Analysis: Did Kathleen Kane Get a Pass From the Press?

Kathleen-Kane-portrait1It is the job of the press to put pressure on power and on pretenders to power. – David Remnick

Two years ago, Attorney General Kathleen Kane was considered a massive rising star.

She may end up as one of the most colossal catastrophes in Pennsylvania political history.

What happened is an excellent question, one that will hopefully be answered in her trial.

More important, though, is the question of how this happened.

How did an unknown Lackawanna prosecutor become such a political superstar, and media darling, seemingly overnight?

Well, the blame has to fall on an unfortunate bias that all of us in the press have.

It is not, as is commonly thought, an ideological bias but rather an inclination toward the sensational.

A new, young first-time candidate from somewhere other than Philly, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, Kane was an irresistible story.

Then, she received a blessing from none other than President Bill Clinton (what Kane’s saga says about the consequences of the Clinton brand of loyalty is another subject for another time).

After beating Patrick Murphy in the Democratic Party, everything started to go her way.

Of course Kane took advantage of this, running less against her opponent (anybody even remember his name?) than against Tom Corbett and the “good old boy network in Harrisburg”.

This new dynamo was the perfect contrast to a boring, unpopular Governor who had trouble getting conservative legislation passed in a Republican legislature.

The Harrisburg jab was a genius political move that appealed to independents, reformers and women all in one swoop.

Most brilliantly of all, though, was her pledge to get to the bottom of the Sandusky scandal.

That investigation had been so horribly botched that her vague outrage challenged anger from all sides of the aisle and every section of the state.

With all that momentum Kane finished with 56% of the vote, easily outperforming President Obama and Senator Casey.

From then on her potential grew exponentially. Only occasionally did we focus on any of her actions or decisions. Instead, it was about what would come next. What would the next chapter of this thrilling story be?

Governor? Senator? President?

Political commentary on Kathleen Kane basically turned into a Mugatu impression.

Nowhere in the press was anyone putting any pressure on Kane.

As the Remnick quote above notes, pressure is a fundamental duty of the press because it sorts out the pretenders.

Many Democrats resented the criticism Barack Obama took during the Reverend Wright controversy, but it was a challenge to prove his judgement and convince the country he wasn’t skating by on just hope.

Similarly, Republicans hated how Ronald Reagan was portrayed as a lightweight who didn’t have the chops for the Oval Office.

When their decisive moments came, Obama gave one of the most inspirational speeches of this young century while Reagan delivered perhaps the greatest debate performance in presidential history.

Pressure is what separates the Obamas and Reagans from the Howard Deans and Sarah Palins. It’s what reveals the pretenders.

Yet we never put any pressure on Kathleen Kane until March 17, 2014. That slightest of critiques sent her spiraling down to the point that she had a mugshot taken yesterday.

If we had put pressure on Kane earlier, how might things have been different?

Make no mistake, this process isn’t ever simple, clear or easy but it’s usually worth the effort.

Hopefully in the future, we’ll find the next pretender before they gain power.

26 Responses

  1. Patrick Murphy was no great shakes as a lawyer either. Daniel McCaffery had more varied experience legal experience than both Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy put together. In the long run things may have worked out the best for him out of the three of them. With his election to a ten year term on Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia County, I would say that he presently holds the most secure job of the three 2012 AG Democratic candidates.

  2. In his book, Silent No More, written with Sandusky victim Aaron Fisher, psychologist Mike Gillum writes of pleading with Fina in August 2011 to prosecute Sandusky after years of mysterious foot dragging.

    Going in to meet Fina in the AG’s office at Strawberry Square, in Harrisburg, Gillum writes, “This time the media presence outside was obvious. So much for secrets. Reporters were hanging around ready to pounce.”

    As for the meeting with Fina, Gillum writes, “It was the same old song and dance. …I demanded an arrest date. Fina was getting steamed, too.”

    Only after Aaron Fisher said he was ready to quit, and Fisher’s mom threatened to go to the FBI, Gillum writes, did a “pissed off” Fina promise to arrest Sandusky.

  3. Diano,

    Please point to the provision of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act that allows the AG discretion based on “the merits, win-ability and the constitution.” Hint: it doesn’t exist there or anywhere in the rules of professional responsibility. In fact, it says the opposite.

    Please also explain how Kane was personally involved in the actual litigation of the Voter ID case (she wouldn’t know where to begin litigating a case in Commonwealth Court), or how a vigorous defense was not offered.

  4. Larry-

    The gay marriage ban was clearly unconstitutional. The AG has discretion in taking on cases based on the merits, win-ability and the constitution.

    As for VoterID, Kane undermined it in interviews by indicating her own objections, and didn’t put up a rigorous defense, so it was pretty obvious that she was not in-it-to-win it. So, I’ve tended to give her credit for opposing it, since her position against it was always pretty clear.

  5. Diano, Kane defended Voter ID also. Because that’s the AG’s job. When she refused to defend the gay marriage, she took over the role of the judiciary. That’s the objection, not opposition to the underlying issue of gay marriage. If you had an ounce of integrity, you would acknowledge that.

  6. Tom Waseleski-

    I appreciating that your paper has consistently on the wrong side of things as you opposed Kane’s refusal to defend the bigoted and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. She did the right thing and stood up for civil rights. Freed (your preferred pick) would not have done that, and would have defended the (also unconstitutional) VoterID law. And, by now the, the lottery might well have been privatized. As for Murphy, congrats on his new job, but he was running for AG to run for Gov and wasn’t really interested in the job.

  7. If it were not for the unethical, likely criminal leak-repeating of the Inquirer reporters, none of this would have happened. So, journalists – where are YOUR ethics?

  8. District Attorney of Cumberland County, former President of the PA District Attorney’s Association and highly respected or an even demeanor and capable work in an out of court. He was the GOP opponent to the totally unqualified Kathleen Kane. So yes, remember his name.

  9. I can’t speak for other members of the press, but the Post-Gazette editorial board has been tough on Kathleen Kane from the beginning. We considered her unqualified when she ran for attorney general, and we said so in editorials before the 2012 primary and general elections.

    Once she took office, it only got worse — and we never shied away from saying so.

    Tom Waseleski
    Editorial Page Editor
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    March 30, 2012
    Murphy for the law
    He’s the better Democrat for attorney general

    Oct. 14, 2012
    For attorney general:
    Republican Freed brings more experience to bear

    July 15, 2013
    Kane’s mistake
    She fails to do her job and defend state law

    March 27, 2014
    Kane’s case
    The AG owes more details on the Philly sting

    June 27, 2014
    Second guessing:
    The Sandusky probe report embarrasses only Kane

    Nov. 30, 2014
    Calamity Kane:
    Is the state attorney general in over her head?

    Dec. 18, 2014
    Kane on trial:
    The Philadelphia DA opens her closed prosecution

    April 28, 2015
    Kane must go:
    The attorney general’s office has lost credibility

    Aug. 7, 2015
    Tainted office: Kane can’t stay while facing criminal charges

  10. Reporters generally do not do proper research on candidates, beyond Wikipedia. They would have known what a poor choice Kane was if they had bothered to look at Patrick Murphy, who deserved their focus. She was helped by Bill Clinton because she worked for Hillary in 2008. Murphy endorsed Obama. So why did the media not realize that her qualifications were she was pretty, and Clinton liked her.
    The other outrage in your story was that you put Howard Dean in the same category as Sarah Palin. He has intelligence, empathy, and a huge following of peace loving voters. She had a vast knowledge of nothing much.

  11. Fresh, unknown, a woman … all that pales beside the reality that physically, she is a sexually attractive knockout. Who’s gonna put pressure on someone we would like to sleep with? Kane got the early Sarah Palin treatment because she was hot. Guys would rather make her smile than make her upset. Women would think, “I want to be like her.” It was chemistry as much as anything but of course in this politically correct time we won’t admit to having hormones.

  12. Yes, all media in PA did not do a good enough job of vetting Kane’s credentials. But that does not mean it was not done. Jan Murphy, among others, wrote stories questioning Kane’s courtroom experience during the campaign. But you forget one important detail: the public hates the media and media is virtually powerless to make change in Harrisburg. Look no further than the lack of laws governing public officials’ gifts taking it how long it took to charge Stephen Reed. Nothing would have stopped Kane’s campaign train. There were too many blind Oaterno fans on it.

  13. YES! As I said the other day, the whole connection in this is the values relativism that Temple Law School was teaching in the 1990s, and the PC (politically correct) antics.

    Kathleen Granahan Kane learned to be a lawyer in that smelly soup. When your school is offering courses in “Deconstruction” (words have no meaning, and definitions, by themselves, are limiting and therefore false), you get an attorney general who decides to write her own rules against political opponents.

    What I am waiting for, in this catnip-for-outsiders of a story, is Kathleen Kane saying that her “enemies” are going after her “because she is a woman”. I haven’t seen that in quotes yet. That would be so Jane Baron-esque (leading feminist in the early 90s at the school).

    Has anyone seen that in print? Essentially, the AG saying that the laws don’t apply to her because she is a woman? If not, it is coming.

  14. I’ll agree that it’s a POS just based on their anti-science global warming hype.

  15. Read and learn. This a three-part series and a scathing indictment of the lack of journalist
    integrity of the paper.

    Part 1: The incredible shrinking newspapers: From ‘Tower of Truth,’ to ‘Grotto of Horseshit’

    Part 2: The moral and ethical decline of the Philadelphia Inquirer

    Part 3: Frank Fina changes the conversation

  16. Jon

    No. The Philly Inquirer specifically made it a point to tarnish her. There was a series of articles a few months back that analyzed the Inquirer, how it was run and their penchant for irresponsible “journalism” going after political stories. If I can locate the link to the series, I’ll post it again. It was quite damning.

  17. I wrote about Kane quite a bit. PoliticsPA editor prior to Nick field ran a couple here. Looked like mainstream media and democratic arm media, like PoliticsPA, protected Kane as long as they could.

  18. Once she had that bad interview with the Inquirer, they seemed to have it in for her and made it there mission to take her down.

    Let’s not forget, that the owner was a big Corbett contributor and refused to let the editorial board make an endorsement for Governor (because that endorsement would have been for Wolf).

  19. The press, including this news organization, ate up the Kane story. Yes, the press is at fault here but so are the voters. Voters are lazy and often times don’t want to spend the time to research a candidate and their policy positions/qualifications for themselves.

    The press is tasked with informing the public and in this instance, they failed miserably. But the voters have the responsibility to make informed decisions. Sometimes we need to look deeper into a candidate than whats being posted online, in newspapers and on TV.

    The press needs an audience to stay interested. Its hard for them not to buy into stories like Kane or more recently, Donald Trump.

  20. It was absolutely ideological. The liberal media was in love with Kathy Kane, and she hit all of their sweet spots. The media cares primarily about issues (gays, guns) that most normal people don’t give two figs about, and because of Kathy Kane’s stances, you all thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. She got the superhero treatment, which made her even more arrogant than she was already. In all honesty, a career housewife with no executive experience should never have been elected AG.

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