Our own entertainment and pablum: The goodies and parsons of Salem Village were out last night in force.
Last night, the parsons and goodies sere focused on the videotape of Ray Rice and Janay Rice. A great deal of moral certainty was widely and dumbly expressed.
So it has always been from our many parsons and goodies. Last Friday night, the parsons and goodies were still focused on the trial of Robert McDonnell.
Before we look at the dunking McDonnell received from Rachel Maddow, we wanted to mention a couple of pieces from the Washington Post.
How odd! This weekend, after the trial was over, the Post began to explore the legalities of the proceedings. On Saturday, we were surprised to see Matt Zapotosky offer this thought, right at the start of a front-page report:
ZAPOTOSKY (9/6/14): The prosecution of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell could have far-reaching effects on federal public-corruption cases—making it easier for prosecutors to bring charges against those accused of abusing their official powers, legal experts said.Weird! As we followed the trial, it seemed that way to us! To us, McDonnell’s alleged corrupt bargain with businessman Jonnie Williams seemed to involve a rather small number of “not-so-obviously significant actions” on the latter’s behalf.
The convictions of McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on several counts of public corruption Thursday are historic in their own right, bestowing upon the onetime Republican rising star the unwanted distinction of being the first governor in Virginia history to be found guilty of a crime. But legal experts say the case...could encourage prosecutors to pursue similar charges against officials who take not-so-obviously significant actions on behalf of their alleged bribers and make it easier for them to win convictions.
Reading the Post as the trial went along, we thought we saw the occasional thumb on the scale pushing the story the other way. Now that the trial was over, Zapotosky reported that McDonnell’s actions had been perhaps “not-so-obviously significant.”
Later, in a poorly explained passage, he further said it wasn’t clear that McDonnell’s actions on Williams’ behalf really qualify as “official acts” as required by law.
The next day, this new attitude had spread to the Post’s op-ed page. An associate professor at William and Mary argued that the guilty verdict may encourage prosecutors to chase politicians around.
He seemed to think this could be a problem. Along the way, he described a weird jury instruction:
BELLIN (9/7/14): The Supreme Court insists that there is a clear distinction between the felony offenses that upended McDonnell and our tried-and-true system of allowing private entities and individuals to shower government officials with campaign contributions and other gifts. That distinction comes down to the contents of the official's mind. To prove "honest services" fraud or political extortion, a prosecutor must show that someone like McDonnell accepted a particular donation with the understanding that he would perform official acts in return. This agreement to trade gifts for acts is all that separates "politics as usual" from felony corruption.Really? That’s the actual jury instruction? The jury is supposed to look for “knowing winks and nods?”
Critically, the corrupt agreement need not be documented, or even articulated. The prosecution's proof, as in the McDonnell case, normally takes the form of evidence that money went to a public servant and official acts followed. The jury can infer the requisite agreement from the circumstantial evidence. If a jury sees "knowing winks and nods" (the actual jury instruction) in the flow of money from donor to candidate, federal prison awaits.
Consistent with these principles, the McDonnell jury's 90-page instructions informed it that it could not convict the ex-governor for the things it likely found most distasteful: his soliciting personal gifts, exercising terrible judgment or prompting underlings to help a guy who paid for a family wedding. Rather, the verdict rested on whether, in all these perfectly legal actions, the jury perceived the knowing winks and nods that are all the law requires to turn donations into federal felonies. That should send chills down the spines of public officials across the country. Which, admittedly, might not be so bad.
According to Professor Bellin, it “might not be so bad” if chills get sent down the spines of the nation’s public officials. On balance, though, Bellin seemed to think this trial might take us in a dangerous direction.
Where might the danger lie? Let’s use Maddow’s discussion from last Friday night to help answer that question. First, though, let’s review a few other aspects of Maddow’s clowning about the McDonnells that night.
Last Friday, Maddow remained in glory mode over the fall of the McDonnells. If you watch the tapes of her two segments on this topic, you’ll see some of the instincts which make her a nightmare as a journalist and as an alleged progressive.
Go ahead! Watch the tape of Maddow’s first segment. She starts with footage of a McDonnell family friend expressing shock at the verdicts.
Guess what? There’s always a family friend expressing shock at a guilty verdict. In the videotape Maddow played, this family friend ended up making a religious reference. In response, Maddow smirked and snarked in the manner her kind has perfected down through the many dumb years:
REPORTER: This is all too real, says this family friend. They're now focused on trying to bring comfort and support during a very dark time.Quite routinely, Maddow bows low to the twin gods, Smirk and Snark. Over the years, this kind of progressive makes it hard for progressive interests to get a fair hearing from the various people who get snarked at this way.
MCDONNELL FAMILY FRIEND: It’s unbelievable. Compare it to Christ. Christ didn’t do anything. And they went after him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW (smirking): Yes. Yes, they did go after Christ. Noted! Noted, sort of without comment.
That’s local coverage from the NBC station in Washington, Northern Virginia, NBC 12.
We set aside for the moment the issue of going after Christ. I should also tell you that they do also go after and catch a member of Congress or a governor about every two years now in our country.
Maddow is painfully tribal. By now, we’ve become convinced that, aside from her obvious skills, there may be a wire or two hanging loose inside her head—the kind of wires that permit human feeling for those who aren’t in your narrow tribe.
People like Maddow don’t have such feeling. This makes it hard for other progressives to stop the downward spiral into disconnection some conservatives hope to create.
Maddow smirked and snarked about that reference to Jesus. If you watch the full segment, you’ll see her clowning about the number of years to which the McDonnells may get sentenced.
She started that part of her clowning like this:
MADDOW: One thing I learned this week is that the guidelines for sentencing in federal cases are publicly available. You can look at the sentencing guidelines yourself with the Google.At present, there’s little question that Bob McDonnell is Maddow’s “favorite federal convict.” If you watch that chunk of the segment, you’ll see Maddow go on and on, clowning and prancing as she pretends to figure out his probable sentence.
You can build your own federal sentencing guidelines matrix for your favorite federal convict.
So, in the case of Bob McDonnell, you go here to the United States sentencing commission guidelines manual. It’s posted online. It’s publicly available. Just Google it.
You skip down to chapter 2, part c. That’s offenses involving public officials. And then you at home can calculate what the offense level was and, therefore, how much time he might get offered.
In her second segment about the trial, Maddow conducted a worthless interview with one of the McDonnell jurors. She started with a tiny eye-roll about a religious statement by McDonnell himself, then wasted time from there.
We liberals were getting some pretty thin gruel from Our Own Rhodes Scholar! In closing, we want you to consider where Maddow went after she rolled her eyes about that initial Jesus remark.
In the ridiculous passage shown below, Maddow listed the major officials who have been convicted of corruption in recent years—at least, “the ones just off the top of my head.”
This is a very dumb set of comments. We were struck by one official Maddow left off her list:
MADDOW: We set aside for the moment the issue of going after Christ. I should also tell you that they do also go after and catch a member of Congress or a governor about every two years now in our country.Somehow, Maddow stopped short of telling us everyone’s sign. Inanely, she said “we seem to like to do this in odd-numbered years,” at least as long as we stick to “the ones just off the top of [her] head.”
In the past decade, we’ve been on a pretty tight two-year schedule of locking up members of Congress and/or governors every other year. We seem to like to do that in odd-numbered years.
So start, say, 2005. It was John Rowland, the Republican governor of Connecticut. He resigned while being investigated for corruption. He got convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. Incidentally, John Rowland is out of prison but back in court on other corruption-related charges.
Also in 2005, corruption charges against Duke Cunningham, Republican member of Congress from California. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for bribery and corruption.
In 2007, it was Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney. He was the first elected official convicted in the Jack Abramoff scandal. He was accused of selling his office for luxury vacations and fancy meals and sky box seats. Bob Ney, sentenced to 30 months in prison.
He actually got more than the prosecutors had asked for. The judge in the Bob Ney case told him at the sentencing, quote, "As a member of Congress, you have the responsibility above all else to set an example and uphold the law." And then the judge sentenced him to more than the prosecutors asked for, is what the prosecutors asked for, plus an extra three months.
Then two years later, it was Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana. He was 2009’s poster boy. He was the guy with the cold hard cash—bundles of large denomination bills wrapped up in aluminum foil and stuffed into his freezer. William Jefferson was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years in prison. One of the longer sentences in this cast of characters.
But then two years later, it was Rod Blagojevich, the Democratic governor of Illinois, sentenced to an also impressive 14 years in prison after he was convicted on 17 corruption charges including soliciting bribes to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
Then, every two years, two years later, this time 2013, back to Illinois, for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for redirecting his campaign funds to buy things like expensive Michael Jackson memorabilia.
And those are the ones just off the top of my head. I mean, those are just the household name corruption and bribery convictions that resulted in members of Congress and governors going to prison.
But those household name ones, it’s interesting. They do for whatever reason seem to happen every two years, 05, 07, 09, 2011, 2013.
And now, we had just found out in 2015, six days into 2015, right on schedule, we’re due for another. They’re going to be sentencing the next American governor to go to prison on multiple felony corruption charges. It’s going to be Bob McDonnell of Virginia, convicted along with his wife on 11 felony charges of corruption yesterday in Richmond.
For the record, Maddow skipped a high-profile conviction in the year 2008, that of Alaska senator Ted Stevens.
She may have skipped the Stevens conviction because the conviction was voided and the indictment was dismissed in 2009. This was done at the request of Attorney General Holder, with federal judge Brendan Sullivan “calling it the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he'd ever seen.”
We mention this for a reason. When Maddow clowns her way through corruption trials, the possibility never seems to enter her head that prosecutors can exercise bad judgment, just like office-holders.
She assumes guilt from the start, then clowns her way forward from there.
She entertains us with pictures of white Ferraris, or with tales of high colonics. She behaves like a perfect fool, in much the way Richard N. Cohen described in 1988, as quoted by Howard Kurtz:
Network executives "believe you lower the common denominator, frame everything in entertainment terms, make it pablum, make it glitzy, and it will sell...The currency of the realm ceases to be journalism...
“They're left with a huge game of pretend.”
Watch the tapes of Maddow’s two segments that night. That’s basically what you’ll be seeing.
Is there a chance the McDonnell trial could encourage other bogus prosecutions? The Post began to wonder about that possibility this weekend. Our own Alfred E. Maddow seems disinclined to worry.
On the brighter side, Maddow is paid $7 million per year for these entertainment functions. Before our current series is done, we’ll review the two photo spreads she has commissioned from The Houses of Journalist County.
Maddow now lives in those famous houses. Night after night, we’d have to say she also exhibits “the currency of the realm.”