Part of a Series
It’s no secret that political parties and interest groups mail out “talking points” every morning to their loyalists. These can be useful for gauging the range of debate and predicting potential strategies, but it’s awfully depressing, however, when one sees those talking points adopted by the most influential newspapers and broadcasts in the land.
The New York Times on Wednesday came a little too close for comfort in this arena in a story about Republicans’ attempts to distance themselves from recently resigned California Rep. Randy Cunningham, who pleaded guilty this week to taking bribes and evading taxes. Cunningham, a true man of the people, is accused of accepting such red-state gifts as an 1850-era $7,200 Louis-Philippe commode, and according to The Washington Post, "three antique nightstands; a leaded-glass cabinet; a washstand; a buffet; and four armoires. After paying $13,500 toward a Rolls-Royce in April 2002, one of Cunningham’s benefactors tossed in $17,889.96 toward the car’s repairs less than a month later."
But in the Times’ account, reporters John M. Broder and Carl Hulse appear to want to add some "balance" to this story of graft. In order to do this, they channel (and paraphrase) the spirit of "some Republican officials" as saying that "Democrats in Congress were equally guilty of questionable behavior, including lobbyist-paid trips and underreporting of campaign contributions, they acknowledged that Republicans, because they control the White House and Congress, are being held to a higher standard by many voters."
It would be naive to think that one political party has a monopoly on bad actors, but it’s obvious that this contention is little more than simple obfuscation, in several respects. First of all, simply telling the readers “some Republican officials” said something doesn’t really mean anything. Who is this “some”? Karl Rove? Bill Frist? The co-chair of the Lackawanna County, Pa., Republican booster club? Can this really be an example of a reporter giving a source anonymity because this crucial information would be lost to humanity if it were not offered? Or is it political manipulation, pure and simple?
Aside from the lack of attribution, or even the number of "officials" who have said this, the Times repeats the claim that Democrats in Congress are "equally as guilty" as Republicans of "questionable behavior." But as Broder and Hulse well know, even if this were so, the number of investigations and indictments handed down against Republicans recently far outweighs those against Democrats. How do we know this? Well, the rest of the piece pretty much tells us so, while never acknowledging the obvious: "some Republicans" were laying it on pretty thick, and managed to get their quote into The New York Times.
But the reality is this: Republicans, up and down the party’s ranks, are in some pretty serious trouble, with nary a Democrat to be seen among their dubious ranks. Lest this sound like partisanship, let’s go to the videotape, shall we? First off, there’s the Republican Majority Leader, Bill Frist, who is being investigated for the fortuitous sale of stock in his family’s company just before the price fell. Next in line is the justly infamous ex-House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to step down in September after being indicted in Texas for allegedly participating in a series of money-related shenanigans that are illegal even by the incredibly lax standards of American campaign finance law.
In addition to Cunningham, moreover, three other California House Republicans are currently being looked at "for possible violations of House ethics rules." In the context of “everybody does it,” it might have been appropriate for the Times to have found the space to mention Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who, along with his former chief of staff have been told by prosecutors that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them in the ongoing Abramoff/Scanlon lobbying investigation. There are several other investigations of Republicans ongoing in both the House and Senate – and in state governorships – but I digress.
But don’t take my word for it. Of the 11 politicians Washington Post‘s blogger Chris Cillizza pointed out are under investigation, three are Democrats, and one of them, former Rep. Frank Ballance, isn’t even in elected office any more, after resigning in the summer of 2004 (which makes one wonder why the hell he is even on this list – the case was settled a year and a half ago). Blogger Josh Marshall didn’t see much merit in Cillizza’s inclusion of Ballance, either, noting that the crimes Ballance committed – channeling money from a non-profit to his personal bank account from 1994 to 2003 – didn’t even happen while he was in Congress. He points out that "Ballance entered Congress in 2003.” So what this sounds like is that over the decade before he entered Congress, Ballance diverted a hundred grand from his non-profit to various parties tied to him or family. So Ballance gets on the list for something he resigned for in 2004 and did before he even got to Congress. “Pretty hard to distinguish those facts from DeLay, Doolittle, Jefferson, Ney and Cunningham – each of whom is either under indictment or the target of an on-going criminal investigation, isn’t it."
I know, I know. Imagine how bad it would be if the MSM were not dominated by a liberal conspiracy. But you know guys, to quote the great Steven Colbert, sometimes the facts are just liberally biased…
Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His most recent, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, was just published in paperback by Penguin.