In their reports on Sen. Mel Martinez's decision to take over as chairman of the Republican National Committee, The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Fox News' Jim Angle made no reference to Martinez's admission that his office authored a controversial memo in the Terri Schiavo case and also did not mention the controversy surrounding Martinez's campaign tactics in 2004.
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In a November 14 New York Times article, chief political reporter Adam Nagourney reported on Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-FL) decision to succeed Ken Mehlman as chairman of the Republican National Committee but left out any reference to Martinez's admission in April 2005 that his office had authored a memo touting the Terri Schiavo case as "a great political issue" for Republicans because it would excite "the pro-life base." Nagourney also made no mention of the controversy surrounding Martinez's campaign tactics in 2004. Similarly, on the November 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report, guest anchor and Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle ignored Martinez's past controversies while reporting that he had been tapped as RNC chair.
As Media Matters for America noted in response to CNN's initial report on the change in RNC leadership, since running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Martinez has been at the center of several controversies and, in each case, he has shifted the blame to a staffer:
- In March 2005, during the legal and congressional battles in the case of Terri Schiavo -- a Florida woman diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, whose feeding tube was ordered removed by a federal judge -- a "talking points" memo surfaced on Capitol Hill that encouraged Republican lawmakers to speak out on the matter, calling it "a great political issue" and a "tough issue for Democrats." The document noted that "the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue."
On April 7, 2005, following widespread and baseless speculation that Democrats had authored the memo, Martinez confirmed that his Senate office had produced the document. Despite Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-IA) claim that Martinez had handed him the memo on the Senate floor, Martinez denied having any knowledge of it. He asserted that the memo had been written by one of his aides and claimed, "Until this afternoon, I had never seen it and had no idea a copy of it had ever been in my possession."
- In the lead-up to the 2004 Florida senatorial primaries, Martinez's campaign mailed fliers to voters that referred to his Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, as "the new darling of the homosexual extremists," a reference to McCollum's support for federal hate-crime legislation. Further, Martinez reportedly used robocalls and other paid advertising to accuse McCollum of supporting "special rights" for homosexuals, such as same-sex marriage, and catering to the "radical homosexual lobby."
Gov. Jeb Bush ultimately called on Martinez to pull one such television advertisement and The St. Petersburg Times withdrew its endorsement of Martinez. "If Martinez failed to review the ads before they were sent out under his name, he was irresponsible," the Times editorial board wrote. "If he knew what was in the ads and is now trying to distance himself, he is being dishonest. Either way, Floridians deserve better in a U.S. senator." After he won the primary, Martinez apologized to McCollum for the "homosexual extremists" smear, blaming it on "a couple of young turks" in his campaign.
- During the subsequent general election campaign, Martinez's campaign attacked former Attorney General Janet Reno -- who had campaigned for his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor -- claiming that Reno's Justice Department had used "armed thugs" to seize Cuban refugee Elián González and send him back to Cuba, thereby "'allowing Fidel Castro to have his way."
Martinez apologized again after it was noted that he had previously featured one of the federal agents involved in the Gonzalez raid in a campaign ad attacking Castor as "soft" on terrorism. In apologizing to the agent, Martinez claimed the wording had been "a mistake by a staffer," as an October 13, 2004, Miami Herald article reported.
By contrast to Nagourney's treatment of Martinez, both Washington Post staff writer Jim VandeHei and Associated Press staff writer Liz Sidoti noted the Schiavo controversy in their respective articles on his decision to take over as RNC chairman.
From the November 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: Republican sources in Washington say Florida Senator Mel Martinez, once a member of President Bush's cabinet, will head the Republican National Committee next year. Martinez is expected to replace outgoing chairman Ken Mehlman, whose term expires in January. Before running for the Senate, Martinez had been secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Cuban-born American fled the communist regime there in 1962, when he was 15 years old, put himself through college, and earned a law degree.