Reckless and Irresponsible: Today’s Virginian Pilot Editorial on McDonnell

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    by Paul Goldman

    Today’s Virginian Pilot editorial, saying new newspaper “revelations” require Governor Bob McDonnell to resign, should strike anyone who believes in American constitutional values as totally unfair, indeed the height of hypocrisy. Calling on Bob McDonnell to resign at this point is not an act of journalistic courage or principle: PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE. It is an act of journalistic cowardice wrapped in phony morality.

    Setting yourself up as a moral censor may have been okay for Cato The Elder in times of the Roman Empire: but political correctness is a thin reed in a democracy.

    Earlier this year, the Virginian Pilot backed McDonnell’s transportation plan that only works because it takes billions of dollars meant to help poor minority kids get a decent education, and use them instead to help real estate speculators make a bunch of money on roads. Don’t take my word for it: Democrats and education advocates praised by the Pilot point this out.

    But the Pilot editorial board chose roads for real estate developers over schools for poor minority kids because they made a cold calculation. It was the best they could get. And, I’d note, real estate developers have big bucks and advertise in the newspaper. Poor minority kids have no money and don’t advertise in newspapers.

    I get it: the poor pay more, the middle class pays for all of it, and newspaper editorial boards get to claim a morality for convincing Bob McDonnell to do stuff, break his no-tax pledge. None of it bothers me really, we all make our peace with our own imperfections. I don’t judge, but I do report, and so when I see hypocrisy masking as journalistic morality, we at 200-proof comment.

    Right now, Bob McDonnell isn’t popular. If he were to resign as Governor, most Virginians would probably say: good riddance. Myself included. He is the lamest of lame duck Governors in modern history.  He has disgraced his office. The McDonnells have disgraced the Governor’s Mansion.

    I get all that: I voted against him twice. But there is larger, more important truth, indeed aspect of the McDonnell Mess: the American belief in fair play, in having the trial BEFORE THE HANGING. If a politician wants to call for the Governor to resign, that’s politics, the good the bad the ugly. But a newspaper’s editorial board is supposed to rise above politics, rise above the mob mentality and the passions of the moment.

    Those news “revelations” which led the Pilot to call for McDonnell’s head have to do with actions taken by the First Lady as regards the buying/selling of Star Scientific Stock. According to McDonnell, he knew nothing about it until after the fact. This still leaves a lot of time unaccounted for, and this plays directly into what he knew or didn’t know when filing his disclosure forms as required by state law. Moreover, unconfirmable press reports say Jonnie Williams disputes the Governor and First Lady on what they knew and what they told him they wanted to do to help him.

    It all looks Bad for Bob, and deservedly so: “what a web we weave when we practice to deceive” is the adage that comes to mind. Bob says he wasn’t trying to deceive, at least not criminally and indeed not at all in this particular instance. He says he was kept in the dark by his wife. This seems a little hard to believe given the facts confirmed by the Governor’s defense team and the First Lady’s new defense lawyer. BUT there is no way for the Pilot to know any more than they read in other newspaper accounts!

    The point being: The Pilot’s call for resignation is a reaction to press reports, not prosecutorial evidence. It may all be true, the Pilot’s speculation included. But again: Call me old fashioned, but this idea of having the hanging BEFORE we know all the evidence doesn’t work for me.

    Moreover, the Pilot’s logic as to why McDonnell is not capable of cleaning up the ethical mess required as Job #1 of any governor suggests they believe both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are unqualified to be the next Governor, and should probably quit the race the way McDonnell should quit the Governorship.  This is an absurd result, not unexpected from irresponsible and reckless editorializing. How can the Pilot possibly back either man for Governor at this point without a cleverly constructed argument to justify why their political preference should be held to a lower standard? That’s the problem with such moralizing: you put yourself in an untenable posture for political, not moral, reasons.

    Bottom line: This is not the 14th century, women are not the property of their fathers or husbands or the state. Mrs. McDonnell is an independent person who surely has the right to buy and sell stock without telling her husband. Ergo, her husband doesn’t automatically get blamed for such activity.  The Governor says he didn’t know about his wife’s actions. Furthermore, the Governor’s lawyers, along with the First Lady’s counsel, say Mr. Williams is a liar willing to say anything to avoid prosecution.

    As of this moment, there is no way for the Pilot to know the truth. And as of this moment, American values require giving the Governor the benefit of the doubt. Surely we can agree on this: no one should be hounded out of office by a media mob stirring up the mob mentality in the court of public opinion on such “evidence.”

    It is one thing for the Pilot to lay out their case as to why they believe the Governor might consider stepping down for the good of the commonwealth. That’s fair. But they choose another line of attack. Politics masquerading as morality is not a petty sight, whether coming from the McDonnells or from the Pilot. Bob McDonnell should not resign no matter the future if he truly believes he is innocent. He needs to trust the fairness of Virginians. But at the same time, he needs to be brutally honest with himself through a focused reflection, for he knows what he was thinking at all relevant times.

    That’s what the Pilot should be asking from the Governor. They shouldn’t be calling for the hanging. Truth crushed to earth, as the saying goes, will rise. That’s what McDonnell needs to know this morning.

    • Andy Schmookler

      So, a politician putting forward a position on such a matter is OK, but for a newspaper’s editorial board to do so is not?

      An elective office-holder should not feel compelled to resign until a duly impaneled jury delivers a guilty verdict, however many years it may take to get to that point?

      Would you also say that, after more than a dozen women have come forward complaining about sexual harassment from the mayor of San Diego, Mayor Filner should feel under no pressure to resign?  After all, he’s not been convicted of anything.

    • DJRippert

      “Mrs. McDonnell is an independent person who surely has the right to buy and sell stock without telling her husband.”.

      Yeah, she has the right to buy and sell what she wants.  But if the McDonnells filed joint returns then she has no right to hide the fact that she bought and sold those shares.

      Maureen McDonnell bought 6,522 shares of Star Scientific during 2011.  She sold the shares on Dec. 20, 2011, for $2.34 a share, a significant loss. But she used the proceeds, more than $15,000, to buy 6,672 shares on Jan. 20, 2012.  Source: Washington Post.

      The loss on the purchase and subsequent sale of the Star Scientific shares during 2011 should have been clearly listed on the McDonnells’ 2011 tax return.  Assuming they file jointly Gov McDonnell should have seen that transaction.

      Maybe they file separately.  Maybe McDonnell signs a lot of documents he doesn’t bother to read.  But unless Mrs McDonnell committed tax evasion or unless the McDonnells file separately Gov McDonnell should have known that his wife bought and sold the stock in 2011.