Media play meteorologists, baselessly forecast "clouds" for Obama because of Blagojevich scandal

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER, TOM ALLISON, DIANNA PARKER & NATHAN TABAK

In the absence of any actual allegations of wrongdoing by President-elect Barack Obama or his staff in connection with the scandal involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich, several media figures have in recent days ominously asserted that a "cloud" hangs over Obama because of the Blagojevich scandal, or that the scandal threatens to cast a "cloud" over Obama's presidency.

In the absence of any actual allegations of wrongdoing by President-elect Barack Obama or his staff in connection with the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), several media figures have in recent days ominously asserted that a "cloud" hangs over Obama because of the Blagojevich scandal, or that the scandal threatens to cast a "cloud" over Obama's presidency.

As Media Matters for America noted, prosecutor and U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald stated during a December 9 press conference that the criminal complaint against Blagojevich "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct," and Fitzgerald cautioned the press to "not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed or if you learn they're being interviewed." Indeed, as Media Matters has documented, the complaint against Blagojevich does not include a single allegation of misconduct by Obama, and at least one mention of "president-elect" in the complaint affirmatively undermines any suggestion of wrongdoing on Obama's part.

And yet, there are numerous examples of media repeating the "cloud" cliché, even while, in some cases, acknowledging there is no evidence that Obama has done anything wrong. For example:

  • In a report that aired during the December 11 editions of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and CNN's The Situation Room, reporter Drew Griffin asserted: "We already knew President-elect Obama was appalled. We already knew he wants Governor Blagojevich to resign. That hanging cloud is what he or his team or anyone representing him knew about the deals that at least the governor allegedly thought he was cooking up with the president-elect's administration."
  • During the December 10 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, reporter Dean Reynolds said: "A dark cloud hung over Chicago this morning as Governor Rod Blagojevich made his way to work. And longtime observers of the political climate here wonder whether that shadow will fall on Barack Obama."
  • During the December 9 edition of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer stated: "President-elect Obama says he is saddened by the scandal in his home state. Will it cast a cloud, though, over his early days in the White House?"
  • During the December 11 edition of CBS' The Early Show, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer asserted that Obama must "give every detail of what they talked about, when they talked about, and what the circumstances of that were. The president-elect cannot start a new administration with any kind of a cloud hanging over him."
  • During the 3 p.m. ET hour of the December 10 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Norah O'Donnell asserted: "I understand that the Obama team is essentially huddled behind closed doors today trying to figure out how to respond to all of this. Does this really kind of cast a cloud over what has been a pretty fast-moving transition team with their rolling out their cabinet? Has this essentially been a big speed bump?"
  • During the December 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that as President, Bill Clinton "came in with all these Whitewater guys on his shoulder, with all of this stuff, cronyism, and this deal and that deal, and [Susan] McDougal and [former Arkansas Gov.] Jim Guy Tucker. Isn't it eerie?" Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee responded: "Well, here's what has to happen. Because of that background, Barack Obama cannot start his presidency with that kind of cloud hanging over him."
  • During the December 12 edition of MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan asserted: "I disagree with [Democratic strategist] Bob Shrum to this extent. I think there's a real cloud developing over the Obama team. You've got three top advisers -- Valerie Jarrett, [David] Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel -- whom you would think would be in touch or might be in touch with the governor about this -- who's going to replace -- who's going to replace Barack Obama in the Senate."

Additionally, a December 10 Washington Times headline read: "Scandal casts cloud over Obama presidency."

From the December 11 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

LOU DOBBS (host): The corruption scandal tonight is raising concerns about the influence of special interest groups and the president-elect's political appointment process. One of those groups is the Service Employees International Union. It is, of course, one of the country's largest labor organizations.

The union has a long history of trying to influence public policy and was the largest single donor to the Obama campaign. As Drew Griffin now reports, it's now linked to the Blagojevich scandal.

[begin video clip]

OBAMA: I was as appalled --

GRIFFIN: We already knew President-elect Obama was appalled. We already knew he wants Governor Blagojevich to resign.

That hanging cloud is what he or his team or anyone representing him knew about the deals that at least the governor allegedly thought he was cooking up with the president-elect's administration.

JAY STEWART (Better Government Association of Chicago): The president-elect has a lot of serious issues to deal with. He really shouldn't be dealing with this, but, you know, Illinois politics is like a black whole -- it keeps sucking you back in.

GRIFFIN: Sucking him in is the deal mentioned deep into the government's 78-page complaint against the governor -- specifically, the deal to put "Candidate No. 1," believed to be Valerie Jarrett, in the vacant U.S. Senate seat. She is one of Obama's closest confidants, money raiser, and now White House staffer, who was considered a front-runner for the seat before suddenly pulling out.

From the December 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

GRIFFIN: In the spotlight today, Wolf, was the president-elect -- completely denying he had any involvement in any Blagojevich dealings. But when it came to his staff, he left the door open.

[begin video clip]

OBAMA: I was as appalled --

GRIFFIN: We already knew President-elect Obama was appalled. We already knew he wants Governor Blagojevich to resign. That hanging cloud is what he or his team or anyone representing him knew about the deals -- that at least the governor allegedly thought he was cooking up with the president-elect's administration.

Like it or not, says Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association of Chicago, Obama is dealing with his very first presidential scandal. And it grew out of the same political swamp Obama, the politician, was raised in.

STEWART: The president-elect had a lot of serious issues to deal with. He really shouldn't be dealing with this, but, you know, Illinois politics is like a black hole -- it keeps sucking you back in.

GRIFFIN: Sucking him in the deal mentioned deep into the government's 78-page complaint against the governor -- specifically, the deal to put "Candidate No. 1," believed to be Valerie Jarrett, in the vacant U.S. Senate seat. She is one of Obama's closest confidantes, money raiser and now White House staffer, who was considered a frontrunner for the seat before suddenly pulling out.

From the December 10 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

REYNOLDS: A dark cloud hung over Chicago this morning as Governor Rod Blagojevich made his way to work. And longtime observers of the political climate here wonder whether that shadow will fall on Barack Obama.

From December 9 edition of The Situation Room:

BLITZER: And, to our viewers, you're in the Situation Room. Happening now: the Illinois governor charged with plotting to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat. This hour: the astounding allegations of corruption -- even hardened prosecutors sounding shocked and appalled.

President-elect Obama says he is saddened by the scandal in his home state. Will it cast a cloud, though, over his early days in the White House? The best political team on television is standing by.

From the December 11 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

HARRY SMITH (co-anchor): Because one of these conversations, Bob, that there's a long conference call, all the parties that were involved are not necessarily named. One is supposedly Rahm Emanuel. He would have had responsibility to talk to federal authorities if pay-for-play had been discussed in it.

SCHIEFFER: He'll have to do that. And he's going to have to say -- and give every detail of what they talked about, when they talked about, and what the circumstances of that were. The president-elect cannot start a new administration with any kind of a cloud hanging over him. That's why it's so important to get this thing settled, get the details, get the facts out there as quickly as he possibly can. And my sense of it is that the president-elect will begin to do that in his news conference today.

We have to underline here, these are allegations. It hasn't gone to a trial yet. And there is nothing to suggest that Barack Obama has done anything wrong. But he's got to get this deal settled; and the quicker, the better, Harry.

From the 3 p.m. ET hour of the December 10 edition of MSNBC Live:

O'DONNELL: Joining us from The Washington Post newsroom is editorial writer Jonathan Capeheart. Jonathan, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

CAPEHEART: Hi, Norah.

O'DONNELL: I understand that the Obama team is essentially huddled behind closed doors today trying to figure out how to respond to all of this. Does this really kind of cast a cloud over what has been a pretty fast-moving transition team with their rolling out their cabinet? Has this essentially been a big speed bump?

CAPEHEART: Yes, it has been a big speed bump. It's not only that they've been rolling out announcements of people who are going to be in the cabinet, but it's been done so effortlessly, and now, here, you have Governor Blagojevich throwing up a huge speed bump in all of this. And I would gather that the Obama team is huddled behind closed doors not only trying to figure out how to respond to all of this, but also trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Because I do think that the longer folks like you and I ask the question -- "Just what did the Obama campaign know and what kind of contacts it had with Governor Blagojevich" -- the more it's going to be incumbent upon the Obama team to answer those questions.

From the December 12 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Are you surprised at all of this stuff?

HUCKABEE: I'm disappointed, and I'm not at Obama. Let me say this: I have no reason to think that Barack Obama --

O'REILLY: Nobody does -- right.

HUCKABEE: -- has even the tiniest bit of stain on his fingers on this. Nothing. There's nothing to suggest that he's dirty. But if he has people around him who are about to go into the White House, who even are a little bit dusty from this, he's got to clear it up, and he's got to do it now. Otherwise, he does not go in with a celebration; he goes in with a question mark. And he needs an exclamation mark going into office.

O'REILLY: And the reason I brought the Clintons up is because when Bill Clinton was elected president in '92, he came in from Arkansas where you live.

HUCKABEE: Right.

O'REILLY: Right. OK. He came in with all these Whitewater guys on his shoulder, with all of this stuff, cronyism, and this deal and that deal, and McDougal and Jim Guy Tucker. Isn't it eerie?

HUCKABEE: Well, here's what has to happen. Because of that background, Barack Obama cannot start his presidency with that kind of cloud hanging over him.

O'REILLY: So he's got to change -- he's got to pay a lot of attention to this, Obama.

HUCKABEE: He can't act like this is not touching me.

O'REILLY: This is big.

HUCKABEE: It is big. It's big, because it does have some semblance of memory to the Clinton beginnings. And here's the point: You know, every politician, I don't care how clean he is, gets accused of being dirty. So that's not unusual.

O'REILLY: Well, you guys have to deal with a lot of people. And you're never [inaudible] for power.

HUCKABEE: Sure, well, you've got people who hate you. You have people who are against you. People who want to see you torn down.

O'REILLY: Right.

HUCKABEE: So that's part of politics.

O'REILLY: All right.

HUCKABEE: But when there's that much smoke here, you've got to clear it out, and it has to be done right now.

From the December 12 broadcast of MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with David Gregory:

O'DONNELL: Pat, do you think that Obama walked way too far out on a limb yesterday when he said, I'm confident that no one on my staff would be involved in any deal-making?

BUCHANAN: No, I think he ought to say that, because if somebody was, he'll say, I was wrong and they'll be fired.

But I disagree with Bob Shrum to this extent: I think there's a real cloud developing over the Obama team. You've got three top advisers -- Valerie Jarrett, Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel -- whom you would think would be in touch or might be in touch with the governor about this -- who's going to replace -- who's going to replace Barack Obama in the Senate. Rahm Emanuel will not talk to anybody. He is stiffing everybody.

Why? You've got to ask yourself: Why haven't they just come forward, and say, yes, a number of us talked to the governor about this, but, no, we were not involved in any deal. We would never be involved in any deal. No deal, illicit deal, was offered to us, and we talked on the following days.

You don't need 72 hours of dead silence to get this material together. So -- and I think Rahm Emanuel in particular, as the chief of staff, and who apparently is the, quote, "adviser" on the tapes, why he doesn't come forward and clear his name instantly and be done with this, I don't understand.

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