Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 2, 2010

A TALE OF TWO SCANDALS, CONT'D.... We've talked a bit lately about a curious set of circumstances: Rep. Charlie Rangel's (D-N.Y.) ethics controversy is generating considerable attention, while Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) criminal investigation is largely ignored, despite a series of recent developments. Chris Hayes and I had a chance to chat about it on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Friday night.

I'm delighted to see the question get asked in other forums. On "This Week" yesterday, Paul Krugman raised the issue, and said he doesn't understand the disparity, either. "There are actually two major investigations of members of Congress underway right now," Krugman noted. "There's Charlie Rangel, who's accused of some fairly petty, although stupid and wrong, ethical violations, and there's Sen. John Ensign, who's facing a criminal investigation and which actually -- it's even a story that involves sex. And you get no publicity whatsoever on the Ensign investigation."

Host Christiane Amanpour asked George Will if this is fair. He replied:

"Well, Rangel is much more important, because he's chairman of an important committee. And in fact, Rangel's misfortune is a national misfortune, because we desperately need -- and after the deficit commission reports in December, we might have had -- serious tax reform in this country. That requires a cooperative member leading that committee in the House."

As Jon Chait reminds us, that's wrong. Rangel isn't the chairman of an important committee; he was the chairman of an important committee. In March, Rangel gave up his Ways & Means gavel, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is in the big chair now. Ethics charges against the guy who used to be a key committee chairman isn't nearly as interesting.

Indeed, Will's argument isn't just factually mistaken, it's based on a false assumption. Rangel could help move a tax reform proposal, but Levin can't? If anything, that's probably backwards, since Rangel, even if he'd kept his gavel, saw his reputation tarnished by the probe.

OK, so Will's wrong. But why is Rangel's ethics problem getting vast amounts of attention, while Ensign's criminal problem is getting ignored? I suggested the IOKIYAR rule might play a role here, and Chris made the case that it'd be a bigger story if Democrats pushed it more. Both seem plausible.

Some commenters have suggested a regional dynamic -- major news outlets are in New York, not Las Vegas -- while race may also be a factor.

Whatever the reasoning, if the heretofore ignored grand jury in the Ensign sex-ethics-corruption scandal starts issuing indictments, it's a whole new ballgame.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Comments

I suspect what's driving the Rangel story is simply the amount of attention it got in right-wing media. There's a lot of megaphones on that side, capable of creating critical mass on some issues. Of course, there is a real story here, so the subtle oomphing is scarcely noticed. Rather, it's noticed in its absence, as the struggling Ensign story shows.

Posted by: walt on August 2, 2010 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

For the clarification of understanding of the role of The Liberal Media is deciding what stories are worthy of our journalism:

1) We, of the Liberal Media, are determined to be fair and balanced in how we handle political scandals.

2) To be fair, we must provide daily, detailed coverage of any purported scandal involving a democrat.

3) To be balanced, we must never provide coverage of any purported scandal involving a republican unless there has been a conviction in a court of law.

4) We, of the Liberal Media, understand that we were obsessive in the coverage of the purported scandals of the Clinton administration.

5) We, of the Liberal Media, in a justifiable reaction to our acknowledgement that we were obsessive during the Clinton administration, were very cautious about providing coverage of any of the purported scandals of the George Bush administration.

6) We, of the Liberal Media, realize that we undercovered purported scandals of the Bush administration and to balance that we have been very diligent in providing detailed coverage of any purported scandals of the Obama administration and democrats.

7) Besides that, who the fuck do you think pays our salaries? Corporations do, of course, and we provide the propaganda to the Amerikan publik that our corporate masters desire!

Posted by: TheLiberalMedia on August 2, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

This complaint about the coverage of Democratic versus Republican misdeeds reminds me of a common complaint about the coverage of human rights violations by western-style democracies (the US and Israel, in particular). When the US or Israel do something that violates some groups civil rights, or ends up killing innocent civilians, they get blasted in the world's media, and they get denounced in the UN, and they become the subjects of protest marches, etc. However, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, various African countries all do much WORSE things, and nobody (much) makes a big deal about it. Why this discrepancy?

Partly, I think it's because of differences of expectations. The US and Israel are EXPECTED to have higher standards than the other countries, and so when they fall short, it's considered a bigger deal.

Maybe that's what's going on with IOKIYAR: People don't really expect Republicans to behave ethically, and so aren't particularly upset when they don't.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on August 2, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, that's some serious false equivalency aerobics on the part of George Will.

"Ensign was elected Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). As chairman of the NRSC, Ensign was charged with assembling a staff to win back the U.S. Senate for Republicans in the 2008 elections."

Somebody alert George Will about the existence of Wikipedia.

Posted by: The Guilty Carnivore on August 2, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK
if the heretofore ignored grand jury in the Ensign sex-ethics-corruption scandal starts issuing indictments, it's a whole new ballgame.

Newp. It's still IOKIYAR, even with indictments. Convictions -might- get some play. Maybe.

Posted by: firefall on August 2, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK
Whatever the reasoning, if the heretofore ignored grand jury in the Ensign sex-ethics-corruption scandal starts issuing indictments, it's a whole new ballgame.

Oh, yea !!

Murdoch's foX News & Glenn Beck will be all over this one.,,, I can't hardly wait,,,

Posted by: cwolf on August 2, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Host Christiane Amanpour asked George Will if this is fair.

It's like Matt Lauer asking what Tiger Woods has to do to "make this story go away." It's not up to Tiger Woods or Rangel. It's up to the media. Pretending that they don't decide what is news is the real joke.

Posted by: Danp on August 2, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't you update the Ensign scandal everyday on your blog and try to get every other blogger to do the same. Maybe get a PAC to find a few interns with video cameras to hound Ensign and other members who have been subpoenaed in this case and do some ambush journalism.

You have to fight fire with fire.

Posted by: Try This on August 2, 2010 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK
Some commenters have suggested a regional dynamic -- major news outlets are in New York, not Las Vegas...

LOL, I guess that's why "some" never heard about
Tupac's murder on the streets of Las Vegas, NV.

Posted by: cwolf on August 2, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

The media is complicit in the Republicans' plan, which is to pretend the Ensign scandal doesn't exist until after the election in November. My guess it that once the other NV Senate seat is decided, Ensign will resign. Doesn't NV have a Republican governor until Jan.?

Posted by: John Dillinger on August 2, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure the fact that Rangel is a n#####r, and a prominent one, has noting whatsoever to do with it.

Posted by: mister moonlight on August 2, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I think it is a variety of factors. Sure, there's definitely some IOKIYAR here. But, even as wrong as Will is on everything, Rangel certainly is a more well-known and long-serviing pol that Ensign. That him being not the chairman harms tax reform, however, is idiotic. And, in spite of what the good Dr. Krugman says, Rangel's charges range from stupid to possibly criminal. I'm actually willing to overlook the money pitch on stationary, since it wasn't directly for his campaign, and have always been sympathetic to errors on disclosure forms. But not reporting income to the IRS and occupying many rent-controlled apartments is possibly criminal, even for us common folk.

All that said, the lack of coverage of a SEX SEX SEX scandal while covering a TAX TAX TAX scandal is very curious. I do have this sense that race is a big part of it, but I also think in a body of 435 people, only a few stand out. Jefferson and Ney were not well known and only one got a lot of coverage. Traficant and Cunningham were relatively well known and the coverage was bigger.

Posted by: do on August 2, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I would think that any senator being investigated by the FBI for any reason would be a BIG story.

Posted by: Marko on August 2, 2010 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK


I am of the opinion that Ensign's behavior appears to be indefensible. Fine. Does anyone care to make the case that Rangel is not guilty of several terrible breaches of the public trust? Are there many here that would like to say that Rangel is NOT corrupt?

With all due respect to Professor Krugman, I think trying to minimize Rangel's behavior as 'petty' smacks of partisan apologetics. Continually raising arguments couched in tu quoque shows a lack of commitment to Ethics or perhaps an outsized concern for political outcomes rather than... well, Ethics.

Posted by: shroup on August 2, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's because the Fox News axis likes the meta-story that black government officials are particularly corrupt. That's what holds together the Holder/Black Panthers story, the Sherrod story, and the Rangel story. And they want to smear Obama by association.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on August 2, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Marko, outside of NY, DC and NV, who do you think is more well-known, Rangel or Ensign? I'm betting its Rangel. I'm not saying Ensign's sins aren't newsworthy, just that if you walked up to an average joe in say, Atlanta, and said "Rep Rangel has a secret Dominican villa and 5 rent-controlled aprartments" and "Senator Ensign boned his aide's wife and then bribed them to keep it quiet.", you would be more likely to get a "Who?" as the response on the second one.

Posted by: do on August 2, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you're right do. But I'm betting if the roles were reversed and it was a little-known black senator (D) that committed the same sins as Ensign, there would be a non-stop media blitz until he resigned. It's disgusting.

Posted by: Marko on August 2, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Ensign wasn't that obscure--he was gearing up to run for the presidency this time around, for crying out loud!

Posted by: rea on August 2, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, that's some serious false equivalency aerobics on the part of George Will.

Wow, color me surprised.

Posted by: Gregory on August 2, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Other Democrats have spoken out about Rangel's ethics violations, even to the point of President Obama stopping just short of suggesting that Rangel resign his congressional seat. "Democrats in disarray" is a well-worn meme that just never gets tiresome to the press.

In the case of John Ensign, though, no Republicans are speaking out about him. Ergo, there's no story to report.

Posted by: DrGail on August 2, 2010 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Las Vegas. We hear next to nothing on the Ensign scandal. It just doesn't seem to matter what Republicans do regardless of the state you're in... as long as they're rich, white assholes, they get a pass. It's that simple.

Posted by: JTK on August 2, 2010 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Believe you are overlooking the "Newness" factor. How long ago did the Ensign scandal break - it's been months.

Rangel is a NEW news item.
Maxine is a NEW news item.

Agree with the commenter that the left wing bloggers should be flogging this story to give it more visibility, but until something new happens - say the trial starts - i don't expect a huge shift.

Posted by: tarylcabot on August 2, 2010 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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