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Censuring the Media's Censure Coverage of SD Senator-Page Scandal

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On Wednesday the South Dakota State Senate voted 32-2 to censure Democratic Senator Dan Sutton, in the wake of allegations that Sutton groped a male page in a hotel room in 2006. While the charges are disturbing in and of themselves, the media's coverage of the scandal—not surprisingly—tended to sensationalize this already sensationalistic case.

In particular, the media's framing of the alleged victim as a "teen"—frequently in news headlines—gave the story an even more lurid frame than was perhaps appropriate. To most minds, a "teen" or "teenager" usually connotes a minor in their junior high or high school years. In this case, the alleged victim was an adult—18 years old—when the incident is claimed to have taken place last year.

Admittedly, if the allegations are true—that Sutton slept in the same bed with the page and fondled him—the fact that the page was an adult is not much of a mitigating factor (given the Senate-page power structure of the relationship as well as the fact that the alleged act was not consensual and that Sutton is also married).

Still, in light of Mark Foley's U.S. House page scandal last year that did involve minors, references to the alleged victim in the South Dakota case as a "teen" is purposefully introduced to drive the reader to assume the worst - that Sutton was sexually abusing a child. Here are some recent headlines and coverage of the case:

"Lawmaker: Nothing Wrong with Sharing Bed with Teen." (Philadelphia Daily News, 1/25/07)

"S.D. Teen Accuses Senator of Fondling." (Associated Press, 1/24/07)

"Lawmaker Censured for Sharing a Bed with Teen Page." (WTLV, WJXX Jacksonville, Florida, 1/31/07)

"Members of the South Dakota Senate voted to condemn Sen. Dan Sutton (D-Flandreau) for allegations that he behaved inappropriately with a teenage legislative page." (Minnesota Public Radio, 1/31/07)

"The man who's in the spotlight of a senate hearing was on the hot seat Wednesday night, testifying he didn't see anything wrong with sharing a motel room bed with a teenage page." (KELO-TV, 1/24/07)

"Sutton has denied an allegation of sexual misconduct with a teen Senate page last year." (Argus Leader, 1/18/07)

An earlier attempt by Senate Republicans to expel Sutton from the legislative body failed 20-14, with all 14 votes cast by Republicans. Six Republicans and all 14 Democrats voted against expelling Sutton. The two votes against censure came from two Republicans who had voted to expel him.

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Remains of the Data

Plurality-Winning Governors Elected At Century-Long High Water Mark

The rate of gubernatorial candidates elected without the support of a majority of voters is at its highest level since the 1910s.

Political Crumbs

Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


Home Field Advantage?

When the 114th Congress convenes in a few days, Maine will be represented by one home-grown U.S. Representative: Waterville-born Republican Bruce Poliquin. With the departure of Millinocket-born Mike Michaud, who launched a failed gubernatorial bid, the Pine Tree State was poised to send a House delegation to D.C. without any Maine-born members for the first time since 1821. Three-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (born in Minnesota) coasted to reelection as expected, however Poliquin edged Kentucky-born Emily Cain by 5.3 points to keep the streak alive. Since 1876, a total of 208 of the 222 candidates elected to the nation's lower legislative chamber from the state have been born in Maine, or 94 percent.


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