The Scrapbook continues to scratch its head over the barrels of ink spilled over the Chris Christie bridge scandal. It’s well worth reporting, but none of the Christie revelations to date justify the flood-the-zone coverage. So you’ll forgive us for suspecting that Christie’s political affiliation just might have something to do with the intense media interest. Compare and contrast with this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, which, unless you live there, you probably haven’t heard about:
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office ran an undercover sting operation over three years that captured leading Philadelphia Democrats, including four members of the city’s state House delegation, on tape accepting money, The Inquirer has learned. Yet no one was charged with a crime. Prosecutors began the sting in 2010 when Republican Tom Corbett was attorney general. After Democrat Kathleen G. Kane took office in 2013, she shut it down.
The investigation apparently entailed 400 hours of audio and video-tape, with most of the politicians involved accepting bribes in exchange for votes and contracts. According to the Inquirer, as state representative Vanessa Brown put an envelope with $2,000 cash in her purse she said, “Yo, good looking and Ooowee. . . . Thank you twice.” Further, “sources with knowledge of the sting said the investigation made financial pitches to both Republicans and Democrats, but only Democrats accepted the payments.”
And yet, the AG dropped the fraud charges secretly last fall despite the investigation’s potential to capture more corrupt leaders. Kane claims the investigation was “tainted by racism.” In a statement given to the Inquirer, Kane’s office quoted the lead agent in the case as saying he had been told to target members of the Legislative Black Caucus. But that doesn’t appear to square with the Inquirer’s reporting: “People close to Thomas said no one ever gave him such an order and he never said such a thing to Kane’s staff. Had anyone made such a suggestion, Thomas would have rejected it, they said.”
Of course, Philadelphia has such a long track record of corruption—the Abscam scandal of the 1970s ensnared two Philly congressmen and three city council members—one might get the impression that state Democrats aren’t much interested in rooting out corruption.
The best construction we can put on this is that the media blow GOP malfeasance out of proportion because, while not unheard of, it is comparatively rare. Pervasive Democratic corruption that goes to the top levels of state government is passé. In 2010, the White House even endorsed a well-known mob banker in the Illinois Senate race. The national media shrugged and effectively said, “That’s Chicago politics, what do you expect?” Even The Scrapbook’s cynicism has limits. Americans still expect to be represented by politicians who aren’t bought, and it’s time the media treated corruption as a big deal whenever and wherever they encounter it. ♦
Darrell Issa asked Lois Lerner a serier of devastating questions about her involvment in the IRS's targeting of conservatives.
[Slide 1] In October 2010, you told a Duke University group: “The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year-old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem.”
The Scrapbook’s attention was drawn last week to a front-page story in the New York Times about a small organization, based in Los Angeles, that is applying for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Called the Friends of Abe, it is a loose association of about 1,500 “players in the entertainment industry” who gather periodically to dine together and listen to invited speakers.
Last Friday, I critiqued a piece by Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan for inaccurately summarizing the media coverage of the IRS scandal. I encourage you to read both pieces, but in a nutshell Nyhan was arguing that the media had failed to report on new developments since the scandal broke that would reshape our understanding of the scandal as being less driven by partisanship.
Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, political scientist Brendan Nyhan has a piece dismissing the IRS scandal out-of-hand and gently scolding the media for for acting irresponsibly in their coverage. You get the thrust in the first two paragraphs:
At this point, the evidence on the Internal Revenue Service scandal is clear. Contrary to the initial hype, there is no credible evidence of White House involvement in targeting conservative groups or even evidence that Tea Party or other conservative groups were targeted exclusively. It turns out that the keyword lists used by the IRS to target groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny also included terms like “Occupy” and “Progressive” as well as “occupied territories” and “open source software.”
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew refused to say on national TV this morning whether the politically appointed counsel of the IRS, William Wilkins, has been asked about his participation in the federal agency's scandal:
"Chris, I am leaving the investigation to the proper people who do investigations," said Lew. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to do the investigation."
It’s going to be a long summer in Washington. With so many scandals, news organizations that have spent years sweeping startling allegations about the Obama administration under the rug now find themselves overwhelmed. Woe betide the average citizen who just wants to know what the heck his government is up to.