By: Mark Glennon*
The latest, goofy “fact-check” is out from the Better Government Association through its partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times and PolitiFact.
“Fact-check: Bruce Rauner paints opponents with one brush: ‘They’re corrupt.'” That’s the headline for the story in the Sun-Times. The BGA’s Kiannah Sepeda-Miller, who authored the story, says Rauner was wrong to say in a radio interview that Michael Madigan, Rahm Emanuel and J.B. Pritzker are “corrupt.” The BGA’s own headline made the criticism precisely: “Bruce Rauner Corrupts the Word ‘Corrupt.'”
But wait! Contrary to the Sun-Times headline that it’s a “fact-check,” it’s not and, if you read closely, it says it’s not. As Sepeda-Miller explains, “the fact that there are multiple ways to interpret the word means we won’t be putting his accusations to the Truth-O-Meter.” Instead, the article is a garbled, self-contradictory essay clearly meant to defend Rauner’s targets from his corruption charge.
She parses through different, recognized meanings of “corruption. It can mean illegality but also, she correctly says, just opinion (her word) that a public official has morally or ethically compromised his position.
Yet it’s deceptive, as Miller-Sepeda somehow sees things, for Rauner to use the word “corrupt.” She cites an academic who says, “The word ‘corruption’ for Rauner is a beautiful, deceptive word because it has multiple meanings.”
Really? It’s deceptive to say “corrupt”? There have to be ten thousand different people every day in Illinois who call the state’s political establishment corrupt, especially the Cook County Democrats Rauner was referring to. And they’re right to say that — using the widely accepted meaning of the term that includes something less than illegality.
The BGA itself has made a huge deal out of what it has called “systemic corruption,” and it wasn’t referring just to illegality. It was referring to myriad forms of legal corruption allowed to flourish in Illinois, particularly in Chicago. It has railed against the “culture of corruption.” Are those not opinions — sound opinions? Aren’t they justified by, among countless examples, Madigan’s property tax law practice, Rahm’s pay-to-play and Pritzker’s abuse of the property tax system by removing toilets to make a property “uninhabitable”?
And if there is systemic, cultural, legal corruption, isn’t it reasonable to say that anybody who is a major gear in the Chicago Machine is corrupt, like the three Rauner said are corrupt? Aren’t they contributing to and benefiting from the systemic culture of corruption that is the Machine, while doing nothing about it? Sepeda-Miller apparently thinks that would be corrupting the word “corrupt.”
Her article does point out one way Rauner indeed went too far. He said Erika Harold, candidate for Attorney General, would prosecute Madigan if elected. Rauner would offer no specifics. He shouldn’t have said that, but it’s just not a big deal. It’s safe to assume Harold would make every effort to find something to charge Madigan with, and it’s entirely possible she told Rauner she intends to, and for what, in private.
Sorry, BGA, but it’s not deceptive to use the word “corrupt” as Rauner did. On the contrary, he used an appropriately blunt term to reflect a reasonable opinion about leading figures in the systemic culture of corruption you say exists. To claim he corrupted the term is to be guilty of that very charge, and putting that claim under a “fact-check” headline is indefensible.
–Mark Glennon is founder and executive editor of Wirepoints.