Why is Calif. State Sen. Leland Yee Not Yet a Household Name?


B.D. Wong, call your agent.
Credit: shawncalhoun / Foter / CC BY-NC

A politician honored for his gun control efforts is arrested for attempted arms smuggling. He held press conferences denouncing violent video games and helped pass legislation in California prohibiting sales of such games to minors. And yet, secretly, he was living the life of a Grand Theft Auto character.

The downfall of Calif. State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco should be an utterly captivating, fascinating story, and the national media should be sinking its teeth into the details. I joked when Yee was first arrested about how he is destined to be parodied in Grand Theft Auto. That was before the FBI's report was even released. Now, I'm convinced the report could be the outline for an entire Grand Theft Auto installment (have they set a game in a parody of San Francisco yet?). Yee's story of corruption, attempted gun-running and accusations of vote-selling (an undercover FBI agent posing as a medical marijuana clinic owner wanted him to support legislation introducing new barriers to entry for potential competition) is actually just a small part of a larger story about the crime scene in San Francisco. Beyond Lee's role, the whole story (pdf) is full of drug transactions, stolen booze fencing, a home invasion by apparently Mexican gangsters, what appears to be counterfeit credit cards supplied by a Russian hacker, and more. It has everything. There's even a money-laundering scene that takes place inside a massage parlor. It's part FBI report, part Hollywood pitch.

And yet, it has not captured as much national media attention as one might think. Not long after the story came out, every Republican I follow on Twitter was noting how stories about Yee's arrest were burying the fact that he's a Democrat. I'm not particularly interested in an argument over which party is more corrupt. In the Corruption Olympics, each party is full of stellar athletes whose gold medals were paid for by taxpayers, manufactured by a company with cozy ties to both parties, and cost 300 percent more than they would in the private market. Nevertheless, given the media coverage of every time a conservative Republican politician on the state level says something dumb or controversial, it is worth noting. Today Glenn Harlan "Instapundit" Reynolds is calling out CNN at USA Today for failing to follow the story:

[O]utside of local media like San Francisco magazine, the coverage was surprisingly muted.The New York Times buried the story as a one-paragraph Associated Press report on page A21, with the bland dog-bites-man headline, "California: State Senator Accused of Corruption." This even though Yee was suspended, along with two others, from the California state senate in light of the indictment.

CNN, home (also until last week) of Piers Morgan, whom Yee had praised for his anti-gun activism, didn't report the story at all. When prodded by viewers, the network snarked that it doesn't do state senators. Which is odd, because searching the name of my own state senator, Stacey Campfield, turns up a page of results, involving criticisms of him for saying something "extreme". Meanwhile, CNN found time to bash Wisconsin state senator and supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, Randy Hopper over marital problems.

But there's a difference. They're Republicans. When Republicans do things that embarrass their party, the national media are happy to take note, even if they're mere state senators. But when Democrats like Yee get busted for actual felonies, and pretty dramatic ones at that, the press suddenly isn't interested.

We've seen this before, of course: Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff dismissed the horrific Kermit Gosnell trial as a "local crime story", even as the press was going crazy covering another equally local crime story, the George Zimmerman trial. Likewise, another state senator, Texas' Wendy Davis, got national attention when she filibustered an abortion bill, a story that fit conveniently with the "war on women" theme used by Democrats.

Read more here. A search of Yee's name on CNN brings up nothing past the year 2011. The most recent story is about California banning shark fins, and Yee is quoted with concerns that the ban targets Chinese-Americans.

I did a few other national news searches with Yee's name. Nothing came up on NBC News, but CBS and ABC had stories. Fox News, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal all had stories. MSNBC noted Yee's arrest last week, hilariously starting the coverage of a spate of Democratic corruption investigations by leading with how many problems the Republicans have first. But they reported Yee's arrest before any details were provided of the charges. They have not followed up with any subsequent stories that indicate exactly why Yee was arrested.

UPDATE: Commenter Jackand Ace pointed me to this coverage of the scandals by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. It did not show up on the site when I searched for Yee's name, but I am adding out of fairness. MSNBC, you need some lessons on search engine optimization.