Tuesday :: Apr 11, 2006

Sauce For The Gooser

by pessimist

Ethics violations seem to go with power, and the House is no stranger to violations. The Democrats even today are smeared with the actions of the likes of Dan Rostenkowski from several years ago even though his ethics never sank near as low as Tom DeLay's [see: Abramoff].

It's more the DeLay variety of ethics violations that concern me, because those affect the entire nation. It becomes a weapon of political expediency to be used against one's enemies, as is clearly the assault upon the character of Rep. John Conyers, the sponsor of a motion to impeach King George:

Former Conyers aides press ethics complaints
By Jonathan E. Kaplan
March 1, 2006

Two former aides to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) have alleged that he repeatedly violated House ethics rules ... the ethics committee has been aware of the allegations against Conyers for at least two years ...

A spokesman in Conyers’s office referred questions to Stanley Brand, an attorney who regularly defends public officials charged with wrongdoing. Brand said, "We’ve responded fully and completely over two years ago to what the ethics committee sent to us, and we’ve not heard anything since then."

The following testimony illustrates that the allegations against Conyers (whether real or imaginary matter not for the purposes of this post) are all too common - Republican as well as Democrat can apparently be charged:

A former staffer who has worked for two House Democrats said, "This type of behavior is so prevalent, the unofficial duties that members require you to do off-the-record. Most staffers are subjected to this unfair treatment. It’s the great untold story on Capitol Hill."

Republicans attempting to smear Democrats isn't reserved to the House, nor to the Senate for that matter. It can extend into the real world as well:

Behind Gossip, There's Often a Relationship
Published: April 10, 2006

"Look, you know," Mr. Stern said in the interview, "everybody does it."

As Bill Cosby's Noah used to say to God, "RRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIGHT!"

But I digress.

Jared Paul Stern has been in New York newspapers for 12 years, most of them working for Richard Johnson, the editor of the Page Six gossip column at The New York Post. While Mr. Johnson has never been accused of anything like trying to shake down a billionaire for $220,000 — as Mr. Stern is now — the journalistic example that he set for his protégé is one in which writers and the people they write about intersect more than just in print. The accusations aimed at Mr. Stern have put Page Six, Mr. Johnson and gossip journalism under scrutiny, turning the spotlight onto a world far removed from what most newspaper reporters and editors are accustomed to.

In recordings made by the billionaire, Ronald W. Burkle, Mr. Stern uses some of Mr. Johnson's relationships as examples of what he called "the right approach, because it's a pretty complicated business." There is nothing illegal — or even particularly rare — about the relationships that Mr. Stern brings up; the muddying of the line between gossip and public relations, subject and comrade, is a longtime tradition in various corners of the industry.

On the recordings, while telling Mr. Burkle how the gossip business works, Mr. Stern referred to Harvey Weinstein's relationship with the column. According to an associate of Mr. Weinstein, a co-founder of Miramax Films, Miramax approached Mr. Johnson to talk about making an American version of Jet Set, a French movie about socialites, though no deal was ever made.

There is a big difference between muddying journalistic lines
and asking for cash in return for favorable coverage
or no coverage at all.
This is where it gets important:
Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate and Democratic fund-raiser whose name was mentioned in Page Six four times in the past year, claims that Mr. Stern offered to influence coverage of him in the column in exchange for $220,000. Mr. Stern's statements on the recordings suggest he believed that forming a relationship with journalists is smart business for a public figure. He echoed this in an interview on Saturday night, saying, "That, to me, indicates that you are maybe going to be a little bit smarter about being a player in the game, and not just a guy who picks up the paper and sees what's written about him."
The Washington Post reported that the meetings were arranged only after Mr. Stern sent an e-mail to one of Mr. Burkle's employees, saying: "I understand Ron is upset about the press he is getting. If he's really concerned, he needs a strategy for dealing with it and regulating it. It's not easy to accomplish, but he certainly has the means to do so."

The [NY] Post calls him "party-boy billionaire Ron Burkle," and publishes gossip about his divorce, his real estate transactions, his appearances at music and film awards shows, and the Hollywood friends who use his private jet. Mr. Burkle had been complaining to Page Six's writers and editors about coverage, saying the items about him were unfair and inaccurate. He even wrote to Rupert Murdoch, owner of New York Post parent News Corp., because "he got so frustrated," said a spokesman for Mr. Burkle.

On Saturday, Mr. Stern said that he was asking Mr. Burkle for an investment in his clothing line, Skull & Bones.

Yesterday [4/9/6], as the story again dominated the front page of the Post's chief rival, The Daily News, Mr. Stern got a new lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, who replaced Edward Hayes. In a statement, Mr. Tacopina said, "Mr. Stern has been the victim of a fallacious smear campaign, and expects to be fully exonerated and reinstated in his position."

And so's your Tom DeLay!

The GOP is clearly running out of ways to keep control of the news, which has been savaging their leader over his excesses and shortcomings. So now they are going after those who can keep the progressive coverage door open, people such as Ron Burkle, who knows something about the media.

He owns a big chunk of it.

His holdings include the dozen newspapers McClatchy Co. is unloading in the wake of its $4.5 billion purchase of Knight Ridder Inc. and Al Gore's cable network.

Either of these alone would get him put on the Nixonite Bu$hco enemies list, but Mr. Burkle is an active political donor, mostly to Democrats. For example, he donated $65,500 to Democrats in 2005. He has donated to select Republicans, such as $21,200 to Arnold Schwarzenneger in 2004.

But wait! That's not the end of the list of Republican sins Burkle has comitted!

He is friendly to organized labor and was one of 11 advisers chosen from among 67 who applied to manage CalPERS' $166 billion portfolio.

Either of these alone would make him the target of a Red State smear campaign.

There's still more!

Due to his wealth, he's been allowed certain legal priveleges that the rest of us mere economic mortals don't enjoy. I'm guessing this is what caught the attention of the Post's scandal hounds.

Nonetheless, it's clear that Bu$hCo is having to dig deeper into their Lee Atwater Memorial Bag of Dirty Political Tricks in order to gain any traction at all, and the Foul Deed of the Month seems to be character assassination.

Can it be much longer before even these evil acts become ineffective and they begin to resort to the more fatal variety?

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UPDATE: deleted incorrect party affiliation information concerning Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Thanks to reader Bill for the correction notice.

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