Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Profiles in Chutzpah

The latest from RC Blog Contributor Chris Stockel....

Thoughts from the Right Side
"Profiles in Chutzpah"
by R.C. Blogger Christian Stockel

God Bless Governor Blagojevich, he is the gift that keeps on giving. After thinking that I would only have hyperbolic and adolescent press coverage of President Elect Obama's inauguration to look forward to, old Blago comes out from the shadow of shame with both barrels blazing. He is the perfectly evolved symbol of the corrupt Chicago political machine. Young, brash, overly-confident, and has lots of big hair. His initial post scandal flair up speech was priceless. Despite quite detailed transcripts of phone conversations where Blago seems a bit “upset” at the low bidding price for Obama's open Senate seat, the Governor comes out defiantly and says he did nothing wrong. From his speech he stated:

"I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong. ...I'm not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob."

Classic. I watched the Governor's press conference at least three times soaking in the hubris and hypocrisy. It was Christmas morning all over again. A few days later, after much discussion in the press about pending impeachments and warnings from fellow Democrats not to appoint a replacement until all the legal matters could be settled, the Governor comes out with both barrels blazing and nominates former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris for Obama's vacant Senate seat!

Yes – it does get better.

The Governor will not be denied the 'biggest brass pair' award for 2008-2009. Still,it got even better as I watched the reaction of Senator Harry Reid when he stated he would deny seating Mr. Burris. Unfortunately for Senator Reid and Congressional Democrats, there was no legal standing to prevent Mr. Burris from taking the seat - regardless of the political controversy surrounding Gov. Blagojevich. The appointment was made before he was impeached and was clearly valid. As the week wore on, cracks appeared in the Democrat caucus and whispers and hints at some movement in Senator Reid's position indicating that he had accepted the inevitable. This political kabuki play illuminated the mendacity of Senate Democrats whose only concern was that they would receive a politically weak candidate - who failed previously in statewide elections - to take a seat that would be soon up for re-election. The obvious political calculations of Senator Reid was magnified by his overt willingness to seat Al Franken of Minnesota who – like Mr. Burris – had not received certification form Minnesota's Secretary of State. Hmmm, I wonder why Senator Reid gave such deference to good old Al Franken? Maybe he thought by doing so it could derail Senator Coleman's legal challenge to the recount? Or could it be worse? Some African American Democrats claimed that the refusal to seat Burris was tied to latent racism and not legal propriety. It was hard not to enjoy the uncomfortable position in which the Democratic leaders in Congress found themselves. Recognizing the inevitable, Reid changed course and agreed to seat Senator Burris. It seems the Governor from Illinois was smarter than the Democrat leadership in the Senate.

Corrupt Illinois politics and the bungling of Congressional Democrats aside, the real issue surrounding this whole event does not involve Gov. “Blago”, soon-to-be Senator Burris, or even Senator Reid. It involves President-elect Barack Obama and the mainstream media. As much as I laughed, almost to tears, at watching the political theater and even greater political incompetence, I was shocked sober after seeing how Barack Obama responded to this situation and how the press covered the whole event. There was a press conference where Reporter John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune asked Obama about the particulars of the Governor Blagojevich and his approach towards filling the Senate seat. Barack Obama just responded:

“John, let me just cut you off, because I don't want you to waste your question. ..We have done a full review of this. We will release the facts of this case next week. I don't want to get into the details of this case [before then].”

The reporter apologized and sat down. Interesting. Some astute members of the press have also picked up on a disturbing habit of President-elect Obama. It seems he preselects those reporters from whom he will accept questions as recognized in the Chicago-Sun Times.

“The Obama news conferences tell that story, making one yearn for the return of the always-irritating Sam Donaldson to awaken the slumbering press to the notion that decorum isn't all it's cracked up to be. The press corps, most of us, don't even bother raising our hands any more to ask questions because Obama always has before him a list of correspondents who've been advised they will be called upon that day.”

Any bets on how many Fox News correspondents are included on that list? Let me give you a hint – its a number between -1 and 1.

So it appears that the press is being properly trained, sedated, and castrated in advance of the coming Obama administration. However, manhandling the press is not the only thing deemed acceptable in this brave new world. As President elect Obama promised, his team's internal report was released, during Christmas, week with all the “facts” deemed relevant. The conclusion was not unexpected. The 5-page memorandum stated that the contact between the scandal-plagued governor and the president-elect's staff was proper and limited in scope. The report added:

“The accounts contain no indication of inappropriate discussions with the Governor or anyone from his office about a 'deal' or a quid pro quo arrangement in which he would receive a personal benefit in return for any specific appointment to fill the vacancy," the report, authored by White House Counsel-designate Gregory Craig, said.”

Of course the discerning, deep thinking, crack news team at MSNBC were quick to conclude that nothing untoward had occurred and Obama was in the clear. Obama had no contact – of course, Rahm Emmanuel did. However, there was no 'quid-pro quo'. Nothing was asked of them – nothing was offered. Similarly, the CBS News room parroted the findings of the report hinting there was no “there” there. They did make some mild references to the fact Obama's transition team refused requests from the media to release emails or notes of contacts with Blagojevich's office. They also noted that Rahm Emmanuel was not a target in the investigation. The rest of CBS' report focused on Gov. Blago's legal predicament and forgot about any potential connections between the Governor and Obama's team. It seems all is well in Obama's world. His team's report clears him and his staff of any wrong doing. That is the end of it. Of course, we haven't heard the last word from the prosecutor in this case – what's his name again? Oddly, that does not seem important.

Proper reflection of this series of events should cause those of us who are not in the Obama-mania camp to pause a little and dread. The self-proclaimed hero of “transparent government” and “change we could believe in” just told a reporter who was asking an uncomfortable question to “not waste his question” and back talked him into his seat while the reporter apologizes for stepping out of line. Obama has instituted a practice of preselect lists of reporters from whom he will take questions. The Obama transition team performs and “investigation” into their role – if any – in this scandal and quickly determines there was none. This finding is issued in a report released at 4:30 PM on the day before Christmas Eve. The main stream media does a thorough review and analysis of this report and concludes at 5:00 PM on the day before Christmas Eve that there is no scandal, the Obama team did nothing wrong, and the President-elect is clear of any suspicion. Will this series of events set a precedent for the next four years? Does Obama's handling of the press and outright refusal to address any issue - no matter how scandal tinged – not raise one single eyebrow in the press rooms of America? Will we continue to see the press prostrate itself before the Obama administration to such an extent that it will lay supine for the next four years and not question/probe any statement, claim, or position made by this administration?

I am writing this the day before the inauguration, as I tune into CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and CBS, its clear that Obama will have an easy ride for the foreseeable future. George Bush couldn't have ever imagined being treated like this by a press who made it a professional hallmark to question the truthfulness of any word spoken by the President and blame him for a host of world problems including global warming, war, terrorism, and male pattern baldness. One does not have to go back too far into recent history to see examples of the Bush derangement syndrome exhibited in the media. A tsunami devastates a remote land near the Indian Ocean – its Bush's fault. If the Russians invade a small ally in the Balkans and the press furrows their brows and struggles to determine what policy mistake Bush made to precipitate such a crisis. Somewhere there is an energetic young cub reporter at the NY Times busily trying to tie the failure of the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC championship to Bush's presidency.

I can only imagine the broad hyperbole that will be tossed around on the cable news programs covering tomorrow's inauguration events. I am sure Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann will be comparing Obama to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Joan of Arc. The only mystery I could imagine in the press' adulation of Obama's swearing in is which of Chris Matthew's leg will get a “tingle”. I don't even want to think what part of Keith Olbermann's body is tingling right now. God help those who believe in healthy dissent in public discourse. If the federal government decides to bail out struggling newspapers and becomes part owner in these enterprises, one doesn't have to use too much imagination to see shades of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro come out of that mess. I can only imagine the many possible mutations of the “Fairness Doctrine” that will emerge from this scenario.

For the record, I don't believe that Obama is implicated in Governor Blagojevich's effort to sell a Senate seat. However, I am troubled by his handling of the limited scrutiny he has received from the press and his approach top-down, closed-door process towards clearing “his team” of any wrong doing. Combine this arrogance with a compliant – nay subservient – mainstream press and there is the potential for future scandals to pass without scrutiny. More importantly, this lays the groundwork for potentially flawed public policy to be proposed and passed without the relevant information being provided to the citizenry or the required analysis and scrutiny from the fifth estate. As the nation looks to President-elect Obama for proposals on health-care, entitlements, the economy, national security, and a host of social issues – it should have confidence that the press will serve as a critical partner providing scrutiny to any and all proposals and asking the tough questions aimed at getting all the relevant information out into the public domain. As one flips through the satellite and radio channels, its clear that the press seems more interested in a smooth transition for a transformational and historic administration. It is a stark contrast to the tone and manner the George W. Bush presidency was given and hints at a hidden agenda to serve as a partner for the Obama administration and not an advocate for the people. Republicans in Congress should look hard at the landscape in the mainstream media and prepare a strategy for ensuring that their message is communicated accurately to the American people and that real information is provided to them in a way that shatters the alternative reality field being constructed before our very eyes.

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