Media bias in the Christie and Cuomo scandals

If you are going to have a scandal, it really, really helps to be a Democrat if you are worried about media coverage. Consider the cases of neighboring big state governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo. Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal was a tale of political revenge involving the placement of orange traffic cones. Cuomo’s “Morelandgate” scandal is about a governor shutting down an investigation into political corruption (by the Moreland Commission) when it started getting close to home.

Let’s see: which is worse: snarling traffic or covering up potential corruption?

From the media response, you’d think traffic cones are vastly more important. Writing in City Journal, Steve Malanga compares the two scandals and their press coverage. It is a textbook case, so far, of media bias.

In the six days after disclosure of the Bridgegate emails, newspapers outside of New Jersey mentioned Christie and the bridge scandal more than 500 times. The matter attracted attention around the country, from the Visala Times-Delta in California to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald and the Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune, according to the Nexis newspaper database. The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot ran five stories and one letter to the editor. According to transcripts of television and radio broadcasts collected by Nexis, the bridge scandal appeared hundreds more times on national broadcasts, led by CNN, which mentioned the story more than 100 times. While some of these were merely brief references during news roundups, the cable network also did numerous stories with headlines like, WHAT DID CHRISTIE KNOW?, CHRISTIE: I AM NOT A BULLY, PAYBACK POLITICS IN THE SPOTLIGHT, and FALLOUT IN NJ BRIDGE SCANDAL.

Now consider the treatment of Cuomo and the budding Moreland scandal. In the same number of days following the Times’s report, virtually all the coverage of the Moreland revelations has come from within New York State. While local papers have published about 140 stories, only about a dozen newspapers outside of New York have even mentioned the story, according to Nexis—including in neighboring states. Consider the response (or non-response) of the Washington Post. Five days after the Times’s bombshell story on Moreland, the Post ran a lengthy story about Christie’s trouble with New Jersey’s underfunded pensions, but had yet to run anything on the Moreland controversy. By contrast, five days after the Bridgegate emails had emerged, the Post’s reporters and columnists had cited the Christie scandal 35 times, in stories with headlines like, DAMAGED BRIDGE, N.J. BRIDGE DRAMA IS MADE-FOR-TV SCANDAL, and CHRIS CHRISTIE’S VERY SAD DAY. Similarly, despite the opening of an investigation into the Moreland matter by the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, the episode has generated just 20 broadcast mentions, led by MSNBC, which has done half a dozen stories so far. It’s possible that more pieces from this period will appear in the broadcast database as they are transcribed, but the paltry number of broadcast stories up to now is consistent with the lack of interest the newspapers have shown.

As Malanga notes both governors are very high profile individuals, considered potential presidential candidates. Cuomo, in fact, is the scion of a political dynasty, as his father, Governor Mario Como was a very high profile national Democrat.

Morelandgate may have considerably more news made in the future, so there is still time for the media (MSNBC most notoriously) that made a huge deal of the traffic cones to redeem themselves by coverage. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.