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The [Wednesday] Papers

I don't know that I have anything new to add to the resignation of Illinois congressman Aaron Schock, but I thought this tease from Politico's Playbook summed up the affair nicely:

"[Schock] billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer . . . [D]ocuments . . . indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven . . . When Schock transferred the SUV to an Illinois dealership in 2014, it had 81,860 miles . . .

"However, from January 2010 to the end of July 2014, he billed the federal government for 123,131 miles on his personal vehicle. During the same period, the Republican billed his 'Schock for Congress' campaign account and GOP Generation Y Fund, his leadership political action committee, for an additional 49,388 miles. Altogether, Schock sought reimbursement for 172,520 miles on his car, despite the fact that he signed documents that certified the vehicle traveled less than half that distance."

The full Politico article is here.

Also:

"Schock's final hours: His decision to quit was so abrupt that even Speaker John Boehner didn't get a heads up . . . On Monday evening, POLITICO began asking questions about tens of thousands of dollars of reimbursements he received from his campaign and federal government for mileage put on his personal car . . . Asked for his response to those findings, Schock announced his resignation."

That article is here.

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I sent this e-mail to a friend (and political expert) last week - and I'm not pretending I'm the only one to make the point:

Is Aaron Schock going to prison?

I mean, he bilked taxpayers.

Jesse Jr. bilked campaign contributors.

Then again, Schock has admitted it.

Then again, the evidence is right there to see . . . wasn't so with Jr. until the indictment.

Right?

It appears to me that Schock's misdeeds are far more significant than Junior's - which isn't to diminish what Jackson and his wife did.

At the same time, Schock's resignation this "early" into his scandal is exceedingly smart if he wants to avoid a lengthy prison stay; coming clean and reimbursing everyone while giving up one's public office plays far better with the feds than fighting them tooth-and-nail for years. My guess is that Schock will eventually prosper in the private sector. My guess is also that his identity isn't much wrapped up in being a congressman - unlike some others to fall before him.

Journalism Lesson
To think - and again, others have pointed this out - that Schock's unraveling began with this instant classic.

Is there a lesson to be learned for journalists?

I would say Yes. I can't help but think back to the scandal we uncovered at my college paper, The Minnesota Daily, that brought down the school's president. It started with the outgoing managing editor telling the incoming managing editor - me - about rumors of a new fence at the president's mansion that cost $50,000. Was that a lot for fence? We didn't know. But we pulled that thread and eventually uncovered what was essentially a slush fund the president spent from - without knowledge of the Board of Regents to boot. There were the ancillary threads, too; eventually the president resigned and we were named the College Newspaper of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists, though that wasn't unusual for us.

I hope you all aren't sick of my tales of lessons learned from early in my career, but I also had a couple of editors at the Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, who were keen on pulling every thread. That led us in my favorite instance to a wildly unconstitutional sting the sheriff's office was running, in which they sold a million dollars' worth of pot out of a warehouse where they would dismantle brake lights or put kill switches on the vehicles of unsuspecting buyers while making their buy and then just happen upon them on the highway a few miles away offering help. A drug dog that wasn't really a drug dog but would simply bark on the right command would act as if it smelled drugs, a search would commence and the deputies would find the pot they had just sold to the dupes. It was called Operation Corinthian and the drugs came from Pablo Escobar.

That investigation started with a few stray comments from defense attorneys in courtrooms.

I'm not saying local reporters don't do that sort of thing - just that I wish they'd do more. Look at how Tim Novak and his Sun-Times colleagues kept finding threads to pull in the Koschman case. Amazing. That took imagination, too; the imagination to think of so many angles to explore. Similarly, David Kidwell's reporting for the Tribune on red-light cameras has been a marvel; he and his colleagues came up with ways of analyzing data to produce spectacular results - and the work must have been sheer drudgery.

Of course, quite often you pull the threads and find nothing. That's part of the job. I would suggest an important rule, though, is that you don't know what you don't know.

Sadly, some reporters insist they know what they don't. More sadly, they insist such a thing without ever asking a question. Often, because authorities who have proven untrustworthy insist in statements that no wrongdoing is occurring - while refusing to take questions, which is just about the biggest red flag you can come across.

For example.

Lotta threads to pull there.

Maybe if Homan was done up Downton Abbey-style there'd be more local interest.

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See also: Decorating Other Illinois Political Offices.

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Addendum
I once knew a reporter who would often say, "They won't talk to you . . . so-and-so won't talk to you . . . you'll never get so-and-so to talk."

I could never figure out what she was doing in this business. People talk all the time. Sometimes they say amazing things. Sometimes they even tell the truth.

And when they don't talk, that's part of the story - and I don't mean writing "John Doe declined to comment." I mean, "John Doe refused several invitations to respond to the allegations over the course of three days, including blocking reporters from Twitter and pretending on the phone once that he was somebody else so he could say he wasn't in. When approached at his car after work one day, he told this reporter to "Go fuck yourself," got into his car and zoomed away without stopping at the stop sign on the way out of the lot."

I mean, I know not all "no comments" are that colorful, but I'm always in favor of providing the context of public figures refusing to answer questions.

(That's something Washington Post reporter Ben Terris did masterfully in that first Schock story.)

*

When I write about this stuff, I'm not trying to be preachy. To the contrary, it's that this is what still inspires me. Also, to some of our lesser talents: Learn, dammit!

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Fantasy Fix Baseball Draft Guide: Starting Pitchers
Sale and Samardzija vs. Lester and Arrieta.

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BeachBook
* Cook County Demands Payment From State For Kids Left Waiting In Jail.

* AP Correction: Accused Murderer Robert Durst Is Not A Former Member Of Limp Bizkit.

* 16 Illinois State Alumni Working In One School.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Club Dread.



Permalink

Posted on March 18, 2015


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POLITICS - Trump's Farmer Heavily Subsidized.
SPORTS - Beachwood Sports Radio: Maddon's Lousy Playoff Managing Exceeds Playoff Pleasure

BOOKS - Dots & Dashes.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: My Bastard Heart.


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