As someone who is stuck living and working in the Empire State, watching the Eliot Spitzer meltdown over the last 48+ hours has been instructive, if only because of the media frenzy. Even while Spitzer was holed up in his Manhattan apartment, the state capital building in Albany, NY was ringed by several dozen satellite news trucks. Sure it makes a dramatic background for breathless reporters - but 24/7? I ran into someone who said her son in Beijing was seeing the story on the news over there. WTF?!??
Okay, let me say upfront that Spitzer's resignation and apologies are good for the people of the state, state government, and the state Democratic party. His judgment has been shown to be so fatally deficient, it is a good thing he has been removed from power over other people.
He may have been a rising star, but his governing style hadn't really been all that effective to date at much besides pissing people off. Further, Arthur Silber has a pretty telling take down of Spitzer's reputation as a progressive. No, the real lesson from Spitzer is largely unrecognized. (more)
Much talk has been thrown around of Hypocrisy and Double Standards - but let's get right to the nubbin here: anything Spitzer did pales in comparison with the media and government treatment of him. Let's contrast and compare Spitzer's treatment with another notable.
The speed with which the media frenzy developed following the NY Times initial story is amazing - when compared some other stories. Remember Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor"? Another NY politician with a reputation for being tough on bad guys, strong moral values, and all that. Also with a troubling sexual history. While Spitzer was at least playing games with his own money, Giuliani was actually sticking NYC with the tab for his trysts. Further, he also has a history of surrounding himself with people who play fast and loose with the law.
So, where were all the satellite news trucks when these stories broke? Where was the rush to dig up everything possible on the people and places in these stories. How is it Giuliani was able to keep running as a contender for the presidency with all of this right out in the open? Where were the expectant 'death watch' stories, and the interviews with political figures all calling for Giuliani to remove himself? Where were the Republicans shocked and saddened by Rudy's trangressions? (Besides those who thought he was too liberal, that is?) Where were the heartfelt apologies? Why wasn't this on the news 24/7 around the globe?
How is it he is still in public life, and still getting reverential treatment from all of his good friends in the 'Librul Media'?
Let's consider another aspect of all this too. Spitzer engaged in personal and private misconduct, on his own dime. The full weight of the Federal Government came down on him - and it was amazing how quickly his name came out, even before any charges were filed. (Compare and contrast with still sitting Senator David Vitter) Same crime, married man pays prostitute ring for sex - but the name didn't come out from the government at all. Vitter's views on marriage and morality
are were a principal part of his political persona - but he's still in the Senate and nobody in the press bats an eye since the initial scandal faded away.
Again with Giuliani, in his case he used/abused the powers of his office to facilitate and finance his dalliances. Misuse of public funds is considered corruption in some circles, yet the FBI and the Department of Justice seem strangely uninterested in following up what is a very public story - and the press doesn't seem interested either. Spitzer on the other hand got targeted because his banks became concerned he was moving money around in a way that suggested some sort of corruption possibilities. Not because they knew he had, but because it looked like he might be. Boom- the government swung into action and the rest is history. (h/t to TPM muckraker for the timeline)
Going back the the NY Times again. It looks like they broke this story almost as soon as they had it down. Isn't this the same paper of record that held off on reporting Bush had been wiretapping illegally until after the 2004 elections? Isn't this the same paper that has been an administration stenographer more than once? Isn't it odd that this story came out just as the state was about to go into the annual battle of the budget, Spitzer was talking up some idea to make the banks take some responsibility for the sub-prime mortgage mess, and it was looking more and more likely the state Republicans would lose their decades-old control of the state senate?
And, for the bigger picture, have any of the national media even mentioned Don Siegelman? Siegelman was another popular Democratic governor whom it now seems clear is sitting in prison because the Department of Justice conspired to put him there. You'd think anyone reporting on Spitzer might at least wonder at motivations behind the energy and resources the DOJ put into his case considering the nature of the crime.
You might also wonder at the relative absence of concern by the press over the ability of the government to gather information in a case not involving any terrorists, from banks, the phone companies, etc. at a time when Congress is negotiating terms of surrender with the White House over No Oversight, No Accountability domestic spying, anywhere, anytime. NPR had a scary story on just how easy it is for the banks to track everything we do with money - and how quickly that info gets turned over to the government.
The old saw that "As long as you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" is no longer in effect. These days, you're only safe if nothing looks suspicious to people paid to be paranoid, people you don't know, people who don't report to anyone you can find, people who can derail your life with a phone call or a click of a mouse. And, you have no idea what they know about you, or how much of it is correct - or just what their political agenda might be.
One final note. The local paper, the Albany Times Union, has many letters to the editor in the Wednesday March 12 edition about the Spitzer situation. Roughly half of them make the point that the real scandal is that Spitzer has been brought down for trivialities compared to the actions of George W. Bush - and Bush is still sitting in the White House unscathed and planning more of the same.
No apologies for Spitzer; if anyone should have known the risks he was taking and the unethical behavior it constituted, he was the guy. What happened to him was harsh, but it's the way the system is supposed to work we're told. Break the law, talk one way but act another, and there should be consequences. Should...
The real story is that the Press and the System of Justice in this country are broken. What happened to Spitzer can only be called fair if the same standard is applied to everyone, rich-poor, man-woman, Republican-Democrat, etc. It isn't, it hasn't been for a long time, and maybe it never was, but dammit we used to be able to pretend it was, even aspired to make it so.
There is an anger rising in this country. Will it fuel the fires that power the engines of change - or the engines of destruction?