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.
Kurtz writes [emphasis added]:
Still, Obama is exonerated on the tapes by none other than F-bomb Rod, who calls him a "mother [expletive]" and complains that the only thing O will offer for having his person picked for the Senate is gratitude. Obama, it turns out, won't pay to play. That's not how things are done in bleeping Chicago!
The facts, of course, didn't stop some conservative pundits from arguing that Obama has now been tainted by association with the Chicago machine.
As much as I hate coming to the defense of "conservative pundits," they're hardly the only ones making the "tainted" claim, despite the fact Obama was "exonerated" on the tapes. It's pretty much the entire Beltway press corps that's been playing up that angle.
But so far, nothing from the wire service about the breaking political news from Minnesota.
The new twist in the senate race between Coleman and Al Franken has generated news all across the state as well as nationwide. But a check of Nexis indicates the AP still has not posted any information about the FBI's investigation.
We noted yesterday that the Journal seemed to go a bit overboard with his gigantic A1 story/headline about the Blago story. (The spread was so big, Journal editors had to redesigned the front page just for the occasion, bumping the familiar, left-hand, "What's News" column down below the fold.) The business daily usually only devotes that kind of A1 space to blockbuster business stories, but opted to give the local Illinois corruption story gigantic play.
Well, if anybody was wondering if that was a fluke, and if anybody thought when Rupert Murdoch took over the newspaper that his political opinions would not, directly or indirectly, impact the news pages, today's Journal offers key clues. The Journal features another huge headline, heavy on the spin: "Graft Case Touches Jackson Jr.: Democrat Denis Seeking Senate Seat from Blagojevich; Service Union is Scrutinized."
The lead also lays on the what-if innuendo quite thick [emphasis added]:
The scandal surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged attempt to sell President-elect Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat widened on Wednesday, threatening to taint a rising Democratic star and pull in one of the nation's biggest labor unions.
Of course, as CF noted:
As long as reporters keep including qualifiers like "could" and "threaten" and "may," they can just keep running these stories over and over again.
As we said, the Journal spins the Blago story very hard today (much harder than the other mainstream dailies and much harder than the established facts would dictate), and in an anti-Democratic, anti-union way that makes it hard to dismiss the possible Murdoch factor.