Accuracy in Media

Newsweek’s special “Who’s Next” issue featured Barack Obama, the new liberal Senator from Illinois, as a rising star in America. His smiling face was on the cover. The article about him was tacky, even disgusting. It highlighted a quote from the Will & Grace TV show in which Grace fantasized about being in a shower with him. The article omitted a critical fact?that Obama benefited from the media destruction of his first Republican Senate opponent, Jack Ryan. The Chicago Tribune invaded his privacy and pried into Ryan’s divorce records, creating a scandal that forced him out of the race. Alan Keyes came into the race as the Republican candidate too late to have any real chance of winning.

Obama himself admits lying about his own past, including his drug use, but that didn’t become a scandal. Bernard Schoenburg of the Illinois State Journal-Register said that when he asked Obama about his drug use, the politician admitted to marijuana and nothing else. Then Schoenburg read his autobiography and discovered that Obama had also admitted to using some “blow” or cocaine. Schoenburg reported that Obama “apologized for not telling me earlier about his past as portrayed in the book.  He said I had caught him off guard with the drug question and that, at the time, he had not wanted to overshadow his story of that day?his endorsement by the Illinois Federation of Teachers.”

This kind of spin is forgiven in the case of Obama because so many in the media not only wanted him as a Senator but want to lay the groundwork for his possible run for the presidency. They are prepared to overlook his state legislative record, including votes in favor of partial birth abortion and against prohibition of infanticide, because, in the words of Newsweek, “he is the first African-American male Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate.”

Is color also coloring coverage of the Franklin Raines case? Raines, a former Clinton official, became the first African-American CEO of a Fortune 500 company when he took over Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest mortgage lender. Now he has been forced to resign because of a $9 billion fraud and accounting scandal. An Associated Press story quoted former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta as saying, “He’s a guy who operates with a great deal of integrity. I can’t imagine that he would try to play games with something that important.”

The Washington Post reported, “In the aftermath of Enron’s collapse, Raines became a spokesman for the cause of good corporate governance. On behalf of the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of many of the nation’s largest corporations, Raines led a task force that prescribed best practices for corporate leaders, and he publicly criticized executives who disclaimed responsibility for wrongdoing within their organizations.”

Could this reputation and rhetoric have kept the media from looking into his management of the government-sponsored Fannie Mae? Government regulators?not the media?discovered this scandal. But now it’s been learned that Raines, as a condition of leaving Fannie Mae, is entitled to deferred compensation of $8.7 million, stock options worth $5.5 million or more, millions of dollars of “Performance Share Payouts,” a monthly pension of $114,393 for the rest of his life, free health care coverage for him and his family, free life insurance, and even a “cash bonus” for 2004.

Peter Flaherty of the National Legal and Policy Center commented, “Let me get this straight. Raines apparently cooks the books, brings disgrace to the company, and imperils Fannie Mae’s standing with regulators, the Congress and administration. So for his punishment he is made wealthy for the rest of his life?”

By contrast, a black group called the Executive Leadership Council lamented the “early retirement” of their friend “Frank” and claimed that he “handled himself with high integrity and with the full recognition of the accountability and responsibility that goes along with commanding a Fortune 500 enterprise.” A visitor to the group’s website countered that one’s color is “never an excuse for criminal mismanagement” and that an indictment “was the only obvious conclusion one can arrive at” in the case.

Will the media pursue this case as aggressively as they did Enron?  Or will they be inhibited from doing so because of the fear of facing charges of racism?

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