Newspaper as Political Assassin

It’s not uncommon for candidates for public office to begin campaigning as much as two years in advance of an election. Witness the folks already on the trail regarding the presidential shootout in 2008. John Kerry actually has never stopped campaigning since he lost the prize in 2004, speaking stentorily (and ever so boringly) from the mountain at every opportunity. Of course, Johnny-Boy/Buddy Biden has been at it since 1988. John McCain seems to stop by his office or the Senate chamber only between his appearances on various TV outlets. Throw in Ecologist First Class Gore, Queen Hillary, Dr. Frist, newcomer Obama (breathless appearance on Meet the Press recently – an absolute Tim-Russert-scoop-deluxe), top litigator Edwards and various and sundry other wannabes and there’s quite a crowd.

The strangest two-year effort regarding an office-holder – but in reverse – has just occurred in Lexington, Ky., however. The city’s monopoly newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, has just finished publishing a four-part, front-page-above-the-fold Pulitzer wannabe entitled – in bold headlines – The McConnell Machine. Multi-pages were devoted to this obvious effort at establishing a two-year head-start on what is obviously the paper’s main agenda, to wit, the defeat of Kentucky Senator (Senate Majority Whip) Mitch McConnell in the senate race of 2008.

This effort, as explained by the paper, was the brainchild of former editor Marilyn Thompson, whose greatest journalistic effort to date was the sort of “outing” of the late Senator Strom Thurmond as the father of an illegitimate, mixed-race child (gasp) way, way back when, never mind that this was one of those “open secrets” in the Beltway (no gasp there). Ms. Thompson had a slight problem when she hatched the McConnell hatchet job – not enough cash to sic a reporter on the expose full-time for six months to do a comprehensive number on the senator.

So…she applied to something called the Center for Investigative Reporting and actually received a grant of some $37,000 or so to support one of the paper’s own reporters, who apparently sort of took a leave of absence from the dull routine of castigating republican office-holders in general and switched to an attempted political assassination of one, in particular. That’s a bona fide head-start on 2008.

In the meantime, the paper (Knight-Ridder property) was sold to McClatchy Newspapers, the head honcho(s) of which took a dim view of this shenanigan. After a review by McClatchy, the company determined that reporting by staff members should be paid for by the newspaper. Well…of course, but that’s so…well…so boringly ethical. The money was returned to the CIR so it could carry out further political assassinations for papers of the L-H-L ilk, meaning “take the money and run!”

The reporter used up the six months (what a life!) and heaved and huffed and puffed and delivered himself of four segments with the titles “Price tag politics,” “Foreign aid wins friends,” “Two for the money,” and “A lucrative connection.” It was iterated and reiterated that McConnell had gained no money illegally, had gained no money for himself, and had done nothing wrong. This, of course, had the unintended consequence of proving the depth of honesty the senator possesses, but apparently no one at the paper realized this. Ms. Thompson might have caught on, except that she moved on during the process to become national investigations editor (what else?) for the Los Angeles Times, presumably to use her talents in such endeavors as engaging the Center for Investigative Reporting to do the heavy lifting.

In the process, McConnell’s wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, was dragged along apparently to indicate the sinister side of McConnell’s nepotistic machinations, notwithstanding that Chao was appointed to her job by the president, not her husband. McConnell does for the entire party (raise funds) what most senators do primarily just for themselves. Unlike the Clinton/Gore amateurish and illegal approaches (the Lincoln bedroom sales, the poverty-stricken nuns, Johnny Chung, for instance), McConnell does things above-board. He’s a professional, untouchable, as the paper has discovered no doubt to its chagrin, and eminently successful…in an ethical sort of way, which would naturally be hard for the Lexington Herald-Leader to understand.

In any case, the paper might grab a Nobel for its efforts, that institution’s hatred of this country (except for that virtual denizen of integrity – Jimmy Carter) being well documented. After all, Yasser Arafat rated a Nobel, proving that even an orangutan could qualify.