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The Smoking Gun and the Media

Prodded by the right wing truth-challenged propaganda machine, the mainstream media are relentlessly looking for a smoking gun in the dealings of Senator Robert Menendez. Now that the prostitution allegation has been shown to be a false sensationalistic report promulgated by the Breitbart Bunch, the media have shifted their attention to campaign contributions and a grand jury investigation, implying that Senator Menendez granted a quid pro quo to a longtime friend, ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

Melgen is not only a contributor to Menendez, but also has given money to many other politicians. Like it or not, that's the way the system works. Until we get rid of Citizens United and enact public financing of election campaigns, the money will flow to both parties. And a lot of that money, especially from big donors, is not for altruistic purposes, it's there to buy influence.

There's no clear dividing line between ethical and non-ethical behavior. Every elected official spends a lot of time on constituent relations. Where the quid pro quo starts along that ethical spectrum is not always clear.
Consider, for example, the actions of Governor Chris Christie. Immediately after what was supposed to be a secret meeting with the infamous Koch Brothers, Christie unilaterally pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  He has also stalled efforts to promote renewable energy. Who stands to benefit financially from this action? Dirty-fuel barons like the Koch Brothers and others who plow millions into the Christie campaign coffers.

So why aren't the "mainstream media" investigating the Koch-Christie quid pro quo with the same energy that they are devoting to Menendez? There are a number of reasons. The media are owned by large corporations, most of which lean Republican. Sure, there are some great reporters covering the State House, but in order for them to do meaningful investigative journalism, they need to get approval from their editors and publishers. It requires the cash-strapped newspapers to commit funds to a story that may or may not pan out. And crossing the Christie administration is a reporter's first step to oblivion.

Don't expect television to pick up the slack. The New York and Philadelphia stations are beholden to the same corporate giants and prefer to report on car wrecks over substantive political stories. And executives controlling New Jersey's eviscerated television network are among the list of Christie Cronies.

Blogs like this one don't have to answer to the great and powerful. But we're volunteers - most of us not trained in investigative journalism. Our access to the inner workings of the State House (especially for those of us who question the actions of politicians) is no better than that of the general public. Consequently, our ability to dig out the facts is more opportunistic than routine.

So while the Menendez affair may be good fodder for the mainstream media (today's Washington Post article still devoted three paragraphs to the debunked prostitution allegations), more serious potential wrongdoings go uninvestigated. If there's a smoking gun in the Christie-Koch bromance, we'll probably never see it.

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