Media ignored convicted Illinois governor's Republican affiliation

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

On April 17, numerous news outlets -- including NBC, CBS, NPR, and Fox News -- covering former Illinois governor George Ryan's conviction on corruption charges failed to mention that he is a Republican. Time magazine went a step further, omitting Ryan's Republican affiliation while reporting that "the current administration of Democrat Rod Blagojevich is also being investigated."

In reports on the conviction of former Gov. George Ryan (R-IL) on corruption charges, numerous news outlets failed to mention that Ryan is a Republican. Brief segments airing on the April 17 editions of NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News ignored Ryan's party affiliation, as did several reports on Fox News. National Public Radio's All Things Considered, meanwhile, aired a full segment on Ryan's conviction that never identified him as a Republican. Time magazine went a step further, omitting Ryan's Republican affiliation while reporting that "the current administration of Democrat Rod Blagojevich is also being investigated."

After a five-month trial, a federal jury convicted Ryan on all 18 felony charges against him, including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion, and making false statements. During his tenure as both secretary of state and governor, Ryan was found to have steered state contracts to cronies in return for cash and gifts, misused campaign funds, and rigged the Illinois inspector general's office to cover up his tracks. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the CIA leak case, who is also the U.S. attorney for Illinois, called the former governor's actions "a low watermark of public service."

But in reporting on Ryan's conviction, news outlets repeatedly failed to inform viewers that he is a Republican. As noted by blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, an April 17 "web exclusive" Time article by staff writer Eric Ferkenhoff omitted Ryan's party affiliation but managed to highlight that of current Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, whose office is also under investigation:

On Monday, former Governor George Ryan, 72, became the third of the state's last six governors to be convicted of political misdeeds, and the current administration of Democrat Rod Blagojevich is also being investigated.

The network news shows each briefly mentioned the conviction during their April 17 broadcasts. But in doing so, neither NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams nor CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer informed viewers that Ryan is a Republican. On the April 18 edition of NBC's Today, news anchor Ann Curry also reported the news without mentioning Ryan's party.

Numerous Fox News hosts and anchors similarly ignored Ryan's party affiliation during their April 17 reports on the conviction. They included Juliet Huddy, Martha MacCallum, Page Hopkins, and Harris Faulkner. CNN anchor Zain Verjee also failed to identify Ryan as a Republican during the April 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room.

Further, the April 17 edition of All Things Considered featured a full-length report on the former governor's conviction in which reporter Diantha Parker never once noted that Ryan is a Republican. While briefly mentioning the conviction during the April 17 edition of American Public Media's Marketplace, host Kai Ryssdal did the same.

In an April 18 Los Angeles Times article, "Former Illinois Governor Convicted of Corruption," staff writer P.J. Huffstutter waited until the 20th graph in the 23-paragraph article to note Ryan's Republican affiliation, albeit somewhat indirectly:

The verdict comes at a key time in Illinois politics. The state Republican Party is busy trying to shed its connections to the Ryan scandal before the fall elections.

From the April 17 edition of CBS Evening News:

BOB SCHIEFFER: A major corruption scandal in Illinois climaxed today with the federal conviction of former Governor George Ryan on 22 counts of racketeering and fraud. Ryan was once a hero to opponents of the death penalty when he commuted the sentences of all 167 prisoners on his state's death row. He could be sentenced to 20 years or more in prison.

From the April 17 edition of NBC Nightly News:

WILLIAMS: The verdict tonight is guilty on all counts for the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, in his federal corruption trial. Prosecutors argued that Ryan, back when he was secretary of state, put his office, in effect, up for sale. He said he steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends, got money and fancy vacations in return. He now faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ryan got the whole world's attention and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination when, as governor, he commuted the sentence of every inmate on Illinois death row after many were found to have been wrongly convicted.

From the April 18 edition of NBC's Today:

CURRY: Former Illinois governor George Ryan faces up to 20 years in prison after being convicted on Monday on racketeering and fraud charges. A jury found that Ryan steered millions of dollars in state contracts to political insiders, cheated on his taxes, and lied to federal agents.

From the April 17 edition of Fox News' DaySide:

HUDDY: And this is a Fox News Alert. Former Illinois governor George Ryan, who gained international fame as a death penalty critic but left office in 2003 amid a corruption scandal, was convicted of all counts today after a five-month trial in federal court. This is the former governor of Illinois. A racketeering conspiracy charge included in the 22-count indictment against Ryan and a lobbyist friend carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The jury deliberated for 10 days before revealing on the 11th day that it had reached its decision, ending the state's biggest political corruption trial in decades.

From the April 17 edition of Fox News Live:

MacCALLUM: And a federal jury finds former Illinois governor George Ryan guilty on 22 counts of racketeering and fraud. Now, Ryan left office three years ago after accusations of corruption surfaced. Ryan could get up to 20 years in prison. The former governor gained worldwide fame as a vocal critic of the death penalty.

From the April 17 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

HOPKINS: A federal jury finds former Illinois governor George Ryan guilty on 22 counts of racketeering and fraud. The 72-year-old Ryan faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the most serious charge, racketeering conspiracy.

From the April 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

FAULKNER: Guilty on all counts. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan convicted on charges, including racketeering and fraud. Prosecutors saying Ryan helped give out big money state contracts and leases in exchange for vacations and gifts. The 72-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison for just one of the charges. He vows to appeal.

From the April 17 edition of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer:

VERJEE: In Illinois, it's the climax of the biggest political corruption scandal in that state in decades. Today, former Illinois Governor George Ryan was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud, tax fraud, and lying to the FBI. A federal grand jury found Ryan guilty of steering millions of dollars in state contracts to political insiders. Ryan says he'll appeal.

From the April 17 edition of NPR's All Things Considered:

ROBERT SIEGEL (co-host): And now on to another trial. After 11 days of deliberations, a federal jury in Chicago has convicted former Illinois Governor George Ryan on 18 counts, including counts of racketeering, fraud, and lying to federal agents. Ryan's trial lasted nearly half a year, and it was the culmination of a long investigation of corruption when Ryan was Illinois secretary of state. Chicago Public Radio's Diantha Parker reports.

PARKER: Spectators in the courtroom strained to see if Ryan would show any emotion, and they were disappointed. The former governor, who gained international attention when he commuted all Illinois death sentences before leaving office, sat calmly, although his wife and family members wiped their eyes after the verdict was read.

Soon after that, Ryan delivered a short statement in the lobby of the courthouse, profusely thanking his team of attorneys, and saying none of this was over.

RYAN: I believe this decision today is -- is -- is not in accordance with the kind of public service that I provided to the people of Illinois over 40 years, and needless to say, I am disappointed in the outcome. But I feel confident in -- in our appeal, and there will be an appeal.

PARKER: Government attorneys say they're prepared. They say the jury's verdict backs up their central argument -- that Ryan steered lucrative contracts and leases to well-placed friends, and accepted cash, free vacations, and other perks in return. Ryan was tried along with one of these friends, businessman Larry Warner. He was found guilty on all counts against him, including extortion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who led the case, says the evidence was complex, but clearly pointed to guilt.

COLLINS: It had political corruption fraud in the sense of diverting state resources for political gain, it had lying to the FBI, it had tax fraud, and then it had, what doesn't happen in every case, which is the ability to show tangible effects of corruption -- that is, lives are at stake.

PARKER: Collins also led the government's investigation of the Illinois secretary of state's office.Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, and others have been charged with related crimes in the eight years since it began. Seventy-four have been convicted, and none acquitted. The deliberations in this case were difficult. Juror Denise Peterson said she was confident she and the 11 other jurors had done their job well.

PETERSON: We looked at all the witnesses, and we all took such great notes. I mean this, this was a serious matter. Nobody thought it was funny. Nobody -- it was a job. And that's how we considered it. It was a job.

PARKER: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the verdict and the investigation "depressing." He found it most surprising that the former governor didn't change his behavior after he was aware he was being investigated.

FITZGERALD: And the reaction to the end of 1994 was for Mr. Ryan not to end the practice, but to end the investigations and try to move -- move the investigators out. That is a low water mark for public service, to have a governor, a secretary of state, abuse his office in that fashion.

PARKER: Ryan is free on bond while awaiting sentencing, which has been set for August 4th. For NPR News, I'm Diantha Parker in Chicago.

From the April 17 edition of American Public Media's Marketplace:

RYSSDAL: This final note. George Ryan would probably like to be remembered as a humanitarian. When he was the governor of Illinois, he commuted every death sentence in that state, won widespread praise for it, too. But after today, the 72-year-old Ryan will also be known as a felon. A jury convicted him and a co-defendant today of racketeering and fraud. Ryan steered big state contracts to friends and political insiders, got lavish gifts and kickbacks in return. He'll be sentenced in August. Ryan faces up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary.

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