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Missing the Perfect Storm

The mainstream media ignores a story tailor-made for them.

12:00 AM, Aug 3, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA is often inconsistent in covering stories. They gave us wall-to-wall coverage when George W. Bush's National Guard service came under scrutiny, but suddenly made themselves scarce when over two hundred Vietnam veterans pointed out hole after hole in John Kerry's service narrative. When Rush Limbaugh ran into legal problems surrounding his addiction to painkillers, we heard breathless updates on subpoenas and court orders, but when Eason Jordan revealed his predilection to slandering the U.S. military, again the press pulled a disappearing act.

Michael LeBoeuf once commented that the elements of the perfect fiction would involve religion, royalty, sex, and mystery--and then boiled it down to one sentence: "My God," said the Queen, "I'm pregnant. I wonder who did it?" Is there a grand-unified theory of media interest and if so, what elements need to come together to make the perfect journalistic storm?

We often hear journalists claim that their mission consists of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. One crucial element must therefore put powerful people under a spotlight. Some journalists say that they fight for the little guy, the downtrodden, which means that the story must include victims. Still others like investigative work, digging through arcane paperwork and doubletalk to reveal misdeeds that otherwise would never come to light, which means that a crime or at least unethical conduct would help draw interest. And finally, big money always attracts a crowd and helps audiences relate to the disgraceful actions unveiled by the reporter.

Thus, the perfect journalistic storm would arise when powerful people victimize the poor and downtrodden, breaking laws or at least ethical constructs, by taking money meant for their benefit. That sort of story will get anyone's attention. All it takes is one reporter to tell the story, and the rest of the media will jump all over it. Right?

ACTUALLY, this perfect-storm story is already percolating in the blogosphere, and oddly enough, hardly anyone in the mainstream media is paying attention to it. Brian Maloney at Radio Equalizer noticed a short blurb in the local-only July 26th edition of the New York Daily News reporting that a well-known corporation had taken money from a Bronx non-profit charity--city government grant money earmarked for poor kids and Alzheimer's patients. The corporation's CEO had also served on the board of directors for Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club and had quarterbacked a "loan" to his struggling company using these earmarked funds. The Daily News also noted that the money added up to almost a half-million dollars, funds that should have provided services to the elderly and the disadvantaged children of the borough.

On July 27, Maloney then contacted other bloggers to publicize this sensational story. The news that a corporation had apparently taken government money intended for poor kids and Alzheimer's patients to fund their operations spread through the blogosphere. Many bloggers featured the story on their sites, some to pass along the alleged malfeasance to their readers, others to defend the corporation--even after the corporation confirmed the essential elements of the story while trying to avoid responsibility by blaming previous ownership.

One would expect that mainstream journalists would want to take advantage of this opportunity to cover this harmonic convergence: A greedy corporation had taken a half-million dollars of city grant money from two certifiably sympathetic and traditional victim groups in order to pay off its already-wealthy employees. Surprisingly, only three mainstream outlets did so: the Washington Times, in an editorial calling attention to the blog reports, a New York Post article doing much the same, and a New York Sun article detailing even more extensive malfeasance on the part of the CEO. After speaking with the president of the charity's executive committee, Jeanette Graves, the Sun's David Lombino discovered that the CEO in question got the loans using rubber-stamp replicas of Ms. Graves's signature on documents never seen by her. A wire transfer of over $400,000 of the charity's funds went to the corporation, also without her knowledge.

In fact, the amount in question now totals $875,000, which the corporation's new ownership discovered on its own but never revealed to authorities. This company has now belatedly agreed to repay the money--but over two years, while the charity remains under funded for its tasks and suffered the loss of other government contracts due to its nonperformance on these earmarked grants. What a story! What a blockbuster!

Yet most of the mainstream media has been oddly silent. Why?

WELL, FOR ONE THING, we have thus far neglected to name the corporation involved. The company that took money from poor kids and Alzheimer's patients to pay off its high-priced employees is Air America and the CEO was its original founder, Evan Cohen. Air America broadcasts its liberal views on American politics in several cities around the country, attempting to compete with the much more robust conservative talk-radio industry and mostly failing.

The mission of the mainstream media to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to tell truth to power, and to hold the reverse Robin Hoods accountable for their malfeasance wouldn't depend on the politics of the criminals.

Would it?

Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.