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Media ignore key details in Obama/Rezko letter story

By Media Matters for America  Posted by Inaru Boricua (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Media ignore key details in Obama/Rezko letter story

On June 13, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), while serving as an Illinois state senator in 1998, "did a political favor" for Chicago Democratic fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko by writing letters to state and local government officials in support of a Chicago housing project proposed by Rezko's company, New Kenwood LLC. The Sun-Times asserted that the "letters appear to contradict a statement last December from Obama, who told the Chicago Tribune that, in all the years he's known Rezko, 'I've never done any favors for him.' '' In reporting on this story, however, several media outlets omitted statements included in the Sun-Times article that challenge the paper's assertion that Obama performed a "favor" for Rezko -- specifically, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton's claim that "I don't know that anyone specifically asked him to write this letter," and Rezko's attorney's claim that Rezko "never spoke with, nor sought a letter from, Senator Obama in connection with that project."

In October 2006, Rezko was indicted on charges that he "used his influence as one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's closest advisers and fundraisers to seek millions of dollars in kickbacks and campaign donations from firms seeking state business," according to theChicago Tribune.

From the June 13 Sun-Times article, headlined "Obama's letters for Rezko":

As a state senator, Barack Obama wrote letters to city and state officials supporting his political patron Tony Rezko's successful bid to get more than $14 million from taxpayers to build apartments for senior citizens.

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The deal included $855,000 in development fees for Rezko and his partner, Allison S. Davis, Obama's former boss, according to records from the project, which was four blocks outside Obama's state Senate district.

Obama's letters, written nearly nine years ago, for the first time show the Democratic presidential hopeful did a political favor for Rezko -- a longtime friend, campaign fund-raiser and client of the law firm where Obama worked -- who was indicted last fall on federal charges that accuse him of demanding kickbacks from companies seeking state business under Gov. Blagojevich.

The letters appear to contradict a statement last December from Obama, who told the Chicago Tribune that, in all the years he's known Rezko, "I've never done any favors for him.''

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The Sun-Times, however, went on to quote Burton claiming that he did not "know that anyone specifically asked him to write this letter," and Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy saying that Rezko had not asked Obama to write the letters -- undermining the article's claim that the letters constituted "a political favor":

On Tuesday, Bill Burton, press secretary for Obama's presidential campaign, said the letters Obama wrote in support of the development weren't intended as a favor to Rezko or Davis.

"This wasn't done as a favor for anyone," Burton said in a written statement. "It was done in the interests of the people in the community who have benefited from the project.

"I don't know that anyone specifically asked him to write this letter nine years ago," the statement said. "There was a consensus in the community about the positive impact the project would make and Obama supported it because it was going to help people in his district. ... They had a wellness clinic and adult day-care services, as well as a series of social services for residents. It's a successful project. It's meant a lot to the community, and he's proud to have supported it.''

The development, called the Cottage View Terrace apartments, opened five years ago at 4801 S. Cottage Grove, providing 97 apartments for low-income senior citizens.

Asked about the Obama letters, Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, said Tuesday, "Mr. Rezko never spoke with, nor sought a letter from, Senator Obama in connection with that project."

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While reporting on this story, several media outlets left out either Burton's or Duffy's statement, or both. The June 13 edition of ABC News' political online newsletter The Note cited the Sun-Times' claim that the "letters appear to contradict" Obama's claim that he has never done a favor for Rezko, but did not quote either Burton or Duffy. Rather, The Note reported that "[t]he Obama camp is casting it as an attempt to increase housing for seniors." From the June 13 edition of "The Note":

Obama wrote letters to local officials on behalf of a project controlled by indicted real-estate dealmaker Tony Rezko, the Chicago Sun-Times' Tim Novak reports. "The letters appear to contradict a statement last December from Obama, who told the Chicago Tribune that, in all the years he's known Rezko, 'I've never done any favors for him.'" (The Obama camp is casting it as an attempt to increase housing for seniors.)

A June 14 New York Times article and a June 13 report on CNN's The Situation Room featured statements from Burton regarding the letters, but neither addressed whether Rezko had asked Obama to write the letters, nor mentioned Duffy's statement.

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