I SWITCHED on the teevee this morning, as part of the continuing melee involving things I record, things I have time to watch, and the inadequate amount of disc space available for keeping things I'll never get around to watching. Every so often I take the time to transfer something to DVD, so I can file that away and ignore it. And the teevee was set to CBS, because my Poor Wife, God love her, insists on imagining that Indianapolis Public Schools might one day delay the start of classes when the roads are a skating rink, even though she knows it'll never happen, so she'd been checking the local weather/traffic reports. Before I could switch to the list of recorded programs the CBS morning show was on me, and this being the Top of the Hour, they were covering two actual minutes of actual "news", or near-news. And the top story was the Madoff business, and Whomever It Was was speaking to Michael Santoli, the associate editor at Baron's in charge of being telegenic. (And by the way, can we do away with this sort of thing now that everything's crashed in a heap? If nothing else, on the grounds that the inverse Good Looks-to-Ability-to-Speak ratio of the past quarter century has brought us nothing but exponential increases in Bad Luck? I'd like to get my financial news and analysis from someone saggy for a change. Save the hunks and bunnies for celebrity gossip; it's not like they won't dominate 95% of your broadcast anyway. Maybe it's just me, but considering all that's gone on the past eight years, maybe turning over serious news to people who don't look like they might have a mistress with a coke habit stashed somewhere they're having trouble affording, or like any given night before they might have imbibed any given club drug, would be a good idea, or at least a nice gesture.)
Anyway, Santoli says something to the effect that, well, the SEC is feeling some embarrassment right now, because it thinks more could have been done to uncover the problem, but it's really not possible to catch a well-run Ponzi scheme any quicker. Which prompts Whomever It Is to ask, "Then what regulations should we put in place so people can feel safe about their investments?"
Whoa, there Little Lady. Did you say regulations? Because within that fifteen seconds the world shifted on its axis. We don't need more regulations, says Mr. Santoli's suit; we just need investigators to do a better job. These, of course, being the very same investigators who moments before had no way to detect such a scheme before people experienced enormous losses.
It turned out the Madoff story had replaced the Blagojevich saga as today's #1 hit; the Embattled Illinois Governor might want to consider hiring an escort or accidentally overdosing on prescription medication if he's desperate to regain the top spot. This morning's shocking revelation was that Rahm Emanuel had had "detailed discussions" concerning the appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the seat Mr. Senator Obama is vacating. This, of course, plus the news that Jessie Jackson, Jr.'s political career is in such disarray that he decided announcing that he'd been a long-time, secret, and, apparently, remarkably ineffective police informant sounded like a step up. Though this is not exactly how the story was reported. (In fairness to CBS, all it did report was that Jackson, Jr. sources were saying this.)
(Jackson, Jr.'s story was treated as a revelation elsewhere, despite the fact that part of it consisted of his recollection, years later, that Blagojevitch had asked him for a campaign contribution, perhaps in exchange for Jackson's wife getting the top state Lotto post. Perhaps several years from now someone will think to ask him why his wife was up for the top Lotto post in the first place.)
Now, far be it from us to question the news judgment of professionals, but we are sometimes left to wonder whether "thinking things through" is simply discouraged or is explicitly banned. The story probably owes more to timing than anything else--except hair, maybe; have we considered, as a nation, how often our news stories, as reported by people whose careers revolve around image, turn out to revolve around hair?--but I think it likely that the teleprompter readers and Op-Ed editors figured Blagojevich would be gone by the weekend. Now they're teetering on the brink of a major story which will involve Nothing But Talk, and frequently coming from the mouths of a State Attorney General or legislative whip. Not exactly public restroom toe-tapping code when it comes to Ratings Gold, is it?
The alternative is setting up a lasting whiff of Eau de Scandale Présidentielle. Again, we're not suggesting conspiracy, just the way the "news"business works; in my lifetime we've had Sherman Adams (Eisenhower; Nixon's Checkers speech predates me), Bobby Baker, Billy Sol Estes (LBJ), Beebee Rebozo (Nixon), Burt Lance (Carter), the entire Reagan administration, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink (Clinton), while somehow the guy who'd traded his family name and access for twenty-five years of self-enrichment while drunk as a Freshman got a pass. So I guess we'll see. Still, as Bob Somerby and others have pointed out, "alleged", which used to be the eighth most-used word on the evening news, after "the", "a(n)", "be", "in", "hair", and "thundershower activity", suddenly dropped off the charts last weekend, only to sheepishly return once it became clear Governor Blagojevitch wasn't gonna bust out cryin' like Duke Cunningham, and video of his 18th century French commode would not be immediately forthcoming.
The whole thing's topped off--for the political internets habitué, not the intended network audience--by memories of a snowy Fitzmas long ago, the bright, cold days when legions of Left Blogtopians imagined they could almost hear hoofbeats on the roof. That one too involved crusading I-dotter Patrick Fitzgerald, who took a slam-dunk case of national security violations made for partisan gain reaching at least to the Most Repugnant and Least-Competent Marksman in our history of Vice-Presidents, and turned it into a single perjury trap for one of his aides. Somebody call Vegas and check on the odds of Blagojevitch being struck by lightning while still in office in 2010.