By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog
An emailer tipped me to the stark contrast between how the Columbus Dispatch reported the recent story of a state representative convicted of official crimes and the paper’s handling of a Republican rep’s crime-related situation from almost a year ago. Both politicians resigned from their posts.
Readers who are accustomed to media’s “name-that-party” bias will be tempted not to read on, because it’s so common. But this story has a gratifying ending.
Yes, we all know that Republicans tainted by scandal, corruption or crime are almost always tagged with their party affiliation, usually in the headline, very early paragraphs or both. Democrats in similar situations “somehow” don’t get tagged until much later in such reports, if at all. It’s so bad that many astute readers automatically, and usually correctly, conclude that the affected politician must be a Democrat if no affiliation is present.
But something relatively unique happened here — something I would be thrilled to see continue.
Dispatch reporter John Futty‘s original Monday submission — conveniently not retrievable now, but seen by me early Monday evening — failed to tag former state Rep. W. Carl Weddington as a Democrat. Weddington is, or was, no ordinary corrupt politician and was sentenced to three years in prison for his misdeeds. As Futty reported, “officials had said … (he) is the first sitting state lawmaker in Ohio indicted on a bribery charge in 100 years.”
Those who commented were incensed at the party affiliation omission and piled on mercilessly. My email tipster informs me that the paper responded first by putting a Democratic tag on Weddington in the report’s fourth paragraph, and later, as it appears now, in the second paragraph.
Readers didn’t have to cajole the Dispatch into doing its job in July 2011 when Republican state Rep. Robert Mecklenborg resigned “after being arrested for drunken driving in Indiana with a stripper in his car and Viagra in his system.”
Mecklenborg got an “R” tag from reporter Darrel Rowland in the second paragraph as well as in the story’s picture caption (the caption at the Weddington story still has no party label). Rowland made sure to get comments from Democratic and Republican Party officials about the situation; Futty did no such thing in the Weddington story. Though he obviously deserved to lose his elected office for truly reprehensible personal conduct, Mecklenborg’s offenses didn’t involve abusing his office and the public’s trust for personal benefit, as Weddington’s crimes clearly did.
The Dispatch’s party affiliation negligence with Weddington was not isolated. I found two other stories where the Democrat was not labeled, Alan Johnson‘s March 16 report on Weddington’s original not guilty pleas and a Dispatch editorial that same day. Those lapses have not been fixed.
The odds are that the Dispatch and other Ohio newspapers will continue with their “name-that-party,” double standard, unless readers continue to complain loudly and persistently. So by all means, keep it up, people.