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HARPER: Little media interest in questionable D’Souza case
Question of the Day
Author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza has been trying to defend himself against charges he made illegal campaign contributions, but few in the mainstream media seem interested in listening to him.
For the past week, Mr. D'Souza has appeared on conservative radio shows and Fox News, but few news organizations have quoted these stories or have spoken with him.
Mr. D'Souza was indicted on Jan. 24 for two criminal violations of federal campaign finance laws. Federal prosecutors maintained he arranged $20,000 in illegal contributions to a college friend running for the U.S. Senate in New York. The friend, Republican Wendy Long, lost the 2012 election by a huge margin to incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
His defenders stretch across the political spectrum from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to Obama supporter and legal eagle Alan Dershowitz, who see the indictment as trumped up against Mr. D'Souza, who made a highly critical documentary about President Obama, "2016: Obama's America."
"It raises the question of why he is being selected for prosecution among the many, many people who commit similar crimes," Mr. Dershowitz of Harvard Law School charged.
Those comments have not been reported in much of the mainstream media. Neither has Mr. D'Souza's own defense. "There seems to have been a pattern of various groups critical of the president all getting inquiries and being subjected to a standard of scrutiny and review that had not been typical," Mr. D'Souza told Newsmax TV. "The founders would've been a little terrified about what this kind of power does to people."
So what's wrong with not reporting these comments? Under most ethics codes for news organizations, journalists are supposed to seek comment from those charged with a crime. In Mr. D'Souza's case, most news organizations tried once on the day he was charged. When they were unable to reach him, that was enough.
What about the charges? Most election law violations are handled as civil cases rather than criminal ones under the Federal Election Commission. If the violations move into the criminal courts, the charges are usually misdemeanors, not felonies such as those against Mr. D'Souza. He faces the possibility of seven years in prison if he is convicted.
"It's hard to see how the criminal prosecution is not political," William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University, wrote on legalinsurrection.com, a well-known legal blog. "That prosecutors have the power to indict doesn't remove the smell of politics from the case, because in similar situations the matter is treated civilly."
For example, Mr. Jacobson noted an FEC investigation into Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign found nearly $2 million in illegal contributions. The campaign paid a fine of $375,000 and no one was indicted for the violations. That would amount to 100 times the amount of money Mr. D'Souza has been accused of arranging and the fine is less than his bail of $500,000.
Perhaps an additional factor may be at play here. Mr. D'Souza has a new book and a new film, "America," scheduled for release in July.
Mr. D'Souza said he does not take the charges lightly and plans to engage in a vigorous defense. More important, however, he said he did not want to become demoralized as he finishes the latest film.
Maybe if major news organizations gave Mr. D'Souza the opportunity to defend himself — as required by their own codes of ethics — or dug a bit more deeply into the potential political motivation for the charges, we all would be better served by having more information about what's really behind the case.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51
About the Author
Christopher Harper is a professor of journalism at Temple University. He worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20” for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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