March 09, 2005


John McCain, the media's darling, has found a clever way around his own campaign finance reform law to take big corporate bucks in furtherance of his political ambitions while carrying water for the corporate mammoth providing the dough. But the national press is ignoring the story.

The Associated Press first ran the story of John McCain's odorous but lucrative Senatorial service to the communications giant Cablevision on the afternoon of March 7. But, while some local papers in McCain's home state (like the East Valley Tribune) have run the story, nothing has as yet made it into the print editions of the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, or any of the half-dozen other big city dailies I checked (although, if one searches the hundreds of AP stories available on the Post's website on its Politics page by clicking on "Latest Wire Reports," one can find it there--but how many readers would bother to do that?) One notable exception: the Kansas City Star.

Here's what the AP's investigation found:

McCain repeatedly intervened on behalf of a policy Cablevision favored -- one which "congressional and private studies conclude  could make cable more expensive" -- while his chief political adviser, Rick Davis (who's masterminding McCain's probable '08 presidential rerun) solicited $200,000 in contributions from Cablevision to an institute that promotes McCain and pays Davis a $110,000 annual salary.

The Reform Institute was set up to promote McCain and his issues--especially campaign finance reform, embodied in the famous McCain-Feingold law. This Institute is "a tax-exempt group that touts McCain's views and has showcased him at events since his unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign," and it "often uses the senator's name in press releases and fund-raising letters and includes him at press conferences," the AP says. And, of course, it provides a cushy sinecure with no heavy lifting for McCain's main man, Davis, as he prepares the pontificating Senator's next presidential run. Cablevision's contributions account for a whopping 15% of the Institute's budget.

Now, let's be clear about the phony McCain-Feingold law, which I denounced as "campaign deform" before its passage. The myth is that McCain-Feingold abolished so-called soft money in politics. That's nonsense. It does forbid the national party committees (the RNC and the DNC) from taking soft money--but it leaves a loophole large enough to drive an invading army through, because soft money contributions to state parties are still legal. And, as anyone who closely followed the investigations of the 1996 campaign finance scandals knows, some of the most screamingly unethical influence peddling-and-buying then went on when, to conceal the contributions from a lazy national press corps, millions and millions of dollars in soft money were channeled to state parties by corporate fat-cats seeking to influence government policy and Congressional votes.

Moreover, McCain-Feingold put more corrupting hard money than ever before into the '04 presidential election by doubling the cap on hard money. This provision of McCain-Feingold motored the mushrooming of the practice known as "bundling," by which special interest influence-seekers -- like the lawyer-lobbyists of D.C.'s "Gucci Gulch" and their corporate clients -- get a large number of cronies to max out under the raised McCain-Feingold caps, the individual checks thus collected totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks in part to McCain-Feingold, then, the '04 presidential cycle was the most expensive ever in the nation's history. McCain-Feingold was, and is, a fraud.

Why did McCain, a standard-issue Republican conservative, lead the charge for the campaign "deform" law that bears his name? Why, because he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. McCain was one of the infamous Keating 5, the band of Senators--greedy for campaign cash--who sold their favors to jailed Savings and Loan kingpin and junk-bond racketeer Charles Keating in the S&L scandals that rocked Congress in the early '90s. (The S&L scandals were the most expensive corporate fraud in history, costing citizens and taxpayers some $600 billion. There is a pile of good books on the S&L Scandals, especially those by Steve Pizzo--who helped break the story; Pete Brewton; and Martin Mayer.) McCain was whitewashed by a complicitous Senate "ethics" committee, after which the Arizona Senator decided to refurbish his image and become a so-called "reformer"--hence the fraudulent McCain-Feingold bill, which was designed to make people forget his boot-licking service to Keating.

Now, McCain is back at the same old game, this time on behalf of Cablevision and its campaign for an "a la carte" provision, which would allow cable customers to pick the channels they want rather than buy packages of channels. McCain has continued to campaign for this provision even after the independent General Accounting Office -- in a study requested by McCain himself -- concluded that the a la carte provision would considerably raise cable rates for consumers. This is a neat hat trick by McCain: he adds another "reformist" feather to his cap by promoting a populist-sounding measure which, in fact, benefits industry and costs the consumer a packet. And, at the same time he takes money from Cablevision in the form of contributions to a pet group of the Senator's which furthers McCain's presidential ambitions.

The AP investigation found that McCain's assiduous services to Cablevision included "letting its CEO testify before his Senate committee, writing a letter of support to the Federal Communication Commission, and asking other cable companies to support so-called a la carte pricing." Davis solicited the first of two $100,00 installments Cablevision paid to McCain's pet Institute just "one week after [the conglomerate's chief, Charles] Dolan testified before McCain's Senate Commerce Committee in May 2003 in favor of a la carte pricing." And it wasn't until after Cablevision paid up that McCain intervened on behalf of the policy the company sought with the FCC.

There's a lot more detail, but you get the picture. You can read the entire AP story about its investigation of McCain by clicking here.

Just as the media bought McCain's cosmetic makeover when he became a "reformer" --  while its kissy coverage of McCain in 2000 turned the Arizonan into a major national figure, thanks to a fit of collective amnesia -- our leading organs of information are now turning a blind eye to the AP's revelation that McCain is an unethical recidivist who is once again mired in a putrid conflict of interest scandal with a major corporate player. Most of the Inside-the-Beltway press corps seems not to care about this latest McCain chicanery--so you are kept in the dark about it. A free press is a great thing, isn't it?

A REPORTER'S GOODBYE BITCH-SLAPS THE MEDIA:   Laurie Garrett has been a first-class reporter for Newsday since 1988. In a farewell note to her colleagues on the paper as she leaves the profession (temporarily, we hope) for a full-time gig at the Council on Foreign Relations, Laurie has delivered an autopsy of what's wrong not just at Newsday, but with the press in general, that is a must-read. The Poynter Institute's invaluable Jim Romanesko has posted Laurie's goodbye memo online--here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

"The deterioration we experienced at Newsday was hardly unique. All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions. Long gone are the days of fast-talking, whiskey-swilling Murray Kempton peers eloquently filling columns with daily dish on government scandals, mobsters and police corruption. The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

"Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone...When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday – guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs – I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism...." You ought to read the rest of Laurie Garret's pungent diagnosis by clicking here

THE SETIF MASSACRE IN ALGERIA: FRANCE SAYS IT WAS WRONG--60 YEARS AFTER:   The May 8, 1945 massacre of more than 10,000 Algerians by the French is considered the act that sparked the anti-colonial movement which led to the long and bloody struggle for Algeria's independence, which France brutally tried to repress for years. This horrendous mass murder is largely forgotten today outside Algeria. But, on that day -- in revenge for an anti-French riot that killed eight colonists -- the French military and colonial para-military vigilante groups began a sanguineous exaction of revenge that destroyed Setif and other Algerian villages with naval shelling and aerial bombardments, and killed thousands more through summary executions (read: armed lynchings). Today's Le Monde reports that France's ambassador to Algeria made a speech in Setif calling the massacre an "inexcusable tragedy." The speech -- as the French government's first-ever admission that the mass killing of civilians was wrong -- made front-page headlines in Algeria, where the dailies spoke of "a taboo finally broken" and "a revolution," while some papers called it a "first step" that should lead to official "repentance" by the French. You can read Le Monde's account by clicking here.

"MOHAMMED AND WOMEN" is the title of a cover package in today's Nouvel Observateur on the occasion of the publication in Paris by Grasset of "Al Sira," a book by two Egyptian intellectuals (one Arab, the other Jewish) that tries to rescue the prophet of Islam from the Islamist extremists. Forced marriage, the excision (female circumcision) of women, stoning for adultery, and other practices favored by extremist mullahs have no basis in the Coran, insist Adel Rifaat et Bahgat Elnadi in their new book. You can read an interview with the authors, and other interesting articles on this topic, by clicking here. I'm an atheist, of course, but this book sounds like it's going to make a lot of Islamist fundamentalists very unhappy (which is why its authors chose to publish it pseudonymously under the name  "Mahmoud Hussein"...... ARAB-AMERICANS ARE BETTER EDUCATED AND WEALTHIER than their fellow citizens, says a stereotype-breaking analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau--according to a New York Times report today, which you can read by clicking here.

IN THE L.A. MAYOR'S RACE, rich Bob Hertzberg having finally conceded, it's going to be a rerun of the Mayor Hahn-Anthony Villaraigosa contest from four years ago in this year's runoff. Two big changes: the formerly ardently populist Hispanic candidate has lost his bite in his current campaign and is in need of Dentugrip, and the labor-Hispanic coalition that almost brought Villaraigosa victory last time was shattered when labor endorsed Hahn, a betrayal ably chronicled by my L.A. Weekly colleague Marc Cooper when it happened in December. Marc on his blog today predicts a nasty, racially polarizing campaign by Hahn, who, rather embarassingly, barely squeaked into the run-off in yesterday's vote. But then, as Marc notes, "Hahn is a miserable embarrassment as a Mayor: Soporific, remote, dull and enmeshed in several pay-to-play scandals..."

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As far as I know, no New York or New Jersey newspaper has reported on McCain being the Washington waterboy for Cablevision. This is disturbing as:

(1) Cablevision controls big chunks of the cable TV industry -- half of New York City, much of northern New Jersey, nearly all of Long Island.

(2) Cablevision is in a "Texas Death Match" against the stadium that New York City wants to build for the New York Jets. For that reason the National Football League has moved its player draft out of Madison Square Garden -- a facility owned by Cablevision.

Oh, I should add that McCain has been grandstanding against porn while taking money from the porn industry. He is now grandstanding against steroids and sports while covering the ass of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Posted by: Charles Everett | Mar 20, 2005 3:22:01 PM

Speaking of McCain and hypocricy, note that he voted to confirm the pro-torture Gonzales as Attorney General. Doesn't McCain remember where he was in the late 60's and early 70's?
Hint: do the words "Enemy Combatant" ring a bell? Yes, he was an enemy of North Vietnam, and was captured by them. But they didn't do some of the brutal things to him that his friend Gonzales thinks are fine for treatment of prisoners.

Posted by: bruce in Arizona | Mar 12, 2005 11:32:55 PM

Too bad to read about Laurie Garrett leaving journalism, at least for now. I've read two of her science books, and they both were excellent.

Posted by: Kevin | Mar 10, 2005 11:43:52 PM

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