Heads still in the "clouds": Media continue to use term to baselessly link Obama to Blagojevich scandal

››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH & HANNAH DREIER

In the absence of any allegations of wrongdoing by President-elect Barack Obama or his staff in connection with the scandal involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich, media figures continue to warn that a "cloud" hangs over Obama or assert that the scandal threatens to cast a "cloud" over Obama's presidency.

On December 14, Media Matters for America compiled a list of media figures who have warned that a "cloud" hangs over President-elect Barack Obama because of the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) or asserted that the scandal threatens to cast a "cloud" over Obama's presidency, despite the absence of any actual allegations of wrongdoing by Obama or his staff. On December 14 and 15, numerous other media figures made similar "cloud" references, even while, in some cases, acknowledging there is no evidence that Obama or members of his staff have done anything wrong.

For example:

  • On the December 15 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Andrea Mitchell asked New York Times correspondent Jeff Zeleny, concerning Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's announcement that the state Legislature is forming a bipartisan committee to consider possibly impeaching Blagojevich: "Jeff, how does this affect, first of all, the president-elect, and all of the controversies that are now swirling around the Illinois governor? Does it create a cloud just because it's, you know, more confusion about the situation in terms of who will succeed him?"
  • On the December 15 edition of MSNBC Live, co-host Contessa Brewer played a clip from MSNBC's Morning Joe in which former White House chief of staff Andy Card said, "Hopefully the transparency will come quickly so that Rahm Emanuel can do the job of chief of staff without having a cloud following around, or hanging over his head." Brewer then commented, "But it just seems like -- you know, the cloud is not just over Rahm Emanuel. If there -- if there were more to these contacts than meets the eye, isn't the whole cloud on the incoming administration?"
  • On the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan discussed the possibility that Emanuel has been instructed to remain silent about the Blagojevich scandal, and said, "You don't tell -- with due respect, you're chief of staff to the president of the United States. You say, 'Look, I understand your imperatives; we've got them, too. There's a cloud of suspicion over the president-elect that doesn't belong there, and I'm going to clear it up whether you like it or not.' " As Media Matters noted, on the December 12 edition of MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Buchanan similarly asserted: "I think there's a real cloud developing over the Obama team. You've got three top advisers -- Valerie Jarrett, [David] Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel -- whom you would think would be in touch or might be in touch with the governor about this -- who's going to replace -- who's going to replace Barack Obama in the Senate."
  • On the December 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, Sean Hannity said of the Blagojevich scandal, "All right, it's not an easy thing when you start out an administration -- and now we've got this ethical cloud hanging over the head of not only Senator Obama -- or President-elect Obama, but, you know, all of those people around him."
  • During the December 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz asked Chicago Tribune correspondent John McCormick, "[S]hould the press be pursuing a lot of the unanswered questions here about these interconnections among these Democratic politicians?" McCormick responded, "Mr. Emanuel's been under a cloud all week. He may be -- he may just be, you know, absolutely innocent of anything. But yes, I think we've got to chase the political -- the same story, by the way, reported that that list of acceptable candidates didn't include Jesse Jackson Jr., another interesting -- another interesting theme. Why not?"
  • On December 14, The Washington Times' Donald Lambro reported: "Mr. Obama has said that no one in his transition team was in involved [sic] in the scandal engulfing Mr. Blagojevich and has begun an internal investigation to see whether anyone else connected with his campaign may have spoken to the governor or his staff about filling his Senate seat. ... But last week, Republicans were not waiting for Mr. Obama's report and stepped up a drumbeat of statements about the scandals that have created a dark cloud over the Democrats as they prepare to take the reins of power next month."

As Media Matters has noted, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald stated during a December 9 press conference that the criminal complaint against Blagojevich "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct," and Fitzgerald cautioned the press to "not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed or if you learn they're being interviewed."

From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

MARK HALPERIN (Time senior political analyst): The other thing that is true is there's no indication that Fitzgerald thinks there's anything legally wrong with what Rahm Emanuel or any of the other Obama aides did. There might be some political issues, but there's no legal jeopardy there.

BUCHANAN: Why, then, can't he do as Jesse Jackson did, come forward and say, "Yeah, I had eight or 10 conversations with the staff guy, we talked about who we preferred, some we might not have preferred. I don't want to get into the details of it. There was no deal offered. There was no deal made. We wouldn't be part of a deal."

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Yeah. That would be so easy to say.

BUCHANAN: And that's it. Let the prosecutor go forward.

HALPERIN: Obama has said the first part, there wasn't any deal --

BUCHANAN: I know, but where's Rahm?

HALPERIN: Well, I think Obama's statement covers what Rahm said. The problem is, the guy's about to be running the government, in charge of the Justice Department that's going to be investigating this, and I'm sure that every lawyer that work for the U.S. Attorney's office, including Patrick Fitzgerald, and every lawyer who works for the transition is telling Obama and Rahm and the other people there, "You cannot speak out and not become part of the investigation."

BUCHANAN: You don't tell -- with due respect, you're chief of staff to the president of the United States. You say, "Look, I understand your imperatives; we've got them, too. There's a cloud of suspicion over the president-elect that doesn't belong there, and I'm going to clear it up whether you like it or not."

HALPERIN: If the facts are as they have suggested they are, that all that happened was that they had political conversations about, "here's who we like to see, who are you thinking about?" If that eventually comes out, which is what some people think is gonna eventually come out, then this is not a big problem.

BUCHANAN: Why doesn't it come out now?

HALPERIN: Because they have to get the facts, and they have to make sure Fitzgerald is comfortable.

JOE SCARBOROUGH (co-host): OK, OK, that's where -- here's the --

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the December 15 edition of MSNBC Live:

MITCHELL: Mike Madigan, the House Speaker in Illinois announcing that he is creating a bipartisan impeachment committee. Jeff Zeleny, political correspondent with The New York Times who's been tracking all of this and the new administration, the transition as well. Jeff, how does this affect, first of all, the president-elect, and all of the controversies that are now swirling around the Illinois governor? Does it create a cloud just because it's, you know, more confusion about the situation in terms of who will succeed him?

ZELENY: Well, at the very least, it creates just one more sort of bump in the road as the Obama side is trying to announce the rest of the members of their Cabinet. Initially, President-elect Obama thought being in Chicago would be a good home base for them, would take them out of Washington. Now, there's no question: They cannot get to Washington soon enough, to leave this sort of scandal, if you will, behind them in the dust.

From the 9 a.m. hour of the December 15 edition of MSNBC Live:

BREWER (anchor): You know, they were talking about -- a lot of these politicos, Chuck, talking about how Emanuel was a perfect fit for the job of chief of staff because you have to be willing to play some hardball. You have to go in, you have to strong-arm some people in order to get what the president wants done. That being said, here's what former White House chief of staff Andy Card said on Morning Joe specifically regarding these reported contacts between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

CARD [video clip]: I hope that there will be more transparency as we go forward. Hopefully the transparency will come quickly so that Rahm Emanuel can do the job of chief of staff without having a cloud following around, or hanging over his head. But I'm confident that Rahm Emanuel understands what this means in terms of credibility, and that he's going to do everything he can to make sure the sun will shine rather than the cloud rain.

BREWER: But it just seems like -- you know, the cloud is not just over Rahm Emanuel. If there -- if there were more to these contacts than meets the eye, isn't the whole cloud on the incoming administration?

CHUCK TODD (NBC News political director): Well, I think that's -- we're


we can't jump to -- excuse me, jump to a conclusion like that, because we still don't know exactly what the conversation was between Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich. I mean, if there was anything to it that somehow they -- they -- the Obama folks knew that Blagojevich was trying to do something like this and they turn the other way, even passively deciding, "You know what? We're not dealing with this, we're not playing ball with him because he's going to do something crazy with this, illegal. We might as well wait until he's out of there to start dealing with him." You know, that -- that could bring the Obama administration under some criticism.

From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America:

HANNITY: And welcome to Hannity's America. We get right to our top story this evening: The state of Illinois is finding themselves at the center of a political corruption scandal again. Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested earlier this week and is currently out on bail for allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Now, Obama has said that he never had any discussions with the governor about who should fill the seat, but is this just another example of an Illinois politician and political scandal, which President-elect Obama is gonna have to distance himself from?

And joining us now with reaction is former Bush adviser Karl Rove. Welcome back to Hannity's America, sir. Glad you're with us.

KARL ROVE (Fox News contributor): Great to be with you.

HANNITY: All right, it's not an easy thing when you start out an administration -- and now we've got this ethical cloud hanging over the head of not only Senator Obama -- or President-elect Obama, but, you know, all of those people around him. And we've got the contradictory remarks between him and Axelrod as it relates to whether he spoke to the governor of Illinois or not. How big an issue is this gonna be as they make their way to the White House?

ROVE: Yeah. Well, look, I have to assume when they come out, as they said, definitively on Wednesday that Axlerod did -- misspoke, they were so definitive in that, that's gotta be something that they stand by. But, look, let's be clear: No evidence whatsoever that President Obama was involved in this, but do remember this: Rod Blagojevich ran for governor of Illinois with Senator -- then-state Senator Barack Obama's very strong, enthusiastic, upfront and out-front support.

From the December 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: John McCormick in Chicago. Is the press and should the press be pursuing a lot of the unanswered questions here about these interconnections among these Democratic politicians?

McCORMICK: A fascinating thing is going on in the legal realm, but also in the political realm. The Tribune had a story Saturday morning, Friday night, talking about FBI recordings of Rahm Emanuel speaking with, I believe, John Harris, the governor's chief of staff, delivering a list of candidates who would be acceptable to the president-elect as replacements.

Well, as far as that goes, that's fine. But, you know, was there anything -- you know, Mr. -- Mr. Emanuel's been under a cloud all week. He may be -- he may just be, you know, absolutely innocent of anything. But yes, I think we've got to chase the political -- the same story, by the way, reported that that list of acceptable candidates didn't include Jesse Jackson Jr., another interesting -- another interesting theme. Why not?

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