So, I have a great deal of compassion for the members of Spitzer’s family, although Spitzer’s many victims would certainly attest that he showed none for them. Larry Ribstein has related and typically insightful thoughts regarding why the revelers in Spitzer’s fate should be concerned about the way in which he was brought down.
But I hope that the most important lesson that Spitzer’s political career teaches us is not lost amidst the glare of a tawdry sex scandal.
As with Rudy Giuliani before him, Spitzer rose to political power through the misuse of the state’s overwhelming prosecutorial power to regulate business interests. In so doing, Spitzer manipulated an all-too-accommodating mainstream media, which never misses an opportunity to take down an easy target such as a wealthy businessperson. Spitzer is now learning that the same media dynamic applies to powerful politicians, as well.
However, as noted earlier here, where was the mainstream media’s scrutiny when Spitzer was destroying wealth, jobs and careers while threatening to go Arthur Andersen on American Insurance Group and other companies?
Where was the healthy skepticism of the unrestrained use of the state’s prosecutorial power to regulate business where business had no available regulatory procedure with which to contest Spitzer’s actions?
As Dealbreaker’s John Carney noted at the time of that earlier post:
Why didn’t [the mainstream media covering Spitzer’s investigation of Grasso] reveal the slimy tactics of the Spitzer squad?
We suspect part of the problem was the fear of being “cut off” of access. Reporters compete for scoops, and often those scoops depend on sources who will leak information to them. In the NYSE case, reporters assigned to the story were largely at the mercy of the investigators, who could cut-off uncooperative reporters, leaving them without copy to bring to their editors while their competitors filed stories with the newest dirt. They probably felt—not unrealistically—that their very jobs were on the line.
This reveals an unfortunate state of affairs. Playing bugle boy while government officials call the tunes from behind a veil of anonymity is not investigative journalism—it’s hardly journalism at all. It’s closer to propaganda. It would have been far better had the journalists turned their backs on the Spitzer squad, or even revealed these tactics to the public. Sure they may have lost some “good” stories but they could have painted a truer picture of what was going on. But that’s probably too much to hope for.
Alas, change does not come easily to the mainstream media.
Late last week, this post reported on developments that could well expose an egregious abuse of prosecutorial power in connection with the prosecution for former Enron CEO, Jeff Skilling. Why has no mainstream media outlet intervened in that case and demanded that the information about potentially serious governmental misconduct be made public?
The Spitzer lesson is not easily embraced.
Update: Following on the theme of this post, the W$J’s Kimberly Strassel reviews the mainstream media’s complicity in portraying Spitzer as something that he is not, and Charlie Gasporino — who wrote the book about Spitzer that foreshadowed these issues — comments along the same lines here.