Has the media begun to turn on Barack Obama?

Hillary Clinton has complained bitterly that her competitor, Barack Obama, has received a cushy ride so far from the mainstream media. That may be changing, however, with the corruption trial of Obama’s political booster Tony Rezko. The New York Times takes an in-depth look into Rezko’s connections and asks how the Chicago fixer kept finding so much money with so many creditors:

Tony Rezko was obviously in trouble. He was a defendant in at least a dozen lawsuits, federal investigators in Chicago were poking around, and his name was in newspaper articles about corruption and fraud.

None of that stopped Mr. Rezko, a politically connected developer, and Senator Barack Obama from completing real estate deals a few years ago that resulted in the Obamas obtaining their dream house and the Rezkos buying an empty lot next door.

Nearly three years later, fallout from Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Rezko, who raised more than $150,000 for Mr. Obama’s campaigns, continue to dog Mr. Obama on the presidential campaign trail. That distraction promises to linger as Mr. Rezko goes on trial on corruption charges starting Monday.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat, is not part of the case against Mr. Rezko, who is accused of shaking down companies seeking business with the State of Illinois. Mr. Obama has conceded that it was a mistake to bring Mr. Rezko into his personal real estate dealings, although he has insisted that there was nothing unusual about the developer’s decision to buy a sought-after lot in an upscale neighborhood.

But a review of court records, including new details of Mr. Rezko’s finances that emerged recently, show that the lot purchase occurred as he was being pursued by creditors seeking more than $10 million, deepening the mystery of why he would plunge into a real estate investment whose biggest beneficiary appears to have been Mr. Obama.

The Times develops the connection further between the Rezkos and the Obamas on the purchase of the house and lot that put them in business together. They report that Barack Obama could not have purchased the house without someone else buying the adjacent lot on the same day, as stipulated by the seller. The sale had to be coordinated between the two, and Obama had to be aware of Rezko’s odd decision to have his wife front for the purchase of the lot, despite her lack of income and assets.

Obama had to be aware of more than that, as well. By the time of the real-estate deal, Rezko had already become the focus of lawsuits and a federal investigation. Chicago authorities had publicly announced a probe into Rezko’s business practices with the city — specifically for alleged fraudulent misrepresentation of his business as a minority-owned enterprise in order to compete for municipal contracts. The newspapers had reported for at least two years about Rezko’s malevolent influence in the state.

Why was a politician supposedly interested in clean politics doing business with someone with such a bad public reputation, and with a man whose creditors had already begun to take him to court?

The Times also brings up the name Nadhmi Auchi for the first time. In the middle of Rezko’s financial meltdown, the thirteenth-richest man in the UK suddenly sent Rezko $3.5 million — supposedly for a pizza business. Auchi, however, usually deals in much higher stakes than pizza. When Auchi spends that kind of money, he’s not looking for take-out — he’s looking for influence.

The trial’s start tomorrow may prove a turning point for Obama and the media. They have treated him with unusual deference. This looks like a warning flare that the easy ride has come to an end.