Roger’s Rules

The real news from Chicago: a thought experiment

Trick question: what was the stop-the-presses news coming out of the Windy City yesterday?

Nope, it wasn’t that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested for corruption–for, inter alia, attempting to sell Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat (which by state law is in the governor’s gift), attempting to get editorial writers for the Chicago Tribune who were critical of him sacked, and attempting to shake down various companies that had contracts with the state. That was not so much news as a longstanding tradition in what wags are now calling “Crook County,” Illinois.

The real news was that BARACK OBAMA HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. It is not my regular practice to listen to NPR, but I happened to catch a bit of “All Left Things Considered” yesterday afternoon and the news from Chicago got a thorough airing. Sure, the name Rod Blagojevich came into the story, but each announcer in turn tripped over himself to assure the audience that BARACK OBAMA HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

It was pretty funny, actually, to listen as these chaps who had labored so hard to help Obama get elected instantly closed ranks under the sign reading “presumed innocent.” Quoth one NPR announcer: It was nothing like Whitewater, a scandal that shadowed the Clintons for so many years. (But nota bene: if you go check out the MSM’s reporting on Whitewater back when it mattered, you’ll find that, according to them, Whitewater was basically a plot cooked up by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy to discredit the Clintons.)

As it happens, I also think it unlikely that Obama had anything to do with the governor’s alleged malfeasance. Shaking down a contractor? Dumb. Threatening a newspaper? Dumber. Selling off a seat to the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder? Positively moronic. Obama is not stupid. He is in fact an exceptionally smooth operator. Therefore, I provisionally conclude, he had nothing to do with this ostentatiously sordid episode.

But here’s a little thought experiment with which to while away an idle moment. What if John McCain had won the election, and what if the governor of Arizona were not Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, but some Republican pol? And what if the governor had just been arrested on the slate of corruption charges facing Rod Blagojevich? And let’s say that McCain, when confronted with news of the scandal, said (as did Obama yesterday) “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening,” but that McCain’s campaign manager, when asked whether the President Elect would have a role in choosing his successor in the Senate, said (as did David Axlerod, Obama’s campaign manager) “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.” Fix that scenario in your mind’s eye and then ask yourself how the legacy media would react. Would NPR instantly fall over itself to assure everyone that Obama was in NO WAY connected with the scandal? Would The New York Times offer similar assurances and even go so far as to suggest that an ethics bill Obama supported helped bring about the governor’s downfall? Would the campaigner manager’s insistence that he had “misspoke” simply be digested and accepted by most of the MSM?

An honorable exception to this chorus of preemptive exoneration is the invaluable Jack Tapper over at ABC news. Tapper doesn’t accuse Obama of anything. Indeed, he is careful to say that “There are no allegations that President-elect Obama or anyone close to him had anything to do with any of the crimes Gov. Blagojevich is accused of having committed.” But Tapper also points out that Obama’s statement that he “had no contact with the governor or his office” must be modified by the many ways in which he did have contact with the governor and his office. For example, Tapper reports on a 2002 TV interview with Jeff Berkowitz in which Obama says that

“Right now, my main focus is to make sure that we elect Rod Blagojevich as Governor, we…”

“You working hard for Rod?” interrupted Berkowitz.

“You betcha,” said Obama.

“Hot Rod?” asked the host.

“That’s exactly right,” Obama said.

By 2006, complaints about Blagojevich’s ethics violations were piling up, but that did not prevent Obama from campaigning for governor in August, 2006: “We’ve got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois,” Obama said at one event.

As I say, I have no reason to believe that Obama was involved in Rod Blagojevich’s campaign of corruption. Still, although I know that even-handedness is beyond the MSM,  it would be nice to think that its representatives would approach the story with at least a modicum of journalistic curiosity.