The scandal no one cares about
                Why the media silence on Bush’s shaky business ethics?
 
               Before he became governor of Texas, George W. Bush
               allegedly engaged in some questionable stock and real
               estate transactions. But mainstream media don't seem to care.

                    By Eric Alterman
                    MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR

               Oct. 16 —  The Whitewater scandal has plagued Bill
               Clinton and obsessed pundits since minute one of
               his presidency. Al Gore’s frequent exaggerations
               have inspired enough newspaper stories to fell a
               thousand forests. Even Hillary Clinton’s
               commodity trades, which evidenced no apparent
               wrongdoing and were made by someone who had
               never run for public office at the time the story
               arose, were treated as front-page news for weeks.
               But when a major story breaks that indicates that
               George W. Bush’s fortune appears to have been
               constructed on a foundation shakier than anything
               anyone in Arkansas or the Gore campaign could
               even have imagined, the media says, “No thanks.”
               If a candidate’s credibility falls in a bunch of
               shady Texas business deals and no one bothers to
               look into it, did it really happen?
 

                          I’M NOT TALKING about Bush’s abysmal record as
                          governor of Texas, where he presided over a steady
                          worsening of the environment and intervened to prevent the
                          state from participating in the CHIP program for children
                          without health care, simultaneously offering generous tax
                          breaks to the wealthy and the oil and gas industry. Those
                          issues, consistently covered, have failed to impress.
                                 Perhaps they are too large and too serious. During
                          prosperous times, we prefer our elections to be about kisses
                          and sighs. But everyone, anytime, loves a scandal. And
                          George W. Bush, the failed oil man and successful
                          stadium-builder, looks to be sitting on top of more than his fair
                          share. But where is the New York Times famed Whitewater
                          reporter, Jeff Gerth? Where’s the whole Washington Post
                          special investigations unit? Where is the scandal-mongering
                          Matt Drudge and the Fox factory philandering patrol? Has
                          the media bias that has tilted toward Bush during this entire
                          election cycle silenced newsgatherers on exactly the kind of
                          red-meat story from which they could not remove their fangs
                          during the Clinton presidency? The circumstantial evidence
                          sure looks damning.
 
                          AN UNCOVERED SCANDAL
                                   Bush’s behavior while running an oil company and a
                                   baseball team makes Whitewater look like a Girl Scout cookie sale.

                                 Here are the facts as we now know them, thanks to
                          Talk Magazine and the Center for Public Integrity. They are,
                          I warn in advance, complicated and multi-faceted. Taken
                          together, they appear to add up to a business ethos that
                          makes Whitewater look like a Girl Scout cookie sale. All of
                          them deserve, at minimum, a much closer look.
                                 The first discovery of authors Bill Minutaglio and Nancy
                          Beiles relates to W’s late filing with the Securities and
                          Exchange Commission of trades he made between 1986 and
                          1989 of shares of stock in Harken Energy Corporation, one
                          of his oil companies. Bush managed to escape SEC sanction
                          despite the fact that he failed to comply with the deadlines
                          written into law. Because of his tardiness in meeting the
                          regulations, Bush was able to conceal the fact that he was
                          buying and selling hundreds of thousands of shares of stock.
                                 Because Bush was a director of the company, this
                          information was something that all shareholders were entitled
                          to know. Such knowledge is crucial to the fair and open
                          functioning of the marketplace. While others who have acted
                          similarly have been hit with fines in the thousands of dollars,
                          and on rare occasion, jail. But Bush got away without a
                          scratch. The SEC never even raised the issue.
 
                          MISLEADING REGULATORS
 
                          Are the mainstream media giving George W. Bush preferential treatment?

                                 The Republican candidate for president also appears to
                          have misled the SEC when he insisted that he had dumped
                          his failing company’s stock in 1990 without knowing that it
                          was about to tank. Bush pocketed $850,000 by dumping the
                          stock just a few months before the stock lost 75 percent of its
                          value. Bush’s lawyers insisted that he “had no material
                          information that wasn’t already out there in the
                          marketplace.” But the relevant records demonstrate that he
                          had been warned of the trouble at least twice before getting
                          his money out. What’s more, he was on Harken’s internal
                          audit committee. (And don’t forget that this conveniently
                          ignorant investor had somehow managed to make it through
                          Harvard Business School.)
                                 Why did the SEC give Bush a pass on this one too? We
                          can’t know for sure, but it’s worth noting, as the Talk article
                          does, that commission was chaired at the time, by Bush
                          family friend Richard Breenden. Its general counsel was
                          John Doty, who had once been Bush’s private lawyer.
 
                          A TEXAS LAND GRAB

                                 A third aspect of
                          Bush’s business career
                          gives lie to the image he
                          likes to present of himself
                          as a defender of people
                          and property against
                          government encroachment.
                          It also exposes the uglier
                          aspects of the one
                          allegedly successful Bush
                          business venture — his
                          role in the enrichment of
                          the Texas Rangers. Bush
                          initially borrowed $600,000
                          from a bank where he had
                          been a director, to cover
                          his 1.8 percent interest in
                          the team. At the behest of
                          Bush and his fellow
                          investors, state authorities created the Arlington Sports
                          Facilities Development Authority, which was given the power
                          to expropriate some private land to build the team a new
                          stadium. When some of the homeowners and farmers
                          refused to sell for the low prices being offered, the Authority
                          condemned their land and expropriated it by force of law. It
                          did this with 270 acres of land, even though only about 17
                          acres were needed for the ballpark. The rest was used for
                          commercial development that made Bush and his friends rich.

                         Where is the New York Times famed Whitewater reporter, Jeff Gerth?
                         Where’s the Washington Post special investigations unit?
                         Where is Matt Drudge?

                                 A state judge eventually ruled that the amount paid to
                          the local homeowners had been well under market value and
                          a bit more was paid in a settlement. But Bush apparently
                          didn’t care. The team got its new stadium and he walked
                          away with $15 million in his pocket. The entire seamy story,
                          however, as the authors point out, gives the lie to Bush’s
                          boast that he wants to “do everything I can to defend the
                          power of private property and private property rights.”
 
                          PAYING THE PRICE

                          So what’s the deal?
                          Is it just a coincidence that The New York Times,
                          widely accused of being a liberal, pro-Gore
                          newspaper, runs a front page story on Gore’s
                          various embellishments in its high-circulation Week in Review
                          one day and follows it up with one devoted to the same
                          problem of W’s — only this one is on page A-27 the
                          following day? (The front page held a flattering story about
                          the Texas governor’s “no details, little knowledge” style of
                          “leadership.”) Perhaps the media is setting Bush up for a fall,
                          the way they did when they were falling in love with Clinton
                          eight years ago. If so, the media are likely to have a helluva
                          lot to do over the next four years. Too bad it’s the rest of us
                          who will have to pay the price.
 

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