MSNBC's O'Donnell, Slager made false claims and suggestions to paint recent political scandals as bipartisan

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

MSNBC anchor Melissa Slager falsely claimed that one of the three House members who resigned this year because of ethical scandals was a Democrat; in fact, all three who resigned over the past year were Republicans. MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell presented a "scandal scorecard" noting that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) "is facing a Senate ethics probe," overstating the amount of profit Reid allegedly made in the deal and ignoring a transaction in which House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) reportedly made an even bigger profit on the sale of land near a highway project for which he reportedly included an earmark in a transportation bill.

Reporting on recent political scandals during the 2 p.m. ET hour of the October 13 edition of MSNBC News Live, anchor Melissa Slager falsely claimed that "three House members have resigned this year because of ethical scandals -- two of them Republican, one of them Democrat." In fact, the three House members who have resigned over the past year amid various ethics probes and criminal investigations were all Republicans -- former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (TX), Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (CA), and Rep. Mark Foley (FL). Additionally, during the 11 a.m. ET hour of the October 13 edition of MSNBC News Live, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell presented a "scandal scorecard" noting that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) "is facing a Senate ethics probe looking into whether he failed to properly account for a business deal that allowed him to collect over $1 million." Not only did O'Donnell suggest a higher profit than the $700,000 Reid in fact received, but, more important, omitted any mention of a transaction in which House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) reportedly made a profit of almost $2 million on the sale of land following his reported intervention on a transportation bill to include an earmark for a highway project near that land. O'Donnell also did not mention DeLay by name, who resigned amid ethical scandals, investigations, and criminal charges, and falsely suggested that Democrats are as entangled in the scandal relating to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff as Republicans are.

Contrary to Slager's claim, three House Republicans have resigned due to "ethical scandals." On November 28, 2005, Cunningham resigned from Congress after, as CNN reported, "pleading guilty to taking more than $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy involving at least three defense contractors." Cunningham was sentenced to over eight years in prison and is currently serving his term. In April, DeLay resigned after several of his closest staff members either were implicated or pleaded guilty to charges relating to the Abramoff scandal. Prior to his resignation, DeLay was indicted on conspiracy charges stemming from a Texas campaign finance investigation. Foley resigned September 29 after being confronted by ABC News about sexually explicit electronic communications he allegedly had with teenage congressional pages. A fourth Republican, Rep. Bob Ney (OH), is being pressured to resign, particularly after entering a guilty plea on October 13 to charges of conspiracy and making false statements stemming from his ties with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Ney has so far declined to resign.

While discussing the recent political scandals on the 11 a.m. ET edition of MSNBC News Live, O'Donnell equated the "scandal of the year, Mark Foley's resignation over e-mails and X-rated instant messages to pages," with reports that Reid "is facing a Senate ethics probe looking into whether he failed to properly account for a business deal that allowed him to collect over $1 million." In fact, Reid requested the Senate ethics committee review his filings after the Associated Press reported that he may have improperly reported a land transaction in Clark County, Nevada, in which he made a $700,000 profit. But O'Donnell did not mention reports that Hastert made a profit of almost $2 million on the sale of land in Illinois following his inclusion of a provision in a transportation appropriations bill for the construction of a highway near the land. By contrast, as Media Matters for America has noted, there is no allegation of official action on Reid's part that may have affected the value of his land.

Additionally, O'Donnell falsely suggested that Democrats were equally involved with the scandal surrounding Abramoff. After adding Ney (R-OH) to the "scandal scorecard," O'Donnell asserted: "But Abramoff didn't just work with Republicans. Several top Democrats have also faced questions about money they received from Indian tribes, thanks to Abramoff." In fact, while Democrats have received contributions from Abramoff's lobbying groups and his clients, as Media Matters has repeatedly noted, Abramoff has made direct contributions only to Republicans. Moreover, O'Donnell's statement ignores the difference between simply accepting contributions, which is not illegal or improper per se, and taking contributions in exchange for official actions, which is at the heart of ongoing Abramoff-related investigations, none of which reportedly involve Democrats.

Further, in her "scandal scorecard," O'Donnell omitted specific mention of DeLay, who resigned from Congress immediately after, as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) reported, "his former aide, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to conspiring with lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials." Rudy's plea agreement also reportedly implicated former DeLay chief of staff and Abramoff associate Edwin A. Buckham. Additionally, on November 21, 2005, former DeLay press secretary and Abramoff lobbying partner Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty to conspiring with Abramoff to bribe public officials. DeLay's resignation came seven months after being indicted on conspiracy charges stemming from a Texas campaign finance investigation, of which DeLay has maintained his innocence.

Additionally, on September 15, Time magazine reported that among "other sitting members of Congress and prominent individuals who could face prosecution" in relation to the Abramoff scandal, Time's sources "confirmed previous public reports that particular scrutiny is being paid to Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican who faces a tough campaign for reelection."

From the 11 a.m. ET segment of the October 13 edition of MSNBC News Live:

O'DONNELL: Several recent polls have all shown voters angry over the scandals in Washington, or split over the scandals. But no party holds exclusive rights to the stench coming from the nation's capital. Take a look at the scandal scorecard. For Republicans, there's scandal of the year, Mark Foley's resignation over emails and X-rated instant messages to pages. But on the Democratic side, Senate Leader Harry Reid is facing a Senate ethics probe looking into whether he failed to properly account for a business deal that allowed him to collect over $1 million. But don't forget disgraced Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham, who resigned in a bribery scandal. He's now in jail. Not to be outdone, there's Democratic Congressman William Jefferson, who is currently the target of a federal bribery investigation. The FBI says it has a videotape of him accepting $100,000 stuffed in a briefcase. But the Republicans have Bob Ney, who just pleaded guilty a little while ago to taking bribes of his own, in connection with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But Abramoff didn't just work with Republicans. Several top Democrats have also faced questions about money they received from Indian tribes, thanks to Abramoff.

From the 2 p.m. ET segment of the October 13 edition of MSNBC News Live:

SLAGER: So, three House members have already resigned this year because of unethical conduct -- two of them Republican, one of them a Democrat. But can anything be done to end all of this corruption?

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Norah O'Donnell
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
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