Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Fallout

With the elections over and interest in news faltering, the media has suddenly gotten lucky and like sharks converging on blood, they have found a new killing field that will keep them chomping on raw meat for months if not years.

I refer to the appalling shocker of Illinois Governor Blagojevich offering, among other abominations, to sell the Senate seat made vacant by President Elect Obama. It is manna from heaven for the beleaguered journalists and their vast army of wannabes who seek the fame and fortune of Woodward and Bernstein.

No amount of media bias of whatever flavor is going to keep this story under wraps. Journalist ambition always trumps ideology. Think of all those ambitious journalists suffering from job anxiety and election withdrawal in a declining industry, who are suddenly confronted with an opportunity to make their bones and secure lucrative publishing contracts and movie deals to tide them over the present bloodbath in the news business.

The aftermath of this once in a decade story has all the temptations and insinuations of a potential Watergate, Lewinsky or OJ tsunami. I pray I am wrong, but my gut instinct is that there is no way to contain it. Even if it rises to the level of Whitewater which nearly crushed the early days of the Clinton administration, it will register high on the journalism Richter scale.

While every effort will be made to keep the new President from the quicksand and stench of the Chicago politics that nurtured him and, indeed, everyone involved has gone out of their way to keep him free from the predicted fallout, proximity alone will seduce every investigative journalist assigned to the story to look for a connection. We hope none is ever found, but the very fact of the probing could open wounds where none existed before. Yes, life is unfair. But politics in America, especially at this point in time, is a cruel and ruthless blood sport.

Just look at the initial cast of characters. A neanderthal Governor from a state and city where political corruption is a way of life and the main exit strategy of that office is to keep from exchanging the State House for the Big House. Names like Rostenkowski and Rezko, familiar with the interior furnishing of a jail cell, have already surfaced. Perhaps people of long memory will invoke the name of another Chicago celebrity, Al Capone.

Chicago is home base of the President elect, his new Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the mastermind of his political fortunes David Axelrod and others in their circle, including Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. President Obama’s campaign co-chairman and others yet to be revealed.

The sad fact is that all of these people have political and social ties to the actors in this tragic drama, and, however much they attempt to dig a moat between themselves and the governor, the ambitious media battalions will throw anyone under the bus if it inhibits their search for the story that could assure one’s future fame and fortune. As if that were not enough, slings and arrows to point in the direction of our new President, think of all those on the rightist side of the media continuum sharpening their knives and probing for the soft underbelly of the new folks about to operate the levers of national power.

It is, indeed, sad that the promise of this new administration and this young man, who offers so much hope for change and decency in government, has to be distracted by such a sordid story. He doesn’t deserve it. Worse, the once admiring media, in my opinion, will show him no mercy. The mere fact of his association by geography and occupation will draw him into the bonfire. Our hope, of course, is that the smart people who surround him will shield him from the heat, a tough chore in today’s laissez-faire information roundelay.

Perhaps I am overreacting to my own personal experience and memories. I lived in Washington during the Watergate fiasco. Every day a front-page story bylined by two young reporters appeared in the Washington Post, revealing some new aspect of the situation. It started out as a minor irritant to the people in power, at first speculative and only vaguely accusatory. It was doled out by the Post editors like a suspense thriller, which it was. The exposure was a weapon in itself. More people stepped forward with more information. Other news organizations joined in the fray. The law of unintended consequences kicked in. An ex-boxer judge got suspicious and the elaborate protective hull of the ship of state sprung leaks.

Richard Nixon, who knew he was being recorded since he was instrumental in setting up the system himself, was a willing participant in his own political assassination. He began to panic, confessing to his tape recorder. His people panicked. Some jumped ship. Like Blagojevich who suspected also that he was being recorded, he was not constrained from engaging in his own political self-annihilation.

Such stories are mother’s milk to journalists who are a driven lot. They will spare no energy or expense to crawl into every dark corner to satisfy the insatiable public maw for this sinister type of public entertainment. The fact that there is a connection, however dubious and unfair, to the highest political officer in America, whets the appetite of the media fame seekers who seek to expand such stories into Shakespearean epics.

These scandals have a tendency to become an industry. Watergate spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in publishing and movie deals and made Woodward and Bernstein and others rich men. Having observed the Watergate story first hand from its inception, having known most of the actors including the principals of that great political drama, some intimately, some peripherally, and having written my own fictionalized spin off of the event, “The Henderson Equation”, I can say without reservations that this story, unless contained at its root, a Herculean task, has an ugly potential to distract the new administration at a time when all their energy and concentration must be focused on righting our faltering ship of State.

It is highly doubtful that Blagojevich will go quietly into the night. It seems obvious that he will be just as reckless in his defense as he has been in perpetrating his own criminal intent. He will not be above attempting to involve Obama and many of his Chicago people. He will make wild allegations and they are bound to spill their poison over the new administration.

It will take great skill and candor on the part of our new President to protect himself from the fallout. I’m sure most Americans, as I am, are rooting for him and hoping that this ugly incident will leave him unscathed. I know, too, that such thoughts offered at this sensitive time in our national history will be considered feckless and inflammatory by many. Perhaps I am exercising too much blogger’s license, but I am certain that as this story unfolds this aspect of the drama will be injected copiously into our national conversation.

Obama and his Chicago friends can expect no mercy. Journalists are bloodhounds. Right, left or center, they will follow the story where it goes or where they want it to go, taking no prisoners as they burrow in to get out what they believe is the so called truth or their version of it. Expect every scandal mongering detail to emerge. Where there are allegations of corruption, sex is sure to follow. The media will spare no expense of their dwindling purse to search for ears and eyeballs.

Unfortunately in the rush for exposure and revelation, everybody will try to get into the act. Hearsay and lies will appear within quotes. Everybody and their brother who had even the most trivial and dubious tie to this story will seek his or her fifteen minutes of fame. Some people will believe them. Conspiracies will be hatched. Reputations made and lost.

Perhaps there might even be a silver lining to all this. Obama could seize the opportunity to mount a massive, gargantuan, monumental campaign against all political corruption, not merely as an empty gesture but with the kind of sharp teeth commitment to an ethical standard and punishment that can truly eliminate the power of money from the political equation. Fat chance you think? Here again the laws of unintended consequences might work in the new President’s favor.

But then, given the present national climate, it is very difficult to be optimistic. At best the fallout from this mess will be, for lack of a better word, challenging.


Anonymous said...
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Kim Smith said...

True true. Once again there will be little else worthy to report as the economy and its woes is no new news, the weather has always been changeable, and the election is over. hope you are well, warren.