Monday, December 15, 2008

AP Writer Ignores Details on Illinois Corruption

The AP reporter who wrote "Illinois corruption: deep roots, tough to weed out" (International Herald Tribune, Saturday) didn't find it too difficult to weed out a few important details on this most recent Chicago-style Illinois corruption story. The broad (albeit fuzzy) picture is exactly right:

Corruption and graft have become so entrenched over the decades that they've become part of the political culture, and experts cite a list of reasons why: Weak state campaign finance laws that have allowed influence peddlers to make big contributions. Lawmakers who don't always get close scrutiny. A patronage system that makes employees beholden to political bosses. And a jaded public that seems to accept chicanery as the cost of doing business.

'The rest of the country kind of grew up and got past the corrupt legislators and urban Machines,' said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois-Springfield political science professor. 'The reform-good government movement never got traction in Illinois.'

'In some ways, Illinois kind of reminds you of Third World countries where everyone knows to get things done you have to bribe someone every step of the way,' he added.

The state's history of rogues and crooks ranges from a long-ago secretary of state who died leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars mysteriously stashed in shoeboxes in his hotel closet to a judge who took money to fix murder cases. Former governors, congressmen, aldermen, and state and city workers have all gone to prison."
However, NOT ONCE did the writer mention that the politicians written about are Democrats. For the record, the "urban machine" here is controlled by Democrats, and has been for years. The "political bosses" here are Democrats. Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Emil Jones, John Harris, Lisa Madigan - who was casting an eye toward that senate seat herself, I hear - all Democrats.

And, for the record, I certainly haven't detected any local "shock" when these scandals arise. Except from the players themselves, that is. There is always the parade of stunned-and-saddened sound bytes from nervous politicians, followed by the jostling to be the white knight at the front of the line. (Blagojevich himself was a recent white knight.) We've watched this same kabuki dance over, and over, and over . . .
"It seems to me that corruption in Illinois is incorrigible," said Ron Safer, former head of the criminal division at the U.S. attorney's office and now in private practice. "Why does someone who has achieved the public acclaim and success that results in them attaining public office risk losing everything for money? It is impossible for me to understand."
Impossible? Really? Seems to me the former head of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's Office would be uniquely qualified to understand. Strange, no? (I think our Chicago readers will sniff that one out.) But yes, corruption in Illinois is incorrigible, and I don't think I'm alone in believing that it's tentacles lead to Chicago.

And, as usual, the AP writer provides cover for Chicago Democrat Obama:
There have been reforms in the state, most notably a new ethics law designed to limit the impact of money in politics. It was approved only after Obama, a former state senator, called his one-time mentor, Senate President Emil Jones, and urged its passage.
When a similar reinvention of the facts was offered in the New York Times, Chicago columnist Dennis Byrne said,

The truth is that Obama had to be pushed to do it, as explained in my Chicago Tribune column at the time.

Pressure had been growing in the good government community for Obama to live up to his image as a reformer by picking up the phone to call Sen. President Emil Jones, a Blagojevich ally who had blocked a vote on the ethics legislation. Obama acted only after his stubborn refusal to involve himself threatened to seriously tarnish his good guy image during the campaign."
Bunk is right. That column, "Obama sidesteps reform in Illinois" was published on September 16, 2008 - before Obama called Emil Jones. (And to my knowledge that was the only time Obama addressed corruption here. Ever.) Byrne writes:
State Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is the Chicago machine politician who might have been most instrumental in jump-starting Obama's political career. Now, as Illinois Senate president, Jones is the one sitting on the reform legislation, refusing to call it for an expected favorable vote before it officially dies of neglect.

Jones is the pal of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, no friend of reform, who used his amendatory veto power to change the legislation after it passed both houses so that Jones would get another chance to kill it.

If all that's confusing, welcome to Illinois politics, where intricacy is the best camouflage for chicanery. Suffice to say, neither Blagojevich nor Jones is working for reform.
Byrne was certainly right about that, but even so, it wasn't exactly startling at the time. Camouflaged corruption is the order of the day around here. And now that Illinois corruption can no longer be utterly ignored on the national stage, writers like this one from the AP are providing some camouflage, too.

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