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The Rundown

3:30 p.m. ET: With Christmas fast approaching, the lid is on until Monday morning. The only things The Rundown will be running down between now and then are (hopefully) some lovely gifts. And the only thing he'll be browsing is the dessert buffet. So happy holidays to you and yours, and let's meet back in this space Monday at 8 a.m.

8 a.m. ET: It's called "the benefit of the doubt" and Barack Obama gets it right now, at least as far as the media is concerned. That's the takeaway from yesterday's release and today's coverage of the long-awaited Blegojevich report, a document prepared by White House counsel-designate Gregory Craig which found that there was a bit of contact between the incoming administration and the embattled governor's office over the vacant Illinois senate seat, but nothing inappropriate.

Maybe there really is nothing to see here, and it is Christmas Eve. Still, it's striking how little skepticism there is in this morning's stories, both of the report's result and the process by which it was crafted. Imagine that there was a potential scandal like this involving the Bush administration -- far-fetched, we know, but play along for a moment. And imagine that Bush announced right away that he had done nothing wrong, but then said his staff would mount its own internal investigation, based on parameters and guidelines that he set. Next, imagine that the White House counsel produced a report, which said no one did anything wrong. Would the media buy that? Would that really be the end of the matter? The contrast between the leeway allowed the current administration and the incoming one is striking, though you could argue that the former earned a healthy dose of skepticism over the last eight years.

But enough being a media scold. It's the morning before Christmas, and Santa's sleigh is already in the air! And the Blagojevich report isn't the only negative story out there, though it seems to be the only big one. For example, Carol Browner is getting heat for deliberately not using email, to avoid the prying eyes of lawyers and reporters, during her stint as EPA chief. And Sonal Shah, an official with Obama's transition team whom you may have never heard of before now, was apparently an active member of a "controversial Hindu group." But overall, Obama "is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target." Except for the paparazzi.

Caroline Kennedy, however, is not proving to be such an elusive target. Her Senate candidacy may have turned a decisive corner, as her detractors grow and supporters have failed to make a case for her beyond her name and fundraising prowess. Is it possible that she will eventually withdraw her name before being on the receiving end of a snub by David Paterson? Just asking.

At least the senate situation in New York seems a bit clearer than the one in Minnesota, where it's increasingly likely that neither Norm Coleman nor Al Franken will be declared the winner by the time Congress convenes Jan. 6. Between now and then, state officials still have to deal with challenged ballots, absentees, possibly double-counted ballots and, possibly, a plague of locusts.

By Ben Pershing  |  December 24, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
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COMMENTS

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Well Ben, if my recollections are correct many of us trusted Bush until we were taught to do otherwise by repeated events of lying, distortions, and a deliberate obscuring of facts. So I guess those of us who are Obama supporters tend to be more optimistic about the prospects of Obama being wise enough to recognize what damage to his presidency would occur should he engage in the same type of behavior.
Certainly if evidence is found which runs contrary to the statements made by Mr. Obama and his staff we all want to hear about it. Bush created the epitome of the idea of guilt by association and raised the concept of ‘where there is smoke there is fire’ to a new level, but I believe he earned the reputation over time and President Elect Obama deserves an observed but respectful chance to prove that not all Presidents are of the same caliber as George Bush.
The press and the pundits beating of the dead horse as payment for the beating George Bush took for nearly everything he did as a result of his own actions is the kind of thing of which the public has grown tired!

Posted by: marnold4 | December 24, 2008 9:39 AM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't every conversation that Obama or his staff had with Blagojevich or his staff tape recorded by the U.S. Attorney? The same U.S. Attorney that has insisted repeatedly that Obama's team didn't do anything wrong?

If every conversation has been taped by an outside, neutral party, what incentive would there be to lie in the report? Certainly I think if the Bush administration's potential scandals had involved an aggressive prosecutor having wiretaps on every word spoken by Libby, Cheney, Rove, and the rest, there would've been pretty down-the-line honesty.

Is it the media's job to exhibit disbelief about a report simply for the fact that there might be potential for scandal, or is it the media's job to consider things reasonably and make a determination based on that? Or in other words: can you give us an actual reason or reasons why the report produced by the Obama team should be greeted with disbelief? Or is this just a "I'm not saying you did anything wrong, but you *could* have, so let's report that and say what comes of it."

Posted by: No11 | December 24, 2008 10:51 AM

"Imagine that there was a potential scandal like this involving the Bush administration --"

Sadaam Has WMD
We do not torture
Nobody in the administration outed a spy
We honor the geneva conventions
The fundamentals of the economy are strong
Nobody could have imagined that the levy would break.

Seems to me we spent the last 8 years giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt without good reason.

Posted by: atlliberal | December 24, 2008 11:06 AM

marnold4 proves how selective memory is. Because of Florida, which ought to be blamed on Gore, Bush never got a honeymoon. Doesn't he remember how even sweet Laura Bush couldn't escape the cattiness, and how Bush's initial trip to Europe was received so poorly? From Day One, as Rove has said, his presidency was treated as illegitimate by an --my word--oligarcy whose preferred candidate had been "cheated" of his victory. With the invasion of Iraq, or rather with the failure to secure the peace after the invasion, he lost the support of the Republican branch of the oligarchy. Even his hardwon victory in the election did not win him the support he needed, and failure after failure--the lack of success with social security, Katrina, and finally the seeming disaster in Iraq in 2006 and the defeat in the 2006 election finally cost him the popularity with the people. But he has never had the support of the people "who mattered" in this country, and who this year have anointed Obama as Chief Magistrate. My guess is that the oligarchy have so much invested in this man that nothing will shake their confidence in him, unless he proves to be the political equivalent of Bernie Madoff.

Posted by: RobbyS | December 24, 2008 11:07 AM

I confess that I am somewhat amazed that this is even a story. The fact that the President-elect, through his Chief of Staff, would make suggestions about candidates who might serve the people of Illinois well in the US Senate strikes me as being hardly unusual and in no way nefarious. I think the media would love to have something juicy to write about but this story is about as juicy as a saltine cracker.

Tom I. in St. Louis

Posted by: tirwin | December 24, 2008 11:49 AM

I want the press, and all of us, to recognize that, thus far in the presidential election and transition process, Obama has been well above-average. He deserves our support and cooperation. I have been irritated by the media's continued speculation that Obama or his staff MUST somehow be implicated in the Blogojevich scandal. If there were real evidence to the contrary, it would be appropriate. Given that there has been no evidence implicating Obama, it is discouraging to have our best President-Elect in decades distracted by the media's need for scandalous news stories. As for Bush, I think the media has failed miserably to call him to account for all his wrong doing. I think that if the media had been courageous, persistent, and serious about their responsibility to hold the Bush administration accountable, both Bush and Cheney would have been impeached some time ago. I truly hope that somehow Bush will be tried and convicted for his several crimes. I hope even more strongly that Obama will be given support to make the changes our country needs to prosper.

Posted by: don6 | December 24, 2008 12:55 PM

I,too, was a bit uncomfortable about the 'whew, that's a relief" tone of the blagojevich report coverage. But I settled back and accepted the relief, until later I picked up last Sunday's New York Times magazine and read an article by Mark Leibovich about Obama's coterie of media handlers. Leibovich writes, "Like Bush's, Obama's primary campaign brain trust was unusually small and close knit...This enabled the Obama team to maintain tight control of its information. They prided themselves on never leaking." A little unnerving to me. But a few lines later Obama is quoted as saying, in effect, leaks are ultimately inevitable on the way to the presidency and, "we anticipated that we weren't going to be able to march in lock step on our communications as effectively."

Whew, I guess. But what does he mean by "as effectively"?
kgale

Posted by: kennethgale | December 24, 2008 1:39 PM

"[Y]ou could argue that the former (Bush) earned a healthy dose of skepticism over the last eight years." Yeah, you could "argue" that. This is the biggest non-story of the year. I know it's the job of the media to be skeptical, but this is beginning to border on a witch hunt. So far, there is absolutely nothing to indicate a scintilla of wrongdoing on the part of Obama or his staff. I guess good investigative reporters have to keep digging, but do we have to keep hearing reports of denials and assertions of innocence, which in turn fuel public (and, so far, totally unfounded) speculation?

Posted by: lawyerwithachainsaw | December 24, 2008 1:42 PM

Ben, When it comes to someone like Rod Blagoyevich or Sonal Shah or even Carol Browner, I am happy as a reader to be an objective observer, much as you are by profession. I read the stories about each one, I assume they are accurate, and I make my own judgment, or in some cases, just shrug and move on to the next topic.

When it comes to something as big as the Obama administration, however, I am an interested party and it's important to me to take the Obama report at its word unless there is clear, obvious, reported evidence that the report is substantially false or deceptive.

I am an interested party for two reasons: I volunteered (and donated) all year for this outcome, learning a lot about Obama, his values and background, and the organization he put together. I ran through the finish line, volunteering 10 hours on the Monday and 8 hours on election day. Of course I trust my candidate and give him the benefit of the doubt after this enormously positive, highly memorable life experience. He's earned my trust.

Second, I live in the United States and am very worried about the economic future as it affects me and my family. It is as much in my interest as in the most hardened Republican's interest for this new administration to succeed. My fate, my community's, and my country's may depend on it. So once again, I'm in it with this guy -- we all are. Members of the public definitely have good reasons to want to trust the report, and to do so, unless subsequent reporting proves we should not.

What I hope is that the press remains appropriately arms-length and skeptical (unlike me), but on the other hand, also does not spin out fantasies, allegations, and speculations with no factual basis, just to show it is "independent." That is not fair reporting either.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | December 24, 2008 1:59 PM

AS with the previous poster I too have worked hard and contributed heavily, as heavily as I am able, and trust the man I supported and whose biography, presence, and conduct, have never caused me to waver in my support.

I am thoroughly disgruntled with some of the media who persist in running headlines claiming Obama's innocence in this matter followed by the phrase ...For now.
It is as if these folk cannot believe that the President Elect could be without blemish in this "scandal."
The scandal, as far as I am concerned, centers around the Illinois Governor. Being an Illinois native I am really mortified and angered by this man's behavior and the deleterious effect which he has had on the matters at hand with respect to the transition and the President Elect himself.

For one thing, Barack Obama knows what a rapscallion Blagojevich is and has the intellect to have distanced himself a long time ago from the tentacles of this truly offensive politician who deserves whatever he reaps from his messy conduct in the Governor's office.
Please give the man who is willing to take on the weight of the presidency at a terribly crucial moment in its history the latitude and support he needs in order to carry into a new administration with confidence.
Blagojevich is a spoiled little sociopath.He needs some quiet time in a small room. Not unlike delinquent children.

Posted by: cbarton1 | December 24, 2008 4:21 PM

From the very first we heard about this case, when Fitzpatrick (sp?) announced the arrest and the case against the Illinois governor, he has said there is no indication that the President-Elect is in any way involved. Blagojevich, in his own words, said they would not get anything out of Obama except "appreciation" for making a good appointment. Everyone has said it is not the least bit inappropriate for the person vacating the seat to speak to the person who will appoint the person to fill the soon to be vacated seat, particularly when they are of the same party. How much more do you in the media need to decide it is a non-story as far as Obama is concerned? Your job is to report on the facts, the actual events, not try to create news where there is none. What I want to know is where have you been all these years while the dead and horribly wounded have been returning home from war? I don't give a hoot what Bush wanted you to report, but the people need to be reminded daily of the real cost of these wars. Why have you not been waging war against him all these years for not allowing you to report the war as it should be? Why does he get to decide what is news? I have never forgotten the site of our dead being returned home from Vietnam, when reporters were out being reporters. All of these years and I will never forget. I think the general public needs the daily reminders that these wars come with a very high price.

And for those who said Bush never got a honeymoon- have you forgotten how his campaign for president was waged? He and those campaigning in his name displayed no honor or cared about being truthful. His presidency started out by being stolen from the people, his party did all they could to keep citizens from being able to cast a vote and they wouldn't know what truth looked like if it walked up and slapped them in the face in broad daylight. He lost any chance of respect from me before he ever took office. This election of this president was a much different story. It deserves a different treatment from the start.

Posted by: alaskan2 | December 24, 2008 4:42 PM

please white folks don't point the blaim at United State's president elect Barack Obama he is not in office flexing at to be yet of good faith blovgovichez determine Cosby's foundation investors reunion, to Gurbeghoff
the collective Markachiff after an alright rear deal. Poperazee won't locate anyone sitting on the bay while the banquet, and expanding opportunities for Black America's lets all pray her missing one long blessing the event isn't soiled yet with second grade pass the platter bugs the carrets are great.

Posted by: oil1st | December 25, 2008 1:13 AM

After 8 years of Dubya's masterly pulling-the-wool-over-your-eyes routines directed by guru Rove, anyone would know that Obama's moves are absolutely benign. How about Dubya's first closed-door meeting with the CEOs of America. That should have clued us about our future under his presidency! We gave him eight years of the benefit. It was only in the last 3 years that some of us finally had the courage to speak up inspite of the threat of being branded unpatriotic and worse.

Posted by: neeljune | December 26, 2008 8:05 PM

Ben,

For some reason hard to understand from out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but the comments are all grayed out so difficult to read. However, that might be the better gods telling you something, that introducing distrust and skepticism into the Obama presidency before he is even inaugurated should get you fired. The nation has had too much of that now and coming from a press that allowed Bush to get away with the crimes against humanity as you did doesn't qualify you to throw stones at the innocent. Wise up. There is still a lot of mystery around Bush, torture, the billions to Halliburton and hanky-panky at the polls should have some indictments, not dismissal of our nation's media.

Posted by: HawaiiBill | December 27, 2008 5:06 PM

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