Digby is, as usual, right:
These trumped up scandals present a serious Catch 22 for politicians. If they are prudent and follow the law, they will use careful and precise language. If they follow their political instincts and play these situations like the soap opera the media demands, they will deny everything in the most emotional terms. Either way they are screwed.
The Catch 22 may be the defining characteristic of the media's coverage of (Democratic) faux-scandals. They want their controversy, and they're going to get it one way or another. Take that Howard Kurtz complaint that Obama waited too long -- 24 hours! -- to call for Blago's resignation. Is it even remotely difficult to imagine what would have happened had Obama made the resignation request an hour after Fitzgerald announced the criminal complaint? He'd have been criticized for doing so prematurely -- recklessly, even. And there's no doubt some reporter would speculate that Obama's haste was evidence that he has something to hide.
Anxious to keep the Blago drama percolating, many in the press have decided that among the most pressing question facing the nation is who on Obama's staff may have talked to Blago about filling Obama's senate seat. If you read the coverage and listen to the talking heads, you know this is hugely important.
Why? We're not sure since prosecutors don't even hint that any conservations that took place between the two camps were improper. Indeed, it would bizarre if Obama aides hadn't reached out to the governor about filling the president-elect's seat.
But none of that matters now because Obama and his aides won't talk, or so we're told. We need to know who talked to Blago and told him Obama wouldn't play ball for any kind of deal. Who told the corrupt pol to forget about getting any kind of deal from Obama. Follow? We need to know who talked to Blago and did the right thing. But of course, the press leaves off the did-the-thing part, and simply obsesses over who talked to Blago because that sounds more sinister. (There's a criminal complaint!)
Let's note the Chicago Sun-Times whose Blago/Emanuel article has landed top honors at the Drudge Report. Headline [emphasis added]: "Is Emanuel the adviser on gov tape? MUM: Obama's chief of staff refuses to answer the question."
Oh my. And the lead:
President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, refused to take questions from reporters this morning about whether he was the Obama "advisor" named in the criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich
Looks shady, no? And where did Emanuel duck reporters questions? Where did he refuse to come clean to the Sun-Times? At his kids' school concert. No joke. Behold:
Emanuel was uncharacteristically absent from Obama's news conference this morning. He was spotted two hours later in the lobby of Chicago's City Hall. He was there to listen to his two children performing in a concert with their school, Anshe Emet. A Sun-Times reporter pressed him to comment about whether he was the emissary named in the criminal complaint.
He's barely out to door of CNN Headlines News and on his way to Fox, and already Beck is revising his CNNHN stint. In a Q&A with Time, Beck claims:
I also think they made me a better broadcaster because, believe me, I was the most well-researched show on CNN. They never let me get away with anything. At the time, it was like, come on guys, cut me some slack. But in retrospect, they made me better. I know what I know because they forced me to document it.
CNN made Beck document everything on that show. Except, of course, when CNN did not:
Now would be a good time to read The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason & Gene Lyons and Fools for Scandal by Lyons, if you haven't already done so. Even if you have ... can't hurt to read them again. Hunting is available in convenient film form if you prefer.
Didn't anything important happen yesterday?
The Washington Post must not think so. Otherwise, why would the paper devote nearly 700 page-2 words to Anne Kornblut's idle speculation that there may be unpleasantness between the Obamas and people who supported or worked for Hillary Clinton when they encounter each other at events at Sidwell Friends, the Washington school the Obama children will attend alongside the children of a wide variety of other DC luminaries?
Kornblut suggests the Obamas could have some awkward encounters in their future because Sidwell
is also home to some of the very strategists who once worked to defeat Obama's presidential bid (one or two of whom, despite the recent Obama-Clinton detente, are rumored to carry a lingering grudge). Obama's older daughter, Malia, is about to enter the fifth grade at Sidwell alongside the child of Lissa Muscatine, a speechwriter for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Numerous other Clinton loyalists are Sidwell parents as well, among them Mark Penn, the former Clinton chief strategist; Mandy Grunwald, the ad maker; Capricia Marshall, the senior adviser; and Beth Dozoretz, the prolific Clinton fundraiser.
Given that Barack Obama will be the president of the United States, and that there will be people who supported Clinton's primary campaign in a variety of influential positions around Washington, including within Obama's administration, I have a hunch that Obama would encountered one or two of them even if his kids didn't go to Sidwell. Hell, he chose Clinton herself to be his Secretary of State. Shouldn't that be enough to get Kornblut and the Post to drop their middle-school obsession with who is in whose clique?
Worse, Kornblut implies that Muscatine, Penn, Grunwald, Marshall and Dozoretz might in some way behave negatively towards the Obamas when they run into each other at school plays and soccer games. What is Kornblut basing this on? Not. A. Damn. Thing.
She quotes no one -- not a single person, not even anonymously -- who suggests that there could be any kind of unpleasantness when such encounters occur. She doesn't even paraphrase anyone making such a suggestion. There is, in short, absolutely no indication in the entire article that it is based on anything other than her own fevered imagination. And Kornblut gives no indication that she made any attempt to contact Muscatine, Penn, Grunwald, Marshall or Dozoretz for comment.
The one and only person Kornblut does quote is Patti Solis Doyle, the longtime Clinton aide who worked for Obama during the general election. And that quote pretty thoroughly undermines the premise of the article.
Having taken the meanspirited and baseless speculation that Mandy Grunwald and Lissa Muscatine would cause a scene at a grade-school recital about as far as it can go (and then some), Kornblut turns her article into an apparent attempt to audition for a spot writing for the society pages. Her last three paragraphs consist of simply listing famous (for DC) people whose children attend Sidwell. Howard Fineman's kids go there! Katty Kay, too! And Jay Carney, Bob Woodward, Nick Baldick and EJ Dionne!
That's news you can use.
We doubt this is how the craft is taught at Columbia J-School [emphasis added]:
Although prosecutors said Mr. Obama was not implicated in their investigation, the accusations of naked greed and brazen influence-peddling have raised questions from some about the political culture in which the President-elect began his career.
Notes Dan Kennedy:
Thus does [the Times' Jack] Healy follow two crucial rules in cranking out garbage like this: use the passive voice, and darkly allude to the raising of questions.
The larger point is that in order for the Beltway press to gin up the Blago story this week, basic journalism guidelines had to be set aside and in some cases brazenly ignored. That's the only way this story worked because simply reporting the facts as presented by the prosecutors would have made it painfully clear that, in terms of Obama's involvement, there was none. In fact, Obama had thwarted Blago's money-making scheme.
But that wasn't the story the press wanted to tell. (i.e. Obama the reformer rebukes corrupt local pol.) So lots of reporters and pundits consciously, and often systematically, took it upon themselves to make the story more appealing.
Oh yeah, who are the crucial "some" at the center of the all-important scandal? The Times later ID's them as "Republican leaders." In other words, partisan sniping. Well, that is newsworthy
CNN"s Jessica Yellin just said of Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich: "The two men seemed cordial when they met at a governor's event nine days ago."
CNN then showed video of Obama approaching a line of people, the first of whom was Blagojevich, who can be heard saying "Hello, Mr. President." But in the video, Obama doesn't even stop walking to greet Blagojevich; he spends maybe a few tenths of a second glancing at Blagojevich on his way to someone else.
Were Blagojevich not currently embroiled in scandal, and the media not therefore interested in linking Obama and Blagojevich, it isn't hard to imagine reporters describing the video as evidence of Obama snubbing Blagojevich.
I will say this: Barack Obama could have expressed a bit more disgust.
[...] the president-elect limited himself to such bromides as "sad" in discussing the Blagojevich scandal. Actually, it's more than sad. Based on the wiretapped conversations recounted in the criminal complaint, it's an outrageous, appalling and thoroughly disgusting glimpse of government for sale.
The governor of Illinois deserves the presumption of legal innocence, but not the presumption that he acted honorably.
By yesterday Obama's position had "evolved": Blago should resign (though he said it via a written statement). Why did it take the president-elect 24 hours to reach that conclusion, when the facts haven't changed? Is that kind of excessive caution going to define his presidency?
Obama's call for Blagojevich's resignation came so early in the scandal, Howard Kurtz had to measure the time elapsed between criminal complaint and resignation call is mere hours, not days. And yet Kurtz thinks that represented "excessive caution" on Obama's part? As Kurtz notes, Blagojevich "deserves the presumption of legal innocence" -- yet Kurtz suggests Obama should have decided within minutes that Blagojevich should resign. That's nuts.
Furthermore, Kurtz seems to think the fact that "the facts haven't changed" makes Obama's purported delay in calling for the resignation all the more odd. It apparently hasn't occured to Kurtz that it could be precisely because the facts haven't changed that Obama called for Blago's resignation. In other words, it is possible that Obama waited a day to see if exculpatory facts emerged before calling for a resignation.
Given Kurtz's own history, he's lucky the rest of the word doesn't share his appetite for snap judgements about whether people deserve to keep their jobs.