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Apparently, National Journal has no fact checkers

Friday, Feb 6, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Jonathan Rauch has penned one of the most ill-informed, convoluted columns I’ve ever seen at National Journal.

Rauch’s premise is that Rod Blagojevich’s “railroading” will come back to haunt Illinois. He’s flat-out wrong on several points.

* First and foremost, he seems to completely misunderstand Rod Blagojevich. Rauch asks what the hurry was to oust Blagojevich from office. Since Blagojevich was under “minute” surveillance, he wrote, why worry that the governor would do anything else illegal?

That’s easy. Just look at the record. Blagojevich knew very well that he was under intense investigation when he allegedly did all those things contained in the federal criminal complaint. There was an active grand jury, his friends had been indicted, and he knew the FBI was crawling all over him and that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had placed a big target on his head.

But the criminal complaint was only one aspect of the impeachment article. The rest of the charges were based on Blagojevich’s repeated willful and malicious attempts at nullifying or sidestepping the General Assembly’s legitimate constitutional authority. And then he even refused to back away from his behavior during his closing argument to the Senate. He had to go.

Plus, government completely collapsed after Blagojevich’s arrest. He could no longer govern. He had to go. The sooner the better.

And, finally, as stated many times during the impeachment process, the object of the General Assembly’s move was to protect the citizenry from this guy. So, again, he had to go.

* Rauch obviously has no clue what went on in Springfield during the impeachment. He writes…

On the basis of six minutes of wiretapped conversation — six minutes out of what the Chicago Tribune reported were “thousands of hours of recordings made of the governor and his allies” — the governor is convicted by the Senate and turned out of office.

Um, no. Those recordings were only a small part of the total package. You’d think he would’ve checked that one.

* Rauch also writes…

And the political class was too cavalier about nullifying an election.

Too cavalier? They stood by for six years while the guy broke one state law after another, then finally acted after he was arrested by the FBI and they were too cavalier? Quite a few people in this state believe they didn’t act quickly enough.

* Rauch’s conclusion…

Whatever his wrongs, Blagojevich was right about this: The rules that removed him are not sufficiently distinguishable from a railroading, and they are wide open to abuse. We may find out, before long, that the door he was just shoved through swings both ways.

The Illinois trial rules were almost identical to the US Senate’s impeachment rules for Bill Clinton’s trial. Clinton was not convicted.

Also, unlike Nixon, Clinton and Reagan during Iran/Contra, this was a Democrat-on-Democrat process. There will be no partisan blowback like there was in DC. Who’s gonna retaliate? Blagojevich’s friends and allies? He has no friends and allies.

But I will admit, as I have before, that the next time a governor spends six years ignoring state laws; watches as pretty much all of his top fundraisers and advisors are indicted, imprisoned or are under investigation and/ior seeking immunity; is arrested by the FBI at 6 o’clock in the morning along with his chief of staff because he was caught on surveillance tapes doing some seriously dirty deeds; and then instead of attending the House impeachment hearings and the Senate trial, goes on national TV to blame all of his problems on a mythical “political witch hunt,” then he or she will also be impeached and removed from office. I guarantee it. This is really the only precedent set here.

…Adding… From comments…

The proper question is, what precedent would the GA be setting if they did nothing and let this guy stay in office? What would an Illinois official have to do to be thrown out of office? How much corruption are the citizens supposed to tolerate?


  1. - Vote Quimby! - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:02 pm:

    I wish Rich would undermine this guy’s argument a little bit…a little venomous for a sunny Friday?

  2. - Frank Booth - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:03 pm:

    What’s the National Journal?

  3. - Stooges - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:04 pm:

    Bravo Rich. This revisionist history stuff is getting old. If he was railroaded, why didn’t the citizens of Illinois stop the impeachment, as the U.S. citizens did on the Clinton ordeal? If there was a public outcry to spare the governor, the vote would not have been unanimous.

  4. - aqui, alli, alla - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:04 pm:

    Rauch or Rausch? If you’re criticizing him (rightfully so, by the way) get his name right. Hurry and fix it before he sees it and dismisses your remarks solely because you misspelled his name.

  5. - Frank Booth - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:05 pm:

    Rich, for clarification, is it Rauch or Rausch.
    If it’s Rausch, I think we all know why the conclusion is Rod was railroaded. I just didn’t know she’d changed her name to Jonathan.

  6. - Steve - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:06 pm:

    Rich is quite right,Jonathan Rauch is off base on this one.Blagojevich had pretty of opportunity to defend himself.He’s responsible for everything he did and didn’t do.Blago’s luck ran out, he’s been a con man his whole life.His giving seniors free bus passes was a move to influence future potential jurors(Blago is well aware that seniors have the time to sit on juries).

  7. - train111 - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:06 pm:

    Where do I sign up to become a clueless talking head. Good gig if one can get it. Spout off a whole lot of gibberish and get paid well to do it. My estimation of the media has fallen tremedously over the course of this whole thing.


  8. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:07 pm:

    Frank, thanks. Fingers were on automatic.

  9. - Secret Square - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:08 pm:

    An extremely overpriced DC insider magazine… the website doesn’t say how much it costs but I think it’s around $600 a year. Cap Fax is a bargain in comparison :)

  10. - shore - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:10 pm:

    National Journal is a major inside the beltway publication that covers congress, the administration, k street/think tanks, national campaigns and policy making. It’s very highly thought of and houses some experts like charlie cook and formerly chuck todd.

    Rauch like most people that write for these publications probably went to a school east of the appalachian mountains and considers himself in a foreign country if he leaves the boston-d.c. corridor. That would explain some of rich’s concerns as far as missing context.

  11. - Fed Up State Employee - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:12 pm:

    I couldn’t take that. I had to email him and ask him if he did “any” research on what’s been going on in IL for the past six years. Apparently he didn’t.

  12. - The Mad Hatter - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:13 pm:

    Looks like Gov. Elvis’ media circus is having the intended result: he’s finding clueless out-of-state talking heads to take up his “I’m innocent”
    banner so the proverbial “one juror” will be swayed at his criminal trial.

  13. - One of the 35 - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:13 pm:

    Is it possible that Rausch is just a pen name for Geraldo Rivera?

  14. - Capitol View - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:14 pm:

    I thought that only Geraldo Rivera was drinking the Blago kool-aid.

    If an Illinois publication printed this nonsense, I would take them on with a letter to the editor. But this just gives me another reason not to pick up a copy of the National Journal. Terrible reporting.

  15. - Been There - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:15 pm:

    Well, there are still people who think OJ didn’t do it. You can have tapes, pictures, witnesses and the weapon still in your hand and somebody, somewhere is going to take the opposite view. Whatever sells I guess. Especially to the national marketplace.

  16. - Cinho - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:19 pm:

    It’s obvious that no one outside of Illinois is doing their homework on Blago. It is nauseating to see these outsiders talk about this case. You’d think somebody would at least read the articles of impeachment prior to interviewing Blago or writing about him.

  17. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:19 pm:

    What does it matter? We got the job done. And in the end, that’s all that counts, and Rauch can chase after the wind all he wants.

  18. - Deep South - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:23 pm:

    Hey Been There:

    A jury of OJs peers said he didn’t do it. OK.
    A jury of Blago’s peers said he did do it. OK, again.

    But there are some that say OJ DID do it…and some still say Blago DID NOT do it…or that he was railroaded. I can go either way on OJ, but not Blago.

  19. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:24 pm:

    Six, it matters because National Journal is considered “the bible” for DC. It also matters because Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic - one of the top political reporters around - highlighted the column today at the very top of his “clicks” list.

  20. - VanillaMan - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:27 pm:

    This gentleman’s view isn’t unique. A lot of people are misinformed about Blagojevich. They didn’t pay attention to him during his years as our worst governor, so they assume that he was impeached over the tape recordings made by the FBI.

    Blagojevich was arrested over the tapes. But he was impeached because his arrest was the moment everyone in Illinois recognized that Blagojevich can not only our worst governor, he was seriously destroying Illinois by remaining in office.

    Had David Letterman contacted me during his interview with Blagojevich, I would have started off by dismissing all debating points regarding his arrest. Instead I would have read the litany of stupidity, incompetence, and monumental destruction Rod Blagojevich dumped on Illinois, forcing us to impeach him when he was arrested.

    Anything more than an arrest for jaywalking would have resulted in this boob’s impeachment. A DUI, another found check written out to one of his daughters for thousands, another staffer indicted - it could have been anything similar that would have triggered his impeachment. It was simply a matter of time before Illinois rid itself of Rod Blagojevich.

    Drive-by journalists such as the one who composed this half-digested lump of crap wouldn’t understand because they didn’t care how badly Blagojevich governed.

  21. - Huh? - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:28 pm:

    Why do we care about blago anymore? he is gone from state government and can’t do anything to hurt the state anymore.

    When an empty talking head/simpleton starts flapping its gums, just give a little smile, gently nod your head like an indulgent grandfather and say to yourself “We know him better than you” all the while knowing that the brainless idiot talking head will be outraged with self righteous indignation when blago goes to jail.

  22. - Anon - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:32 pm:

    shore- come on he flys over Illinois for his ski holiday in Aspen.

  23. - Been There - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:34 pm:

    Deep South, I have a couple of extra Brooklyn Bridges for sale. Let me know if you are interested.

  24. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:36 pm:

    The real precedent question is the opposite of Blago & fans argument. The proper question is, what precedent would the GA be setting if they did nothing and let this guy stay in office? What would an Illinois official have to do to be thrown out of office? How much corruption our the citizens supposed to tolerate?

    Some people seem to believe a guy losing his job is worse than being sent to jail.

  25. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:42 pm:

    National Journal is considered “the bible” for DC

    I suppose that makes most of us in IL atheists.

  26. - Bookworm - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:43 pm:

    Ok, so if National Journal is indeed the “bible” of DC insiders (maybe more like the Satanic Bible in this instance!) and the notion that Blago was railroaded becomes “conventional wisdom” among the DC crowd, what effect does that have? Could it open the door to Blago becoming a media talking head, or perhaps, God forbid, running for office in another state (he is only banned in Illinois after all).

  27. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:44 pm:

    OK Rich, if this is such an issue that we can’t let it go, how about sponsoring a Capitol Fax response to the article, directly to the editor of NJ. Top ten essays get compiled and included in the response.

  28. - Fed Up State Employee - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:46 pm:

    Here is Rauch’s response. Maybe everyone should email him and highlight some of Rich’s observations above?

    Jonathan Rauch
    Guest Scholar
    The Brookings Institution
    1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
    Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 797-6203 * fax 797-2973

  29. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:47 pm:

    Six, the blog post was my response. If you want to respond, put it here (I’m pretty sure he’ll see it) or send him an e-mail. No need to sponsor a contest.

  30. - Lakefront Liberal - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:50 pm:

    Stories in the national media that are about things happening in our state and that get them so incredibly wrong make me wonder if the things we read about other states are just as skewed and un-factual. It seems so much of the media just plain has a lack of ability or desire to actually grasp the real situation and write about it. This is part of what has gotten us into the huge mess we are in in this country — and in ability or lack of desire to deal with reality.

    Though this particular story may be about something that is now over and done with it doesn’t change the fact that this kind of nonsense can in other circumstances be very dangerous. Among other things it results in time being wasted argueing over things that should be obvious facts, leaving little time to deal with actual problems.

    For example, the arguement we are having right now about whether or not the stimulus package should include spending. As Obama said — that is the point! It is like having to argue with someone whether or not you put apples in an apple pie. Or arguing whether or not Blago was “railroaded.”

  31. - Levois - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:51 pm:

    How much corruption should the citizens take? What about our leaders? How much were they willing to take?

  32. - Larry Mullholland - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 2:58 pm:

    Having a flash back. I thought it was Rebecca Rausch defending the our corrupt former governor.

    To claim that the legislature “moved quickly” is a joke. The real story is that our Democrat controlled legislature helped fundraise & reelect the criminal in spite of all the investigations and audit findings and etc etc.

    I wish people could focus and how & why it took so darned many years for our leaders to finally act. Shameful

  33. - A Citizen - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:02 pm:

    Please don’t forget that Emil Jones, Senate President, effectively provided a brick wall against all who wanted to proceed.

  34. - Cheswick - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:03 pm:

    I wouldn’t think a so-called respected publication like National Journal would base a story on points fed to it by a PR agency, but that’s what this sounds like. Could it be?

  35. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:07 pm:

    Mr. Rauch-

    Our glacial state legislature moved with turtle speed even knowing of malfeasance and misdirection for several years. Only until the governor’s arrest gave them political cover for the impeachment did they act. IL’s constitution, which was resoundingly re-ratified by the state’s voters last November, sets a much lower bar than the US Constitution’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard for chief executive malfeasance. In essence, the state GA is empowered to investigate and remove its chief executive in a vote of “no confidence”. The 59-0 and 117-1 votes in both chambers, added with the fact IL has never before removed a governor with this process in its near 200-year existence, offer testimony to both the affirmation that the governor had indeed lost “all confidence” of its citizens and elected representatives, and the extreme care and rarity in which this process is used in IL.

  36. - Waco Kid - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:16 pm:

    Wow. It appears Jonathan Rausch has bought into Blago’s on camera personna hook, line, and sinker.

  37. - Loyal Whig - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:18 pm:

    The General Assembly was guilty of non-feasance for not impeaching him earlier. If not for the fed attorney he would have served out his term.

  38. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:34 pm:

    National media just love to drink the Rod Koolaid. Schmucks.

  39. - Secret Square - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:35 pm:

    If the national media is this clueless about Blago, you have to wonder, how wrong or superficial were they about Sarah Palin? How true is their characterization of what went on in NY with David Paterson and Caroline Kennedy? How wrong are they, or will they be, about Bobby Jindal or other governors who rise to national prominence (or disgrace)?

  40. - Downstate Commissioner - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 3:49 pm:

    Okay, if Mr. Rauch will read ths, then,
    Mr. Rauch, you have written a poorly researched column supporting an egotistical, self-serving governor, who deserved to be removed from office, not because of his criminal activities, but because of his political incompetence.
    You actually owe the the Illiois Legislature, which is composed of persons who represent the citizens of Illinois, an apology, or at least, a retraction. The vote to convict was UNANIMOUS.

  41. - Willie Stark - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:23 pm:

    While not familiar with this writer’s body of work, one possibility to consider is that he may be a writer who likes to be contrary-for-contrary’s-sake. This is the MO, or used to be anyway, for a lot of Slate writers - to the point that it became unreadable for me. Anyone can write a column about how awful Blagojevich was, but there are precious few people defending him. Sometimes, the conventional wisdom deserves challenge; other times, it gets challenged by people who are looking for some attention or notoriety, not because they have a truly legit case to make as to why the CW is wrong. That’s a pretty low form of journalism, and it cheapens the public discourse.

  42. - 47th Ward - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:24 pm:

    My e-mail exchange…

    To: Jonathon Rauch
    From: 47th Ward
    Subject: Satire?

    You’re joking about former Governor Blagojevich being railroaded, aren’t you? I don’t think many Illinoisans, who’ve watched this man demonstrate
    nothing but contempt for his office, the state constitution, or the taxpayers over the last six years, agree with anything you wrote in this

    To: 47th Ward
    From: Jonathon Rauch

    Thanks for writing.

    The article didn’t say he was railroaded. It said the proceedings were not as different as they should have been from a railroading.

    To: Jonathon Rauch
    From: 47th Ward

    Thanks for the response. The rules were almost identical to the Clinton impeachment trail and he was acquitted by the Senate. There was much more to Blagojevich’s removal than the federal complaint. Much more.

  43. - Moderate Repub - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:25 pm:

    Just read this, and may perhaps be the best “shut down” by a journalist on another journalist. You are dead on with all your points. My instincts say you wrote this immediately after you read it without stopping and your body full of angst and sheer disgust for the lack of time and research done by the author. Frustration is like a muse for some of us in that way, and I share it in my work also.

  44. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:25 pm:

    Willie, there’s nothing implictly wrong with being a contrarian or offering a contrarian viewpoint. But the facts have to be straight.

  45. - Secret Square - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:27 pm:

    Dear Mr. Rauch, there were many more good reasons to remove Blago from office as quickly as possible. At least 9 billion reasons. That’s the size of the budget deficit he left us with. We thought it was “only” about 4 or maybe 5 billion before he left office. Now we’re finding out it was almost twice that. We the people of Illinois will be paying for his, ahem, creative accounting methods for years to come.
    Also, were you aware that more Illinoisans actually voted AGAINST Blago than for him in 2006? He only got 49.8 percent of the vote. However, the remainder of the vote was split 40-10 between a Republican candidate and a Green Party protest candidate. So much for his 1.6 million vote margin of victory.

  46. - Angry Chicagoan - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:27 pm:

    National Journal is not only a very pernicious inside-the-Beltway publication, it is a very Republican one. Michael Barone, who basically runs it, has long since ceased to have any credibility with me, and frankly I think it is best ignored. Shoddy statistics, shoddy journalism, shoddy editorial policy.

  47. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:28 pm:

    ===My instincts say you wrote this immediately after you read it===

    No. It built up all day.

  48. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:30 pm:

    Adding… I was going to ignore him completely, but then Ambinder posted the column on his site.

    So I sent a long e-mail to Ambinder politely explaining why it was goofy to post that ridiculous column in such a prominent spot. He asked to post my e-mail. I eventually told him I’d rather do a blog post.

    And… voilà.

  49. - Shambling Septic - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 4:35 pm:

    Rauch completely misses the point that an impeachment trial is NOT a criminal or civil trial. The only “standard of guilt” is whether enough of the senators want the impeachee tossed out or not. Blago wasn’t actually convicted, in a legal sense, of anything.

    In many other states, Blago would have been up for a recall election, which is just the voters impeaching an elected official instead of legislators doing it. He still would have been removed.

    In a parliamentary system, there just would have been a no-confidence vote and Blago would’ve been tossed out the same day, no trial at all.

  50. - Joe in the Know - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 5:14 pm:

    What will Mr. Rauch say when Rod R. Blagojevich, the disgraced former Governor of Illinois, is convicted on all 247 counts in federal court sometime in early 2010?

  51. - steve schnorf - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 5:27 pm:

    47th, I’m not so sure about where Illinoisans stand on Governor Blagjevich. Let’s all recall that we rather overwhelmingly re-elected him just 2 short years ago, after seeing his style and substance for 4 years. It’s kind of like I felt about the move to recall him. I don’t think you get a mulligan on the second shot.

  52. - downhereforyears - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 5:48 pm:

    Rauch got the facts for his story from Whoppie Goldberg. I’ll bet it’s a while before he’s a guest columnist again.

  53. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 6:05 pm:

    Look, you’re going to see a lot of this revisionist history coming from DC right until the moment the Fed unveils the mother of all corruption indictments. It will be a blockbuster. It will be well documented. And it will shut-up all those nationally, and even a few here locally, who say Rod was railroaded. Until then, c’est La Vie.

  54. - ahem - Friday, Feb 6, 09 @ 8:49 pm:

    Rauch seems to get all his info straight from Blago.

  55. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 9, 09 @ 1:06 pm:

    Wasn’t his polling right around the high single digits Steve? I thought I saw 7% at one point recently, down from 13% prior to his arrest.

    If those polls were accurate snapshots of the sentiment of the vast majority of Illinois voters, then my statement stands.

    Don’t forget, Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1972. How’d that work out?

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