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NBC's Lee Cowan: Blagojevich 'Fell Victim to History' --12/12/2008


1. NBC's Lee Cowan: Blagojevich 'Fell Victim to History'
Certainly delivering a unique take on the Blagojevich case, in a Thursday night story on why Illinois politics are so corrupt, NBC reporter Lee Cowan characterized the Governor of Illinois as a politician who "fell victim" to Chicago's political machine. Apparently, corruption was just irresistible. Cowan contended: "The Windy City is a political stew of characters, a cast of players that even Hollywood would envy. Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago's political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history."

2. CNN's Yellin Hails: Obama's 'Set Down a Marker for Transparency'
CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin reversed course concerning her take on President-elect Barack Obama's "transparency" on the issue of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the appointment of his successor in the U.S. Senate. During a segment on Wednesday's Situation Room, Yellin criticized the outgoing Illinois Senator for "not starting off on the foot he promised he'd start off on, which is more transparency and more candor than we've seen before." Just under 17 hour later, minutes after Obama stated that he was "absolutely certain" that no one in his camp was involved in the Governor's alleged scheme to sell his senate seat, the CNN correspondent praised the President-elect: "I should also highlight...that he's also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government...and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician."

3. Terrorist Ayers Has His Say on Same NYT Page McCain Was Refused
McCain's op-ed unworthy, but domestic terrorist Bill Ayers' op-ed is: "The Real Bill Ayers" falsely claimed the Weather Underground never attacked people. During the 2008 campaign, John McCain's pro-Iraq War op-ed was judged by the New York Times editorial page as unworthy of publication (even though Barack Obama had penned a pro-withdrawal one for the paper just a week before). But last weekend, one well-known personality from the campaign broke his silence and claimed that precious piece of journalistic real estate: 1960s domestic terrorist and Obama friend Bill Ayers wrote an op-ed for Saturday's edition, "The Real Bill Ayers," setting out his side of the story.


NBC's Lee Cowan: Blagojevich 'Fell Victim
to History'

Certainly delivering a unique take on the Blagojevich case, in a Thursday night story on why Illinois politics are so corrupt, NBC reporter Lee Cowan characterized the Governor of Illinois as a politician who "fell victim" to Chicago's political machine. Apparently, corruption was just irresistible. Cowan contended: "The Windy City is a political stew of characters, a cast of players that even Hollywood would envy. Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago's political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history."

Presumably, Cowan didn't intend to assign his own characterization -- "victim" -- to prosecutors, and just meant that prosecutors allege Blagojevich has taken the same path as too many of his predecessors. Cowan followed with a soundbite from a local reporter, who explained: "If there isn't a deal behind the scenes, it almost makes life not worthwhile."

After recounting how Blagojevich's father-in-law is estranged from him and now rarely talks to his own daughter, Cowan turned to a former Chicago alderman who "says corruption is almost a natural evolution here." Dick Simpson quipped: "Every other city just about in the United States has gotten rid of their political machines. We've only updated and modernized ours."

Cowan gave the last word to Barack Obama, noting "the city's most-prominent politician was trying to get across today" that people should "not to paint the city of broad shoulders too broadly." Viewers then saw a clip of Obama: "You can get elected by playing it straight. You can get elected by doing the right thing."

[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

The story on the Thursday, December 11 NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: One of the questions at that press conference today spoke for a lot of us lately: What is it about Illinois politics? After all, four of the last eight Illinois Governors have been charged with a crime in this place that calls itself, for good reason, the Land of Lincoln NBC's Lee Cowan reports from Chicago on this long-running drama.

LEE COWAN: The Windy City is a political stew of characters, a cast of players that even Hollywood would envy. Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago's political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history.
CAROL MARIN, WMAQ POLITICAL EDITOR: If there isn't a deal behind the scenes, it almost makes life not worthwhile.
COWAN: And those deals can turn a political family dysfunctional, fast.
LT. GOVERNOT PAT QUINN: I haven't spoken to the Governor, really, since the summer of 2007.
COWAN: There 's a lot of people giving the Governor the silence treatment. Take Blagojevich's father-in-law, Richard Mell. He's a longtime aldermen, hardly short on city hall theatrics himself.
[video of Mell standing on table and yelling}
COWAN: But, like the Hatfields and McCoys, he and Blagojevich have been feuding for years. In fact, he's so at odds with Blagojevich he now rarely speaks to his own daughter, Patty, Illinois's First Lady.
RICHARD MELL: It's been very difficult. I mean, it's your daughter.
COWAN: One former alderman, who nearly came to fisticuffs fighting the Chicago machine back in the '70s, says corruption is almost a natural evolution here.
DICK SIMPSON, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO: Every other city just about in the United States has gotten rid of their political machines. We've only updated and modernized ours.
COWAN: But with villains, there are often heroes. Some are now comparing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to Elliot Ness, the federal investigator who brought Al Capone down. If there's one message, though, that the city's most-prominent politician was trying to get across today, it's not to paint the city of broad shoulders too broadly.
BARACK OBAMA, AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE: You can get elected by playing it straight. You can get elected by doing the right thing.
COWAN: Chicago, a theater sometimes in the politically absurd, but one that's hardly ever bored. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Chicago.

MSNBC.com video of the story: www.msnbc.msn.com

CNN's Yellin Hails: Obama's 'Set Down
a Marker for Transparency'

CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin reversed course concerning her take on President-elect Barack Obama's "transparency" on the issue of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the appointment of his successor in the U.S. Senate. During a segment on Wednesday's Situation Room, Yellin criticized the outgoing Illinois Senator for "not starting off on the foot he promised he'd start off on, which is more transparency and more candor than we've seen before." Just under 17 hour later, minutes after Obama stated that he was "absolutely certain" that no one in his camp was involved in the Governor's alleged scheme to sell his senate seat, the CNN correspondent praised the President-elect: "I should also highlight...that he's also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government...and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician."

[This item, by the MRC's Matthew Balan, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

Host Wolf Blitzer, during a segment 38 minutes into the 6 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday's "Situation Room," noted how Obama "took a day...to formally call on the governor to resign," and then asked Yellin, "What are they saying -- the Obama team -- about...what some are calling a delay?" The CNN correspondent began by repeating the Obama camp's spin on this so-called delay: "Well, they think that they were clear about this yesterday and that we didn't press hard enough."

Yellin continued by giving her analysis of the situation, labeling it a "problem:"

YELLIN: I think this is a bit of a problem, Wolf, for Barack Obama. This guy promised to run the most transparent administration in history, to be a new kind of candid president. And what we've heard from him so far is the same line we've heard out of the past two administrations whenever they got even close to a scandal, which is I'm not going to talk about an ongoing investigation. So even though there's no allegation of wrongdoing, he is not starting off on the foot he promised he'd start off on, which is more transparency and more candor than we've seen before.

The following morning, the 11 am Eastern hour of the Newsroom program on CNN aired the president-elect's press conference, in which he formally announced his pick for the Health & Human Services Secretary and answered questions about the Blagojevich scandal. After it concluded, host Tony Harris asked Yellin, who had attended the press conference, for her reaction to Obama's statements on the matter: "...[T]he president-elect certainly has set down a marker, it appears to me, on the Blagojevich scandal by saying that he never had a conversation with the governor about who should be considered for his Senate seat."

The CNN correspondent agreed with Harris's take: "That's right. He said, not only did he never have a conversation, but he went further than what he said previously, in making it clear that while he's leaving open the possibility, and clearly suggests that someone in his circle did have contact with Blagojevich, that no one did anything wrong."

Yellin then praised Obama's apparent candor, and repeated Harris' "marker" term:

YELLIN: What he's said today -- and I should also highlight, Tony, that he's also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government...and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician. So, what we've learned from him just now, as I made notes of my highlights, that not only did he never make contact with Blagojevich and no one did anything wrong, that he is gathering information. He will reveal that with us, and that he did leave open the possibility that the federal authorities were in touch with someone in his organization, or someone close to him. What he wouldn't say is if he knows right now who was in touch with Blagojevich. Clearly, the indication is someone was -- he just wouldn't say, quite yet, if he knows who that person or persons are.

Harris followed-up by expressing concern about Obama's decision to prolong his response to the inquiries regarding the Blagojevich scandal. Yellin agreed with this sentiment.

HARRIS: But clearly, the other side of this is the longer it takes for him to come back to us with the information on who may have had contacts with the governor's office, the longer this remains a story that we're talking about and we're not giving the kind of attention, I'm sure he would like, to these appointments.
YELLIN: Absolutely. I mean, look, he started off talking about the jobs numbers. Certainly, he would have preferred for us to talk on the day of this auto bailout drama --
HARRIS: That's right.
YELLIN: ...going on on Capitol Hill, in light of the urgency, in his view, of reforming the health care system. Instead, we're focused almost entirely on the Blagojevich scandal. But I have to say, it is a strategic move and a very smart one to address these questions head on here, as he did today. And also, very, very wise to say, look, we're investigating and we'll get it out to you over time, which gives him a little wiggle room to not answer whatever questions he doesn't want to answer yet.
HARRIS: Okay -- Jessica Yellin for us from Chicago. Jessica, appreciate it. Thank you.

Terrorist Ayers Has His Say on Same NYT
Page McCain Was Refused

McCain's op-ed unworthy, but domestic terrorist Bill Ayers' op-ed is: "The Real Bill Ayers" falsely claimed the Weather Underground never attacked people. During the 2008 campaign, John McCain's pro-Iraq War op-ed was judged by the New York Times editorial page as unworthy of publication (even though Barack Obama had penned a pro-withdrawal one for the paper just a week before). But last weekend, one well-known personality from the campaign broke his silence and claimed that precious piece of journalistic real estate: 1960s domestic terrorist and Obama friend Bill Ayers wrote an op-ed for Saturday's edition, "The Real Bill Ayers," setting out his side of the story.

[This item, by Clay Waters, was posted Monday on the MRC's TimesWatch site: www.timeswatch.org ]

Ayers claimed not only that he never killed anyone (debatable, as the leader of a terrorist group that killed people) but told two falsehoods: That his group never attacked people; and that he regrets some of what he did then:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices -- the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious -- as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be -- and still is being -- debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

END of Excerpt

For the Ayers op-ed: www.nytimes.com

That ignores the story of Judge John Murtagh, whose family was attacked when he was presiding over a trial of the Black Panthers, as related by his son in City Journal:

In February 1970, my father, a New York State Supreme Court justice, was presiding over the trial of the so-called "Panther 21," members of the Black Panther Party indicted in a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores. Early on the morning of February 21, as my family slept, three gasoline-filled firebombs exploded at our home on the northern tip of Manhattan, two at the front door and the third tucked neatly under the gas tank of the family car. (Today, of course, we'd call that a car bomb.) A neighbor heard the first two blasts and, with the remains of a snowman I had built a few days earlier, managed to douse the flames beneath the car. That was an act whose courage I fully appreciated only as an adult, an act that doubtless saved multiple lives that night.

I still recall, as though it were a dream, thinking that someone was lifting and dropping my bed as the explosions jolted me awake, and I remember my mother's pulling me from the tangle of sheets and running to the kitchen where my father stood. Through the large windows overlooking the yard, all we could see was the bright glow of flames below. We didn't leave our burning house for fear of who might be waiting outside. The same night, bombs were thrown at a police car in Manhattan and two military recruiting stations in Brooklyn. Sunlight, the next morning, revealed three sentences of blood-red graffiti on our sidewalk: FREE THE PANTHER 21; THE VIET CONG HAVE WON; KILL THE PIGS.

....Though no one was ever caught or tried for the attempt on my family's life, there was never any doubt who was behind it. Only a few weeks after the attack, the New York contingent of the Weathermen blew themselves up making more bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse. The same cell had bombed my house, writes Ron Jacobs in The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. And in late November that year, a letter to the Associated Press signed by Bernardine Dohrn, Ayers's wife, promised more bombings.

END of Excerpt

That piece in full: www.city-journal.org

-- Brent Baker