Dennis Hastert once let me eat his dinner on the rubber chicken circuit and that dinner story rates national coverage as much as his scandal story does. The fact is Hastert’s blackmail story doesn’t rate the massive coverage it’s getting in Illinois nor in the rest of the nation. But the coverage it is getting, though, is proof that both the media and Washington are broken.
When news broke last week that former Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was being indicted for making false statements to the FBI and for skirting financial reporting rules, the world stopped in the media and in Washington both.
Take, for instance, a headline today in The Hill that screams, “Hastert Questions Consume Capitol.” This is nearly a week after the news broke.
The Hill piece reveals a fascination with the story that beggars the imagination.
Hastert, a former congressmen from north central Illinois, had withdrawn several million dollars from several bank accounts to pay off a man he knew when he was a coach of a high school wrestling team in the days before he became a politician and went to Washington. It appears that the man was alleging sexual misconduct against coach Hastert and the former Speaker wanted the allegations to remain secret.
What Hastert did wrong–besides bowing to a blackmailer–was to skirt financial reporting laws by withdrawing large sums of money just under the federal reporting limits and then lying to the FBI when they asked him what it was for.
OK, it’s a difficult situation for Mr. Hastert, certainly. But what he did does not rise to the level of national scandal and should have rated but a mere mention somewhere in the back pages in the news as opposed to eliciting the hourly coverage it has gotten for so many days.
This story should never have removed the financial misdeeds of the Clintons from the front pages, for instance. Hastert’s woes barely deserve a mention. In the long run, this story has NO national implications. The original misconduct wasn’t indulged when Hastert was in Congress, he committed no corruption in government, and he was not divulging secrets, or enriching people for a political quid pro quo.
What Hastert did was wrong, sure. But it just isn’t a big deal violation. The story just doesn’t have any real interest to the nation.
Yet, it is crowding out coverage of stories–like the Clinton corruption–that really does have national implications.
That both the media and D.C. are so willing to get all balled up in this story shows that both have misguided priorities.
As to that dinner, here is the tale: When I was working for an Illinois GOP candidate back in 2002 I attended a rubber chicken circuit event. Denny Hastert was there to speak to the room, but he wasn’t going to stay for the dinner that was about to be served. I was standing near the podium and he looked at me and asked if I was going to get a dinner. I told him no because I was just a worker for a candidate. So, Denny insisted I eat his dinner and even made me sit at the front table with the other speakers while I ate. It was an amusing little incident and showed the Speaker’s sense of humor.