The Rules, of course, stated that from the press' perspective, anything goes. No mysterious allegation or offensive slight was out of bounds. For some reason those rules were packed away during the Bush years and are now in the process of being taken out of storage to cover president-elect Obama.
For proof, let's look at Dana Milbank from the Washington Post, dutifully regurgitating the Beltway CW today [emphasis added]:
But Obama's response to Blagojevich questions has been decidedly junior varsity. Begging off because of an ongoing investigation? Hiding behind Patrick Fitzgerald's skirt? Warning a reporter not to "waste" a question and asking for an alternative question? All four techniques were popularized by Bush."
Obama's acting just like Bush, according to Milbank. Okay. Now going back and searching through the Nexis archives, how many times during Bush's eight year in office did Milbank refer to Bush as "junior varsity"? Zero. How many times did anybody at the Post refer to Bush as "junior varsity"? Zero.
How many times did Milbank suggest Bush ever hid behind somebody's skirt? Zero. How many times did anybody at the Post make that emasculating claim? Zero.
So according to Milbank, Obama is acting just like Bush. But Milbank used language that nobody at the Post ever dreamt of using while Bush was in office.
As we've seen for the last week, the Blago/Obama story is much more interesting when the press invents facts. Today it's the Daily News' turn:
Aides to the President-elect acknowledge Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's incoming chief of staff, did talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat and even handed over a list of candidates acceptable to Obama, a fairly common exchange in politics.
False. According to all available information, Emanuel talked with Blago's staff about filling the seat, not with Blago himself. Considering that the press seems to be hanging the entire Obama "scandal" around Emanuel's possible contacts with Blago, the fact that the Daily News mangled the key point is sort of important.
Rasmussen was out of the gate early in terms of national polling numbers regarding the unfolding Blago story and after reading Rasmussen's summary the only question we have is this: Was the polling firm trying to mislead people? Because the survey, and the Rasmussen write-up about the results, are pretty much a disaster.
First the poll findings:
Forty five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say it is likely President-elect Obama or one of his top campaign aides was involved in the unfolding Blagojevich scandal in Illinois, including 23% who say it is Very Likely.
The problem here is glaringly obvious: The Blago question asked to voters was utterly pointless. Polls are supposed to help us understand where Americans stand on the issues of the day. But that's pretty hard to do when pollster like Rassmussen ask completely worthless questions.
i.e. What does it mean to suggest Obama or one of his top campaign aides "was involved" in the Blago story? If a pollster called me at home over the weekend and asked me that question I could see possibly answering 'Yes' they were technically "involved" because obviously it's Obama's former U.S. senate seat that Blago was trying to auction off. And yes, Obama aides were in touch with Blago about filling the seat, as any campaign would. So I guess they were "involved," not unlike the way special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is "involved" in the story.
But reporting the results, Rasmussen assumed the worst and suggested everyone who answered yes that Obama or his aides might be "involved" in the scandal meant they did something wrong. But that's not what Rasmussen asked. Rasmussen asked a pointless question about who might have been "involved."
If Rassmussen wanted to find out if people thought Obama or his aides helped Blago try to sell a U.S. senate seat and/or broke the law, than why didn't Rassmussen just ask people that very simple, straight forward question? Instead, Rasmussen posed a completely vague and meaningless question about who was "involved," and that's why the results are utterly pointless.
As for the Rasmussen write-up about the poll findings, it was just was useless [emphasis added]:
Up until now, no one in a position of authority is saying that Obama or anyone on his staff is guilty of wrongdoing.
Good grief that's bad. First, last time we checked it would a judge and jury to decide if "Obama or anyone on his staff is guilty of wrongdoing," not somebody in "a position of authority."
And second, prosecutors have been quite clear that neither Obama nor his top aide are even being investigated for wrongdoing, so why on earth is Rasmussen daydreaming about finding them guilty?
Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman writes:
Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar defense lawyer who knows Mr. Fitzgerald well, said he doesn't doubt the prosecutor would have asked that Obama officials keep quiet until his investigation is further along. That is to prevent witnesses from tailoring their stories to what they learn others are saying. But, he said, Mr. Obama and his aides don't have to comply. They are using the prosecutor as a "fig leaf" to avoid answering questions just now, Mr. Luskin said. They could just as easily have decided that assuring the public about their actions is more important than acceding to the prosecutor's request.
So according to Jonathan Weisman and the Wall Street Journal, Obama's team could "just as easily" have ignored Fitzgerald's request not to reveal the contacts.
Nonsense. If Obama ignored Fitzgerald's request and released the findings anyway, the Wall Street Journal - and the rest of the media - would be full of stories about Obama deliberately undermining Fitzgerald's investigation. They'd be speculating breathlessly about why Obama would undermine the investigation, and claiming that it proves he has something to hide.
And that's the entire point of Weisman's article - that Obama could have blown off Fitzgerald's request. Yet nowhere does Weisman acknowledge the obvious reality that if Obama did so, the media - probably including Weisman himself - and the Republicans would freak out, accusing him of obstruction. That makes it disingenuous at best to suggest that Obama is to blame for the delay in releasing information about contacts between Obama staff and Blago.
Newsweek & Fox contributor Karl Rove criticizes Barack Obama for being insufficiently forthcoming:
Karl Rove, who refused to answer questions for years on the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA official, criticized Barack Obama on Monday for not being more forthcoming in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) scandal.
Rove, a former top White House adviser to President Bush, said on Fox News, "[Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming."
Raise your hand if you thought you'd ever see Karl Rove argue in favor of people being "forthcoming" about an investigation conducated by Patrick Fitzgerald. Anyone? Anyone at all?
(And keep in mind, there is no allegation of wrongdoing by Obama or his staff about which they need to be "forthcoming.")
Chris Cillizza makes some sense regarding the Blago/Obama story. In a post raising doubts that the GOP will be able to make the guilt-by-association-claims stick between the two Illinois pols (especially since prosecutors don't think Obama did anything wrong,) Cillizza suggests it might be a non-starter in the long term:
Combine the relative paucity of proof that Obama or anyone in his political inner circle has any strong ties to Blagojevich with the fact that a series of national polls have shown widespread approval for Obama and it becomes clear that Republicans' strategy is not without risk.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Cillizza, in his lengthy analysis, pretends the press has played no role in the unfolding story or in spreading the guilt-by-association meme. Cillizza pretends it's been Republicans, and Republicans exclusively, who have been trying to taint Obama with the Blago story. Of course, as we've been documenting for the last week, the press has been waaaaay out in front of Republicans in hyping Obama's potential Blago woes.
That the GOP is playing-the-guilt-by-association card is a given and the press will acknowledge that. But trust us, the GOP has merely been playing catch-up with reporters and pundits who set up shop long before the GOP arrived on the Blago/Obama scene.
In fact, here's a little exercise we did to illustrate the point about how the press has basically done the GOP's bidding re: Blago. Below are highlighted portions from Cillizza's post, and each time he suggested the RNC or Republicans were pressing the Blago story, we took out "Republicans" and inserted "the press" or "reporters" And guess what, it reads just as true.
Take a look [emphasis added to the phrases we substituted]:
-"[Reporters] moved aggressively over the weekend to link scandal-tarred Gov. Rod Blagojevich to President-elect Barack Obama."
-"That video followed hard on a series of statements from the [press] over the last week that sought to raise questions about the nature and depth of Obama's ties to Blagojevich and that demanded more information concerning the number and substance of contacts between Obama's aides and the governor and his staff about the possible Senate appointment."
-"The goal here is clear: Blagojevich is the prototypical example of political power run amok, and if he can be used in any way to slow Obama's momentum throughout the transition, then [the media] regard that as a worthwhile endeavor."
-"At issue for [journalists] (and herein lies the risk) is whether, in fact, there is any there there as it relates to Obama's relationship with Blagojevich."
-"How hard will [reporters] continue to push on Obama-Blagojevich? And will it work in their favor or blow up in their faces?"
It can tell whatever story it wants to tell. (It helps if everyone agrees to play dumb.) And that's what we're witnessing in Washington now regarding the Blago/Obama story. The press has made it perfectly clear that a collective decision has been made to make all kinds of dark inferences regarding Obama's involvement even though reporters and pundits know, and will occasionally state publicly, that nothing suggests Obama or his aides did anything wrong. It's really quite amazing, and gruesome, to watch.
Matt Yglesias captures the phenomena:
But this morning on MSNBC there was a lengthy discussion of Obama's involvement in Blagojevich's corruption. Of course, there was no evidence of any involvement on Obama's part. Nor, despite this being a news channel, was there any original reporting of any kind whatsoever. There was, however, a ton of time spent criticizing the Obama campaign's PR strategy with regard to this issue - the suggestion being that had Obama adopted a better PR strategy, then people wouldn't be on television making evidence-free guilt-by-association accusations against him.
This strong me as odd. The people making the accusations kept acknowledging that they had no evidence. One might think that communicating to television personalities the fact that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Obama's part would constitute a good PR strategy. Given that they knew there was no evidence of wrongdoing, they should have ceased implying that there was wrongdoing. But they didn't do that at all. Not, I would submit, because of any failings on Obama's part, but because Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, John Heileman, Mark Halperin, and Pat Buchanan don't care at all about the accuracy of the impression their coverage gives.
We do disagree with Yglesias in one regard, though. The headline to his post reads, "The New Rules." We don't think the media rules being applied to the Blago story are new. They're just the Clinton Rules, as defined by Atrios (i.e. anything goes), updated for a new Democratic era.
From Nicholas Kristof's column:
As my Times colleague David Leonhardt has noted, the reported $73-an-hour wage in Detroit is a fiction.
On the one hand, it's good to see Kristof, and Leonhardt last week, trying to dismantle the $73-an-hour misinformation. The thick irony, of course, is that it was the New York Times that gave the phony meme life nearly a month ago. Neither Kristof or Leonhardt mentioned that embarrassing fact. (Or that MMFA called the paper out on the matter.)
Meanwhile, lots of readers praised Leonhardt's effort last week to set the record straight about autoworkers. But the Daily Howler thought Leonhardt did a dreadful job sorting out the facts.