Not Good Enough

by digby

Eugene Robinson is someone who has always been an Obama booster and perhaps he thinks his column today is somehow "helping" him. But it actually is ushering in a new rationale for the media's scandal mongering. Check this out:

In handling questions about the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- for allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder -- Obama has gone strictly by the book. His statements have been cautious and precise, careful not to get ahead of the facts or make declarations that might later have to be retracted.

For most politicians, that would be good enough. For Obama, who inspired the nation with a promise of "change we can believe in," it's not.

Nice. He goes on to spell out all the ways in which it's ridiculous to assume that Obama is involved in this scheme, but, as expected, it still doesn't pass the smell test:

Obama has denied speaking to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. But Obama's initial statement seemed crafted to avoid the question of whether his aides had been in touch with the governor's office. He said at a news conference yesterday that he was certain his people "had no involvement with any dealmaking," and he added that his staff was still "gathering facts" about possible contacts.

But all this seems awfully coy. It's obvious that the president-elect would have an interest in who was appointed to the Senate from his home state -- for good reason. For that matter, it would be unusual if the president-elect didn't have a preferred candidate. The normal thing would be for Obama's staff to talk to Blagojevich's staff -- and, unless prosecutors have asked him not to, I don't understand why Obama hasn't stated this simple fact.

Blagojevich thought, according to the affidavit, that Obama wanted the Senate seat to go to someone identified only as "Senate Candidate 1" -- believed to be Valerie Jarrett, a prominent Chicago businesswoman who is one of Obama's closest supporters. On the evening of Nov. 10, Democratic sources abruptly cut off speculation about Jarrett and the Senate seat by leaking word that she would become a White House adviser.

That happens to be the same day that the FBI overheard Blagojevich, in a two-hour conference call with his wife and advisers in Illinois and Washington, talking in detail about the various candidates and what he wanted in return from appointing any of them. That raises the question of what the Obama team knew about the investigation and when.

Other portions of the affidavit are full of references to Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Chicago wheeler-dealer who was convicted of fraud this year. Rezko was an early supporter of Obama; the relationship has already been thoroughly examined, but I can't imagine that Obama wants to have to talk about it again.

None of this is likely to hurt Obama in any material way or even dim the glow of his victory and upcoming inauguration. But maybe it can be a lesson. Real "change" would be throwing away the playbook and getting all the facts out now, rather than later.

Jesus H. Christ. They always say this and it's never, ever enough. Obama could sit down with David Gregory and spill his guts like he was lying on a therapist's couch and he would be accused of not "getting the facts out." This is because the only "fact" they care about is one that says there was wrongdoing. Anything other than that is being "coy."

These trumped up scandals present a serious Catch 22 for politicians. If they are prudent and follow the law, they will use careful and precise language. If they follow their political instincts and play these situations like the soap opera the media demands, they will deny everything in the most emotional terms. Either way they are screwed.

Part of Robinson's problem, I'm afraid, is that he and many of the beltway wags spend time on MSNBC, where the reporters, if not the hosts, are vying with Fox for the sheer exuberance of their speculation and "analysis."

Yesterday, this was how David Shuster opened his show:

DAVID SHUSTER, HOST: Tonight, damage control. President-elect Barack Obama tries to distance himself from an arguably delusional and allegedly criminal governor of Illinois, who still refuses to leave office. But there are still some things Mr. Obama can't explain as he transitions to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

Forty days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Welcome to the show. I'm David Shuster.

The headline tonight, "Unanswered Questions."

Amidst indications that an adviser or representative of President-elect Obama may have heard Rod Blagojevich allegedly attempting to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat, today Mr. Obama spoke to the press. But the president-elect declined to say who his representative on the phone with Blagojevich may have been and what that person heard or did. Instead, the president-elect declared that nobody close to him would engage in any scheme and that the Senate seat never came up in Obama's own conversations with Blagojevich.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact. I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days.


SHUSTER: If Mr. Obama's staff knew Blagojevich was attempting to sell the Senate seat for cash or a cabinet position and they didn't call in the FBI, that could be embarrassing and damaging to Obama. On the other hand, if it was somebody close to Obama who told investigators, perhaps in the first place or early on, Obama will be insulated from the Blagojevich fallout.

The intrigue now revolves around a key meeting and conference call on November the 10th. According to the criminal complaint, it went on for two hours and included Governor Blagojevich, his wife, his general counsel, an unnamed adviser, the governor's chief of staff and various Washington, D.C. , based advisers that the FBI has not named.

The criminal complaint says Mr. Blagojevich discussed ideas for cashing in on the power to name Obama's Senate successor. The Blagojevich discussion included "what he can get from the president-elect for the Senate seat."

During the meeting, Governor Blagojevich complained about his financial situation. "The immediate challenge is, how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family?"

A few hours later there was a stunning report from CNN. "Two Democratic sources close to President-elect Barack Obama tell CNN that top adviser Valerie Jarrett will not be appointed to replace him in the U.S. Senate."

At the time, reporters, including myself, were convinced that Valerie Jarrett was highly interested in the Senate seat. So the report was a remarkable turnaround, and it was punctuated two days later by Jarrett herself during an interview on PBS.

They speculated about that crap for an hour. So, you can see why a supporter like Robinson would feel he's actually being somewhat understated in his call for Obama to come clean.

This is how the press routinely handles these kinds of scandals, so I'm not all that surprised. But I have to admit, I didn't think his promise of change and reputation for ethics reform would be used against him right out of the box.