The U. S. Attorneys "Scandal": The Dems and Their Media Cheerleaders
Occasionally, I write "reviews" of articles and columns appearing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I do so because it's important for reporters and columnists to engage in a dialogue with readers. In the age of the Internet, the days when reporters basically lectured us as if we were a bunch of fourth-graders learning about the pyramids (or, nowadays, the post office), are over. News must be a back-and-forth process, where readers ask questions, make observations, and indicate where they think the reporter has fallen short.
First, some background: The issue of the Bush Administration's firing of eight U. S. Attorneys has been much in the news recently. Basically, it's a non-story that certain members of the media and some Democrats in the Senate -- especially the noisome Senator Leahy -- are trying hard to turn into a big deal.
In the firings, did the Bush Administration act clumsily? Yes. As the National Review put it in a cover story (using an old Casey Stengel line about the N. Y. Mets), "Can't Anybody Here Play this Game?"
But did the Bush Administration do anything unethical, illegal, or especially unusual? No.
U.S. Attorneys get appointed and continue to serve entirely at the discretion of the President (and his representatives). They are political appointees. Their job is to carry out the initiatives established by the President and the Justice Department -- period. They're not carrying out missions of their own choosing.
It's not rare for Presidents to fire U.S. Attorneys. In 1993, Bill Clinton got rid of not eight such Attorneys, but 93 of them. The President appoints people with he feels comfortable, and Clinton felt more comfortable with 93 Democrats than he did with a like number of Republicans (who'd in turn been appointed by the first George Bush, "Bush 41").
In the case of some, if not all, the Sacked Eight, the Bush Administration felt they were not sufficiently vigorous in their actions taken against political corruption, especially voter fraud. So, they got rid of them and replaced them with people they felt would do the job better.
In this situation, some in the mainstream Media (MSM) may believe that "where there's smoke there's fire." All too often, however, where there's smoke there's someone -- in the press or politics -- operating a smoke machine. When an Administration fires POLITICAL appointees, it's "news" only in the minds of certain left-wing Democrats and their cheerleaders in the media.
Paula Reed of the Post-Gazette probably should have mentioned some of the above points in her article on Mary Beth Buchanan, U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania ("No Trouble for Buchanan to Stay in Line," P-G, March 18, 2007). Reed did a great deal of work researching this article, citing various past U. S. Attorneys about the nature of the position and the job Buchanan is doing.
Reed describes her subject as "loyal, hard-working, and smart," but also as "a self-promoter" who has gained several prestigious roles in the Justice Department, including her being the acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women." Frankly, if fighting violence against women is "self-promotion," then three cheers for self-promotion.
In general, Reed's article is a good one, but it could have been better. She makes the case that U. S. Attorneys generally -- and Buchanan specifically -- bring a lot more public corruption cases against Democratss than Republicans. The national numbers she gives are 298 Democrats, 67 Republicans, and 10 Independents.
Reed notes that Democratic officeholders nationwide outnumber Republicans by 51% to 40%, with the implication that corruption cases should mirror those numbers. Reed could have noted that most such cases take place in big cities, where Democrats dominate political offices. In understanding this, it helps to think about places like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where Republican officeholders are few and far between.
Political corruption takes place just about everywhere, but the big-time version takes place in big cities. Relatedly, some cities -- think of Chicago and Pittsburgh -- have cultures of corruption, where bribery, extortion, and self-dealing are almost a way of life. Recently, the elected sheriff of Allegheny County and three of his top associates were found guilty of "macing," essentially a tactic of pressuring subordinates for political campaign contributions.
The sheriff, Pete DeFazio, told a broadcast journalist that he'd been in the Sheriff's Department for 38 years and he wasn't doing anything unusual. The sheriff has retired with a huge pension and full benefits, if not "with the thanks of a grateful community." He reflects everything that's wrong with this county's politics.
There are very good reasons why more Democrats get indicted than Republicans. They're larger in number, they stay around much longer, and they commit more crimes. Frankly, in Allegheny County, many officeholders feel it's their right to get a little (or a lot of) money on the side. Bribery and other misdeeds are much too common among politicians, judges, and others.
Of course, many of the malefactors -- prior to their getting caught by Mary Beth Buchanan or others -- originally received enthusiastic endorsements by the Post-Gazette. That fact can put reporters in a somewhat awkward position.
In her article, Reed quotes one unnamed source, an assistant to Buchanan, who says of her, "She's not independent [from the U.S. Justice Department], and I don't think she wants to be." Admittedly, the comment is innocuous.
However, people like me are always uncomfortable with unnamed sources, which shouldn't be used except under extraordinary circumstances. Why not? Because such sources often have an agenda of their own, and since they don't get named, they can't get questioned further by others. At worst, a few reporters -- Reed is NOT one -- make up sources on the reasoning that no one will ever know about the "creative writing."
In the article, Reed relies on some people whose comments seem to be petty. Some assistant attorneys don't like the fact she expects them to write speeches, which seems like a minor offense on her part.
Another person thinks she travels too much to fulfill her "full-time" job. In fact, however, she gets high marks from a predecessor for the high number of cases she brings and the talents of the assistant attorneys she's hired.
In trying for balance, Reed may be finding some special pleaders who are envious of Buchanan's success. People who criticize her essentially for doing too much aren't being fair.
Allegheny County is lucky to have someone the quality of Mary Beth Buchanan. Yes, her job is political -- in the sense the Bush Administration expects her to carry out its legal initiatives. That's not too much to expect.
It's fascinating to compare Reed's article with one cheek-by-jowl to hers, a piece that appeared in the New York Times. It's a sad case of two journalists trying to manipulate a story, as they write about New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.
He was investigating a case involving voter fraud by someone working for the "Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now." What the article doesn't mention is the organization's acronym, which is ACORN.
That group is synonymous with voter fraud, not only in New Mexico but also in Philadelphia and elsewhere. In Philadephia, my nephew, a lawyer, determined that ACORN had registered 20 homeless people who all had the same address: an abandoned building. A few doors away were the local ACORN headquarters. Of course, giving a false address when registering is against the law, but it's a very common practice.
The old Philadelphia Political Machine, a monument to cynicism and corruption, is very much alive. In some precincts, a 100% vote for Democrats is common. In a certain precinct, the polling place was in an individual's residence. He announced to a Republican poll-watcher, "No Republicans are allowed in this house!" The poll-worker had to obtain a court order to enter. The vote there (in 2004) was five for Bush (how did THEY get in?) and 317 for Kerry.
Voter fraud cases are difficult to bring -- and even harder to get convictions. With a group like ACORN, its reason for being is to register people who will vote for Democrats. My own experience is that the group believes the end -- having Democrats win -- is much more important than the means used. ACORN pays its registration solicitors, and that is an invitation to pass money to potential voters and to commit fraud.
I'm sure that ACORN's people have mastered the Claude Rains' line in "Casablanca" and would be "shocked, shocked, to find that voter fraud is taking place."
All in all, Ms. Reed's article is a good one, although imperfect in some ways. It's a lot better than the Times piece, which is journalism at its worst. The Times should be ashamed of itself, but I don't think shame is its strong suit.