CNN's Henry covered Boehner ascension without noting controversy over PAC check distribution on House floor

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Reporting that new House Majority Leader John Boehner could satisfy "a lot of Republican rank-and-file [who] want change because of the lobbying scandals," CNN's Ed Henry ignored Boehner's history of ethics concerns, including the criticism he received for passing out checks from a tobacco industry group on the House floor moments before a key tobacco vote.

In his first several reports on Rep. John A. Boehner's (R-OH) election as new House majority leader, CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry omitted any specific reference to Boehner's history of ethics concerns, even while emphasizing those of the man Boehner defeated, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO). Unlike MSNBC did in their coverage, for example, Henry did not mention that Boehner drew broad criticism for distributing checks from a tobacco industry group on the House floor moments before a key tobacco vote. Instead, during his reports on the February 2 edition of CNN's Live From ..., Henry suggested that Boehner could satisfy "a lot of Republican rank-and-file [who] want change because of the lobbying scandals." Later, CNN.com issued a headline announcing the result of the leadership vote, labeling Boehner the "reform candidate," although it was subsequently replaced with an alternative headline.

Before Boehner's victory was announced, Henry described Blunt as "the status quo candidate, because he was so close" to indicted former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Henry then purported to identify why Boehner might win: "As you know, there's a shakeup going on here, a lot of Republican rank-and-file want change because of the lobbying scandals, so they might just get that."

After announcing the results of the vote, Henry reiterated that Blunt was the "status quo" candidate at a time when there is "a lot of nervousness" among Republicans as the scandal involving disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has "kept breaking and breaking." Abramoff pleaded guilty on January 3 to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion. On January 4, he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and wire fraud in a second, unrelated case. Later, noting that Boehner's "relationships with lobbyists" will be a "source of controversy," Henry nonetheless repeated Boehner's contention that "he has not been in the sort of ethical hot water that we have seen Tom DeLay and others get into."

Later that day, a headline on the front page of CNN.com -- later changed -- labeled Boehner the "reform candidate," linking to an article that similarly depicted Boehner as a clean break from the ethics concerns plaguing DeLay and Blunt:

He [Boehner] had offered himself as a reform candidate to succeed Tom DeLay, who faces money-laundering charges in his home state of Texas.

Boehner's ascension comes as other Republicans have raised concerns about an extensive influence-peddling probe involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

DeLay announced January 7 that he would not try to reclaim the House majority leader post, although he said he will seek re-election in his Houston area district in November. DeLay also has ties to Abramoff.

The race for majority leader appeared to turn on the desire for members to present a fresh face to the public and distance themselves from Washington's K Street, or lobbyist, community.

Blunt was a part of DeLay's leadership team and has ties to K Street.

But like Blunt, Boehner has faced several significant ethics issues, among them:

  • As The Hill reported on July 25, 2003, Boehner drew criticism in 1995 for "distribut[ing] checks from a tobacco political action committee on the House floor before a key vote on a tobacco issue." In contrast to CNN, reporter Mike Viqueira noted Boehner's efforts on behalf of the tobacco industry during MSNBC's coverage of the February 2 result:

VIQUEIRA: It's really a question of how much of a reform candidate Boehner really is. That's how he was portrayed in early days here in Congress. He was seen as a reformer. Then he did get into some problems, passing out checks from lobbyists on the House floor. He since apologized for that.

  • The Washington Post reported on January 29 that Boehner has been "an outspoken advocate" for the two major industries that supported his bid for Majority Leader, and he "has used his chairmanship to push legislation that would boost profits by millions of dollars."

From the February 2 edition of CNN's Live From ... :

HENRY: The problem for Roy Blunt is he thought he had this in the bag. He clearly did not. He may be seen as the status quo candidate because he was so close to Tom DeLay. As you know, there's a shake-up going on here, a lot of Republican rank-and-file want change because of the lobbying scandals, so they might just get that.

[...]

HENRY: This is a clear sign that Republican rank-and-file members were very concerned, in this midterm election year, that Roy Blunt was going to be too close to Tom DeLay, too close to the status quo. He was the acting majority leader after DeLay stepped aside after being indicted twice down in Texas. This is a very interesting sign, John Boehner of Ohio, not Roy Blunt, the new majority leader.

[...]

HENRY: But then the Abramoff scandal kept breaking and breaking, and that one could be a more wide-ranging, widespread investigation, obviously, for Republicans than this narrow investigation [of DeLay] down in Texas. And so, you're right to point to that, Kyra [Phillips, Live From... host]. That really, as Jack Abramoff cut that plea deal, just became more and more apparent. Tom DeLay has not gotten a sign that he is in any legal jeopardy there, but there is a lot of political jeopardy for him in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. Some of his former staffers -- some of his former staffers have been implicated in that scandal, so it became clear DeLay had to step aside permanently. A lot of nervousness. We're hearing that the results are about 122-109, as I understand, John Boehner over Roy Blunt. And again, Roy Blunt just was seen as someone who was status quo. He was already a member of this leadership team.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
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CNN
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Ed Henry
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Live From...
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