
As Media Matters for America documented, articles in the March 23 edition of The Hill and the May 10 edition of The Wall Street Journal purported to expose the partisanship of government watchdog groups investigating DeLay. Both articles noted the Democratic members of CREW's board of directors and their political contributions, particularly the Journal, which focused on CREW. The Hill article acknowledged that its reporting was based largely on research circulated by "House Republicans," whom the article described as "taking the offensive" to defend DeLay. The Journal quoted a DeLay spokesman asserting a direct connection between "these groups" and Capitol Hill Democrats. However, the Journal also noted that CREW has criticized and filed complaints against Democrats, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT); 2004 Democratic Senate candidate from Florida Alex Penelas; and Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), and Norm Dicks (D-WA). The Washington Post reported on May 7, 2004, that CREW filed a complaint against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) regarding her intention to host a "lobbyist-funded rock concert, in the name of a charity" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, claiming the event violated campaign finance laws.
A Media Matters Nexis search* revealed that prior to the May 19 article, the Times applied either politically neutral language or descriptor at all to CREW. As recently as April 21, the Times described CREW as "an advocacy group that has investigated the DeLay foundation." However, the May 19 Times article by Philip Shenon reporting on a Federal Election Commission audit of DeLay's political action committee Americans for a Republican Majority linked CREW and "Democratic leaders." This marked the first time the Times mentioned CREW since the publication of the May 10 Wall Street Journal article.
From the May 19 Times article:
A campaign watchdog group indirectly associated with Democratic leaders, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it began on Wednesday to compare the amended filings with the original disclosure statements in 2001 and 2002, looking for signs of significant violations of election law by Mr. DeLay and his aides.
The Times' description of CREW suggests that the group operates as an arm of the Democratic Party. By contrast, when the Times has mentioned USA Next, an advocacy organization whose partisanship in favor of Republicans is unambiguous, the paper frequently applied anodyne descriptors such as "the conservative group," [3/1/05] "a conservative lobbying group," [2/24/05] and "a conservative group planning a campaign attacking AARP over its stance on Social Security and other issues" [2/23/05].
* Media Matters searched New York Times articles from all available dates for "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington."