The New York Daily News has an amazing ostensible political “GOTCHA!” moment: it has obtained a photo of a grinning President George W. Bush standing next to the the dad of a real estate scammer who Bush pardoned, and then — in a highly unusual move — un-pardoned after an outcry and revelations that raised eyebrows about the possible motive.
It’s a seemingly damning photo and would have had catastrophic impact if it had surfaced and been published immediately after the pardon was announced. Details and the photo are here. This is how the Daily News (still one of the most enjoyable daily newspapers to read in America) frames it:
A stunning photo of President Bush shaking hands with the father of pardoned – then unpardoned – housing scammer Isaac Toussie emerged Friday as the White House reeled from the embarrassing scandal.
The full-color picture – obtained exclusively by the Daily News – was taken early this year.
It shows a smiling Robert Toussie clasping the President’s hand as they stand in front of an American flag.
It was not immediately clear if the picture was snapped before or after Robert Toussie’s $28,500 donation to the Republican National Committee in April.
Bush pardoned Isaac Toussie on Tuesday. The President took the extraordinary step of rescinding the pardon the next day, after reading about the political contribution in The News.
Toussie is accused of the kind of crime that many Americans are not prone to forgive in an era when the economy is reeling and home ownership issues have a lot to do with it. He pleaded guilty in 2001 for lying to lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure mortgages for unqualified home-buyers. Father and son now face the mother of all legal actions: lawsuits galore, accusing them of bilking what the Daily News calls “fleecing hundreds of blacks and Latinos who bought overpriced, shoddy houses.”
So is this photo proof that the younger Toussie was originally pardoned after a little help from his friends who became friends after Daddy donated a big fat bunch of money to the GOP? Not really.
In defense of Bush — who is not always defended by writers on this site — photos of Presidents with elite, rich, important, powerful donors or sympathizers aren’t that infrequent. In fact, Presidents and politicians have their thousands of photos taken of them smiling as they stand next to citizens, donors, clergymen, military, and honest and dishonest politicians. An aide will say, “Hey, how about a quick photo with Howard Schmidlap here?” Guilt by photo association is a big game in 21st-Century America but because it’s part of the game doesn’t mean it really is proof of guilt.
But there is the other side of the coin, the journalistic issue: who suggested to Bush that he pardon Toussie and who suggested it to that person? Was it connected to the donation? Those are fair journalistic questions. Even so, access (through photos, meetings, letters that are put before a President) means greater consideration.
The photo in itself isn’t proof of anything except that Bush like so many other politicians gave VIPs a photo of him grinning that THEY could point to so they could show their visitors how much more important THEY are.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the pardon goes on:
–The NY Times’ ever-lively The Caucus blog: Missing Words Suggest Path to a Pardon
–Gothamist: White House: Bush “Followed the Process” in Brooklyn Developer’s One-Day Pardon
–Wall Street Journal Law Blog: Isaac Toussie’s Case for Getting His Pardon Back
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.