What About the Democrats' 'Culture of Corruption?'

We are now a week into the wall-to-wall coverage of the tape recorded fall of Senate seat auctioneer and sometime Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.  But there has always been a distinctly different tenor from the media in stories involving scandalized Democrats compared to their reports on corrupt Republicans.

During the 2006 mid-term elections, the news world was saturated with talk of a GOP “Culture of Corruption,” a Democratic slogan repeated incessantly by the traditional media. The press cast three bad Congressmen and a single scamming lobbyist as representative of an entire Party gone bad, and their incessant drumbeat helped drive the GOP out of power.    

Meanwhile, one prominent Democrat after another has been tinged with scandal, but the media has yet to stamp their Party as “Culturally Corrupt.”

Last election cycle, we had the theme-busting story of Louisiana Democratic Congressman William Jefferson indicted on 16 counts of bribery after $90,000 turned up in his freezer.  Also breaking the mold was West Virginia Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan, who spent the better part of the decade earmarking himself from rags to riches.

Since then, New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel has been accused of preserving a lucrative tax loophole that benefited an oil-drilling company whose chief executive had pledged $1 million to a school of public service named for him, illegally holding four New York City rent-controlled properties, failing to claim rental income on his place in the Dominican Republic and expensing to us taxpayers a leased Mercedes, amongst other acts of malfeasance.  

And Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Dodd got a sweet deal on his Countrywide home mortgage in exchange for helping oppose Republican attempts at oversight of the collapsing lender.  There have been others.

But all of this somehow fails to rise to the media’s “Culture of Corruption” standard.  

And that’s just the Donkeys in Washington.  There was also New York Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer and his penchant for really expensive prostitutes.  And Detroit Democratic Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, ousted from office after pleading guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.  (For added Culture we have his mother, Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.)   

And if ever there was a distilled-to-its-essence “Culture of Corruption,” Chicago’s Machine is it.  And Blago is the latest and perhaps greatest example of how the Toddling Town does business.    

Here we have the governor of the state from which the next president hails attempting to sell the President-elect’s seat in the Senate.  We have credulity-straining denials of any contact with the Governor from the Administration-to be, followed by evidence surfacing that the two sides had in fact discussed the vacancy.

Additionally, President-elect Obama was — according to his soon-to-be Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — one of the four architects of Blago’s first gubernatorial victory in 2002.  And both Obama and Blago received campaign money and prodigious fundraising assistance from criminal political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

But rather than delving more deeply into these many ties, the media have instead gone out of their way to try to insulate Obama from the rampant Toddling Town hackery.  And have expressed a newly discovered disdain for the guilt by association with which they tarred Republicans in 2006.

CBS asserted that GOP attempts to tie Obama to Blagojevich were “a tough sell,” and that:

“Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich have both been leaders in Illinois Democratic politics for years, but long-time observers say that’s about as far as the connection goes.”

Reuters gave us the dismissive headline and story “Obama seen untouched by Illinois governor charges.”

NBC’s Lee Cowan appeared to be not just indifferent to Chicago’s Corruption Culture, but accepting of it.  And asserted that Blago’s fraudulence was in fact not of his doing, but was inexorably preordained due to his hailing from the Windy City. 

“Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago’s political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history.”

Cowan’s NBC colleague — and newly minted “Meet the Press” moderator — David Gregory was equally understanding of all things politics being dirty.  A “courtesy” he certainly did not extend to the Republicans in 2006. 

“(A)t the heart of all politics is pay to play. Yes. There’s a thin line between expectations and shakedown. But do any of us really believe that the people who raise huge sums of money for a particular political candidate aren’t expecting something for their efforts? Do we really believe that a person who is vested with the power to give away a Senate seat isn’t going to give it to the person who will somehow do him or her the most good?”

While Cowan and Gregory found the Chicago political morass to be inevitably corrupting, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman insisted that Obama had emerged from it unscathed.  And that it was his inexperience that saved him. 

“Among Obama’s many gifts are luck—and a knack for not staying long enough in any one place to be corrupted by the local culture… Obama managed to be allied with, but not really captured by, a host of Chicago and Illinois factions.”

Fineman admits the Obama-Blago Nexis is strong, but ultimately unaffecting of the President-to be. 

“Yes, Obama was an early supporter and adviser in 2002, when Blago first ran for governor and Obama was positioning himself to run for U.S. Senate in 2004. Yes, Obama allies Rahm Emanuel and David Wilhelm (but not David Axelrod) did work on that campaign. But Obama had the sense to keep his distance — and he essentially got out of town before Blago went wild.” 

The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow was just as sure as Fineman of Obama’s spotlessness in his piece entitled “Obama Worked to Distance Self from Blagojevich Early On.”

And PBS’s Jim Lehrer nicely summed it all up for media men and women everywhere, asking of the 76-page indictment of a sitting Governor “What’s the big deal here?”

It was of course a HUGE deal when the media could peddle a Republican Culture of Corruption.  Now that Democrats nationwide are steeped in sleaze, perhaps including the incoming President, the press has collectively lost interest in connecting the corruption dots, and deemed doing so to be in poor taste.  

Now it’s all a “What’s the big deal?” “All politics is pay-to-play” non-story.  A micro-scandal from which Obama is “distance(d)” and by which he is “untouched.”

And thus do the traditional media lay-off another round of viewers and readers in their ongoing self-imposed journalistic recession.