THE BLOG
03/18/2008 05:35 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Time To Put Rezko To Rest

Now that Barack Obama has outlined his relationship with Tony Rezko in great detail, it is time for the media and the Clinton campaign to put the story to rest, because, for all of the association between the two men, no guilt has been found. The media continues to ask why Obama didn't talk about Rezko sooner, but there was never any evidence to indicate that he had anything to clear up.

The reporting on Rezko has actually taken a similar pattern to past reporting on Clinton "scandals" like Whitewater, with the media implicating the subject by virtue of association with a figure under investigation and of his residence in an ostensibly sleazy political culture. For the Clintons, this was Arkansas, for Obama, it was Chicago.

Though Chicago, like many urban centers, certainly has a notorious history of political patronage, vague pronouncements about Chicago-style corruption seem more prevalent these days than actual reporting on cases of wrong-doing. Take Tribune columnist John Kass, who recently had a lot to say about the "cesspool of Chicago politics" but nothing to substantiate his suspicion that it is impossible for Obama to "swim in the sewers of Illinois politics without catching a cold." (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-kass_bd16mar16,1,4243773.column)

Such statements are irresponsible. Obama's political career is hardly an illustration of Chicago-style politics at work. As Illinois state senator, he brought transparency to some of Illinois's notably corrupt institutions like the police force and the campaign finance apparatus
His approach to the Rezko matter reflects a valuing of transparency. In his recent, exhaustive interview (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-obamafullwebmar16,0,6642341.story?page=1) with the Chicago Tribune, Obama brought along all documents from his home purchase. He also described his relationship with Rezko, from their first meeting to Rezko's political support, in detail. (To Obama's credit, he did not opportunistically disavow Rezko, saying that his one-time contributor and friend "had always been gracious to me and my family.")

Like many other people who have followed this story, I long had little idea what exactly was at issue over the Obama family's partnership with Rezko, and I blame this to some degree on media coverage. I knew Rezko was under indictment related to the campaign of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, I knew Rezko had bought adjacent land next to the Obama house, and I knew Rezko had contributed money to past Obama campaigns, but the coverage did little to illuminate why exactly this relationship was under so much scrutiny.

Finally, what is maddening about the Clinton campaign's treatment of the Rezko issue is how little it squares with her expectations for herself in similarsituations. Clinton's chief campaign strategist Mark Penn recently criticized Obama for not being forthcoming about Rezko sooner (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/politics/blog/2008/03/clinton_campaign_yes_on_rezko.html), but when her husband was president, Hillary Clinton insisted that they steadfastly withhold documents that pertained to the Whitewater land deal, for fear that releasing them would lend credence to the allegations that the Clintons' involvement in the transaction was criminal. And of course, Hillary is still refusing to release her tax forms and White House records. Therefore, Obama is the only one of the two who has the credibility to urge his opponent to be forthcoming.

In the future, the media's role in instances such as the Rezko matter should be to critically examine the attacks of an opponent before repeating them. It would also be valuable for reporters to put political associations like the one between Obama and Rezko into perspective. It is not novel for established politicians to have received donations from fixtures who later come under investigation. To insinuate that the politician is culpable because of association is irresponsible reporting. Unfortunately, this has characterized the coverage of the Rezko story.