It may have been wishful thinking, but I assumed last week’s 16-count conviction of Barack Obama’s friend, fundraiser, and real-estate enabler Tony Rezko would finally force the mainstream media to thoroughly scrutinize their relationship. Alas, it appears the story barely survived a single news cycle.
Most media outlets perfunctorily reported the outcome of the trial, but only included passing — and woefully incomplete — references to Obama’s relationship with Rezko. When asked about the guilty verdict, Obama expressed sadness and shock that another longtime associate had gotten mixed up in some nasty business. Reciting his standard excuse line, Obama said the freshly-minted felon was not “the Tony Rezko I knew,” and pronounced the issue dead. The press dutifully saluted, offering up headlines such as “Corruption Probes Won’t Be An Issue, Obama Says” and “Obama: Rezko Friendship Not A Campaign Issue.” Case closed.
The news media is typically attracted to any hint of scandal like moths to a porch light, but here Obama’s unique glow acted as a repellant. Many frustrated conservatives have pointed out how it’s inconceivable that a Republican would receive such accommodating treatment. Try to imagine the press greeting multiple corruption convictions of an influential GOP fundraiser with a yawn. What if the disgraced party had been friends with a Republican presidential nominee for almost two decades? Toss in a questionable land deal, and all the ingredients for a full-fledged media firestorm are in play. Rezko would be a household name (think Abramoff). Reporters would breathlessly — and rightly — demand to know: “What did the candidate know about his financier’s malfeasances, and when did he know it?” Yet nobody’s holding their breath for a hard-hitting press Obama conference on the Rezko matter. Even if it occurred, Obama might just walk away after “like, eight questions.”
Even more galling is the media’s capitulation to a political candidate’s definition of what constitutes news. Much of the Rezko/Obama coverage was devoted to transcribing Obama’s assertion that it was a non-story. Even first-year journalism students know that politicians should never be the gatekeepers of what’s newsworthy, yet Obama seems to have pulled off that feat quite effectively in this case. Of course his task was made easier by the complexity of both his relationship to Rezko and the land deal itself. Also missing was the sort of blockbuster video or audio that left the mainstream press no choice but to pick up the Jeremiah Wright story. You can’t ignore a ranting reverend the way you can shrug off a story that requires more than one paragraph or soundbyte to explain. Whether through ideological self-censorship or pure laziness, the vast majority of the mainstream media has dropped the ball on this story.
In light of this dereliction of duty, voters interested in the facts are forced to actively seek them out. Stephen Spruiell’s excellent piece is a good place to start.