In October 2006 the national media projected Rep. Mark Foley’s online sex chats with House pages into a disaster that would swallow the Grand Old Party whole. CBS, for example, proclaimed it the “congressional equivalent of Katrina.” In 2008, when federal investigators found Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich trying to put Barack Obama’s Senate seat on the auction block, these same “news” gatherers found a storm, to be sure, but a storm they suggested would in short order be “pushed out to sea.”
With the governor caught on tape unloading obscenity after obscenity about how he expected to reap a financial bonanza for handing out his gubernatorial perks, this story was so undeniably big, even the Obamaphile press couldn’t ignore it. So instead these reporters tried to downplay its impact on the President-elect and the Democrats.
First, as with other Democratic scandals (Spitzer, Jefferson, McGreevey, et cetera), anchors and editors again purposely dropped the “D” out of the equation, laboring not to tell viewers or readers that the offenders were Democrats. In a Republican scandal, the offending politician is usually described as a Republican in the very first sentence, and deservedly so. In a Democrat scandal, the party identification of the perpetrator can arrive in paragraph eight. Or not at all.
Then, reporters declared that a Blagojevich resignation or impeachment could arrive any day, and suggested the story could soon be finished. (When Republicans are in the crosshairs, reporters announce “this story isn’t going away any time soon.”) Reporters insisted the Blagojevich story might end soon with the governor’s removal, even before Team Obama fully explained its contacts with the governor’s office on the Senate-seat matter. They wanted Blagojevich removed from the Democratic elite before he infected the party’s anti-corruption claims like an Ebola virus.
Third, they labored mightily to separate Team Obama from the Blagojevich camp. Take CBS, and reporter Chip Reid, who cited local CBS reporter Mike Flannery as an expert, and never mind if local bloggers call him “Chicago’s version of Chris Matthews.” Flannery insisted one could only call Obama and Blagojevich the “most distant allies,” and Reid insisted Flannery told him “Obama has often gone out of his way to avoid any close association with the ethically challenged governor. But that’s not stopping the Republican National Committee from trying to tie the two men together.” Reid read a line from RNC chairman Mike Duncan, then insisted “Despite the occasional photo together, though, linking them could be a tough sell.”
Reid’s report cracking open this supposed chasm didn’t include uncomfortable facts that Obama’s supporters would rather not see circulated. Obama not only supported Blagojevich for governor in 2002 when he was still a state senator, he took credit for advising him to victory. He went on television saying electing his friend “Hot Rod” was a priority. He endorsed him for re-election in 2006 – at the beginning of 2005.
Reid also dragged in a right-leaning Chicago Tribune columnist to make a case for Obama’s distance: “John Kass says Mr. Obama has worked hard to position himself above the machine culture of Chicago politics.” He quoted Kass saying: “I don’t think he gets tainted by what happened today.” But here’s what Kass proclaimed in a column a few days later: “The national media outlets were desperate to portray him as someone about to transcend our politics. But in Chicago he was just a smooth guy on the way up, looking the other way.”
The Blagojevich Senate-for-sale scandal demonstrates how feverishly the media continue to portray Obama not as a Chicago machine manipulator, but as the black inheritor of the Abraham Lincoln legacy. Obama’s been energetically linked to Lincoln far more than to any Chicago politician who’s currently living and serving in office. Obama chose for himself a political career in the grubby precincts of the south side of Chicago, not some log cabin outside Springfield, but reporters seem more interested in building a grand and historic legend of a “new kind of politics,” not a real-life politician’s colossal ambitions to be president before he turned 50.
Anyone in politics knows it would be extremely normal, acceptable, and even necessary for the Governor and the President-elect (or their aides) to have a chat about who would fill this Senate seat. But the media have invested so much TV time and barrels of ink in putting the most idealistic sheen they can on Obama’s New Politics that to find him anywhere within miles of corruption is too much for them to bear.