Media Plays Important Role in Sad State of Illinois Politics
Media Plays Important Role in Sad State of Illinois Politics
Written By   |   02.25.09
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was shocking to some, just “business as usual” to others. A governor of Illinois was arrested by federal agents for a litany of charges, including an alleged attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat.

We have gotten to the point in Illinois where the names don’t matter and the political affiliations don’t either. One more story about government gone bad with the victims being the people of our state.

How did we come to such a place where corruption in politics is part of Illinois folklore? There is even a joke in Chicago that goes something like: “Vote early and vote often.”

The only problem with that gallows-type humor is the joke is a true statement of politics in the “Land of Lincoln” that is more sad than funny. A vast majority of the public blames the politicians themselves for the sad state of affairs which has made Illinois the brunt of comic relief across the nation, and they are right in doing so. Men and women are responsible for their actions whether they work in a grocery store or as a member of the U.S. Senate. However, I found great irony when one of the allegations facing now impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich included charges involving the Chicago Tribune.

You see Blagojevich, allegedly, as part of a business deal, called for the firing of some editors at the Tribune who did not treat the then-Governor the way he felt they should have treated him.

But why would Blagojevich have the audacity to make such demands on the Chicago Tribune or any other member of the Fourth Estate in the first place? Could it be he expected the same coverage other Machine politicians have received for decades? Indeed, did Blagojevich think the Tribunemight honor his request? I believe the answer to those questions are a resounding “yes” and though the Tribune is not the only villain in this sad saga, the recently bankrupt newspaper helped to create the political cesspool that many are calling Illinois politics.

Some might call it guilt by omission, others might refer to the coverage of politics in Chicago as tacit complicity which gives politicians the license to do what they will. Holding elected office was once considered public service. In fact, many politicians aspired to be statesmen — that is to say, an unselfish servant of the people.

The Founding Fathers of our nation in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution assigned special privileges and rights which were meant to help the press be a watchdog for the people. It was a type of check and balance with the press given a tremendous responsibility — which is to safeguard our democratic republic. The relationship between government and the press is a delicate one. When it is working properly, much good can come of it. When it is not working properly, corruption will, most certainly, sprout like weeds in freshly mowed grass after a soft summer rain.

Members of the media can only do their jobs when they have access. Politicians have learned how to play the game, and one of the ways to control what the media reports is by controlling that access. Subsequently, journalists — being human beings — have choices to make. Do they write stories that may expose political malfeasance and, at the same time, possibly jeopardize their career, especially in large cities where government may be controlled by a one-Party system.

Human beings find it much easier to row downstream instead of traveling up river where they’re sure to fight currents and eddies along the way. Unfortunately, in Chicago, many journalists have found it easier to go with the flow and look the other way while saying, “that’s Chicago politics.”

That is not the way the Founders designed the system to work. It is a vicious circle of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” that has left the good people of our state wondering how such things can happen. This is not a story about Republicans or Democrats. It’s not a story about conservatives or liberals. It is about individuals in the media not doing their jobs (for whatever motive) and the carnage that results. At times, the press act like sharks in blood-filled waters. The feeding frenzy which follows seems to come from nowhere. However, this only happens when the media — as in the Blagojevich situation — is given license to attack. A flurry of activity ensues. Some see it as the media doing its job. In reality, the press should always do its job. There should be consistency and continuity.

But in these times of 24 hour cable news and the Internet, it’s easier to run with the pack, instead of doing the hard-hitting investigative journalism which our form of government not only needs, but must have.

If the allegations are true, Rod Blagojevich was wrong and should pay a price for his misdeeds. Yet, at the same time, as with former Illinois GovernorGeorge Ryan before him — who now sits in a federal prison — is an environment of complacency within the media helping lead to a story of government gone wrong?

Without proper safeguards, corruption in politics will spread–like a fire fed by oxygen. Many members in the Chicago press need to ask themselves if they are part of the problem in Illinois or part of the solution. Of course, this is not an indictment of every journalist who does his or her best in their profession. Yet it is safe to say many have not done their jobs and the people of Illinois have paid the price for their negligence. They have paid the price in the trust lost to those holding elected office and in the myriad of investigations into corruption which have literally cost taxpayers millions of dollars. We all deserve better.

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