Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rowland’s Last Stand

It would take someone like Murray Kempton to do justice to the Rowland “tragedy,” admittedly a much misused and overused term. Unfortunately, Mr. Kempton – ever the gentleman, friend to the lonely and crushed – died in 1997, and we shall not see his like again.

Bill Buckley, whose like we shall not see again, said of Kempton that he was a “socialist — a sworn enemy of all anti-Communist legislation, sworn friend of militant unions” also “the finest writer in the newspaper profession,” disposing of a “wit and irony and a compassion which is sometimes unruly.” Buckley, who had a genius for friendship, then added that Mr. Kempton was “a great artist and a great friend.”

Innocence, of course, is the essence of tragedy, and we know after a trial and an appeal – soon to be followed by more appeals, until Mr. Rowland runs out of money, at which point all the lawyers will disappear – that Mr. Rowland is NOT innocent. Mr. Kempton would not have focused on the trial or the appeal or the ravenous ill-wishers who have been swarming about Mr. Rowland since he first appeared on the political scene way back in 1980. There is nothing left of Mr. Rowland but picked-over political bones.

One photographer caught a Kempton moment in a picture that may be worth a thousand words. It shows the convicted radio talk show host alone, for once, in a hallway, framed in front by the camera’s lens and in back by a luminous doorway. Mr. Rowland has just taken off his black overcoat, which streams out before him. The space that swallows him seems cavernous, quiet and subtly menacing. In moments, he will be sentenced to 30 months in a medium security prison in New York. And he will leave behind him the noise, the political ruckus, the photographers, the commentators with little bits of human flesh caught in their teeth, and his family.

Eventually, life reduces us all to this. We enter the stage alone, we exit the stage alone.  Well… not quite alone. Patricia Rowland would defend her husband at the gates of Hell. “May you burn in Hell,” she is reported to have said to one of the prosecutors, a remark caught by an attentive reporter. One wonders – what has NOT been caught by the cameras and the reporters and the commentators who, Nero-like, will preserve a ritualistic tear for Rowland in their columns? After Nero polished off one of his political enemies, he used call for his phial and drop a tear into it: “A tear for Claudius.”

Now that Mr. Rowland has been safely tucked into prison, it may be possible to offer a few notes on what has not been stressed. It should be noted that the battle for the 5th is a far larger and more important story than Mr. Rowland’s foolish and fatal peculations. If there is a single commentator in the state who would not agree with the proposition – Mr. Rowland foolishly sacrificed his and his family’s security for peanuts – this writer has yet to meet him.  

1) In targeting Mr. Rowland, prosecutors set their sights on a journalist – loosely speaking, radio talk show hosts fall into the “journalist” category – not an active politician such as former Speaker of the State House Chris Donovan. Mr. Dovovan, it will be recalled, was Speaker at the time he opened his campaign for the US Senate in Connecticut’s 5th District. Prosecutors in that scandal were able to bait the hook, but the big fish, Donovan himself, slipped unmolested back into the water and, following his retirement from politics, Mr. Dovovan, unscathed by a prosecution in which some of his most important and closest campaign associates were convicted and sent to jail, was hired by Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union as field representative. Unions appreciate politicians who look out for their interests in the General Assembly.

2. Much was made in media reports concerning Mr. Rowland’s rigorous interrogation of Republican Party nominee for the 5th District Andrew Roraback, the unexamined assumption being that Mr. Rowland’s harsh treatment was designed to throw a Republican primary election to his preferred candidate, Lisa Wilson Foley. This assumption vastly overrates Mr. Rowland’s influence, which was marginal. Mr. Rowland’s interrogation of Mr. Roraback—a seasoned politician used to harsh grilling who did win the Republican Party nomination in the 5th -- was far less influential than the Hartford Courant’s inexplicable and surprising endorsement of Democratic challenger Elizabeth Esty in the general election.

3) If Mr. Rowland was as crafty and secretive as is generally admitted by all – prosecutors, judges, the jury that sat on the Rowland case and influential editorial writers – surely he was clever enough to pull the wool over the eyes of his employer, WTIC News Talk Radio. Why then are some Democrats and commentators insisting that the conservative/libertarian radio station was complicit in Mr. Rowland’s deceptions? Is it possible that the station has rubbed thin-skinned liberals and progressives the wrong way? Journalists after all are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and dominant Democratic politicians in Connecticut are as comfortable as bugs in the rug, though they do get rather uppity when their noses are pulled in public.

Mr. Rowland having been dispensed with, the media soon will be moving to the next political scandal. Who knows, it may even set its sights on active politicians and so justify U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton’s wringing declaration of the importance of honest elections and fair political dealing: “These charges and conviction are not trivial, not civil and are indeed serious. As the defense has argued, this was not the crime of the century ... but it was a crime and there must be a deterrent to ensure open and transparent campaigns."

According to a Hartford paper, a stock manipulation investigation involving “one of the state's premier lobbying firms,” Global Strategy Group (GSG), appears to fit the bill. The firm, the paper notes, “has worked for Gov. Dannel Malloy and Democratic causes in general.”

After a two year stint as senior adviser and chief strategist to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Roy Occhiogrosso, returned to GSG, where he became a Managing Director of the firm.  Executive Vice President and Managing Director Tanya Meck is a familiar face among leading Democrats in the state.

“Lobbyists at Global Strategy Group,” the paper notes, “… said they have been interviewed by federal prosecutors who began looking for evidence of manipulation after hedge fund billionaire William Ackman bet that Herbalife's stock would fall and financed a $50 million campaign to discredit the company.”

Everyone is lawyered-up and cooperating with investigators, who have not yet settled upon their targets. One hopes no journalists will be involved as political operatives in the quasi-transparent investigation.
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