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Pyle: If it looks bad, it probably is

Published February 1, 2013 5:38 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Above: Nobody at our house looked anything like this. I just like the song.

Ours was not the most popular family on our street.

Oh, we kept the lawn mowed and the house painted. We weren't particularly noisy, especially for a home that held four children.

But the mailman didn't like us because, every Wednesday, he had to deliver the previous Sunday's New York Times to our house. And to the lawyer next door. And to the funeral director next door to him. (This was, of course, loooong before the Internet existed.)

As for the rest of the street, well, it just seemed like, every time it snowed, folks thought it took far too long for the city plows to come. It wasn't a major arterial street, so it wasn't a high priority. But, hey, shouldn't the street where the city manager lives be tops on the list?

No, said my father, the city manager, it shouldn't. It was just a street like any other. If there is any real reason why I need to be able to get to work when all the rest of you can't, the National Guard will send a four-wheel-drive jeep for me. Which actually happened. Once.

I wasn't allowed to participate in the city's summer jobs program (not that I wanted to), because my dad was sure somebody would think I was getting some special privilege. And when the golf pro at the city-owned course waived off my greens fee, saying, falsely, that my father had already taken care of it, Dad was not at all pleased.

The reason why the matter of new Attorney General John Swallow stinks so much is that he expects us all to give him a pass because, we are told, by Swallow, that it wasn't illegal.

Well, he's a lawyer, and I'm not. So all I have to go by is the somewhat rusty moral compass my father left me. If it looks bad, it's not worth it.

That, and the old journalist's motto: If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen.

Swallow and his predecessor, new Washington lobbyist Mark Shurtleff, spent a lot of time with Jeremy Johnson when it was fun and profitable for them to do so. The Internet business consultant offered rides in his private jet and spins in his expensive sports cars. So, when Johnson started showing up on the target list, first of the Federal Trade Commission, then of the U.S. Attorney, perhaps Swallow thought it would be rude to abandon their friend in his time of trial.

But consider the extra trouble all of them are now in. Johnson, at Swallow's suggestion, coughed up a lot of money for worse than nothing. The senator he allegedly was trying to bribe, or lobby, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has been so eager to separate himself from Johnson that the senator's office has labeled the businessman, "a man with a background of fraud, deception and corruption." When, so far, he has not been convicted of so much as littering.

So much for making Johnson's problems "go away."

Of course, if Jeremy Johnson were barely squeaking by as the owner of a neighborhood pawn shop, and the police were sniffing around, he'd never be in a position to hire lobbyists. Or to bribe public officials. Or to spend hours parsing the difference between the two.

An old counter-culture bird named Ashleigh Brilliant once wrote, "I either want less corruption, or more chance to participate in it."

But, as the Johnson-Swallow mess shows, spending so much money, through so many middle men, that the line between lobbying and bribery is completely obscured, is a rich man's game. And, sometimes, it will bring them down.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, finds it easy to expound on bribes, because he's never been offered one. gpyle@sltrib.com Twitter: @debatestate