Sounds familiar: Press treats Perry’s indictment as a political scandal

Democrats appear to be distancing themselves from an indictment presented against Texas Gov. Rick Perry relating to public corruption charges. Republicans are gleefully framing the charges as the result of political payback from a prideful district attorney who the governor had attempted to oust following her drunken driving arrest. The press is casting Perry’s predicament merely as a stain on his record while he prepares to mount another presidential bid. What few are discussing are the merits of the charges the governor is facing. That sounds familiar.

“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry told reporters on Saturday. “It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”

“Just as I have following every legislative session during my service as governor, I exercised this authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public’s confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically,” he added in his own defense. But it appears increasingly unlikely Perry will need to mount one.

“This is not a slam dunk case against Gov. Perry,” University of Houston Law Center professor David Kwok told USA Today.

Of course, the politics of this episode are another matter. As Newsbuster’s noted, The New York Times is treating Perry’s troubles like a political matter rather than a serious allegation of corruption.

“The indictment left Mr. Perry, a Republican, the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges and presented a major roadblock to his presidential ambitions at the very time that he had been showing signs of making a comeback,” a story in the Times read. “The indictment could mar the legacy of Mr. Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, as his tenure nears an end.”

On Friday, like a plot out of Shakespeare, Mr. Perry’s attempt to control one of the few things of substance in the state that was out of his reach led to two felony charges that threaten to tarnish his legacy and derail his hopes for a second presidential run.

It was a stunning rebuke to Mr. Perry. But it also set in motion a battle of competing narratives over just what kind of overreach the indictment reflects. Democrats say the charges describe the arrogant overreach of a governor with unchecked power. Republicans took up Mr. Perry’s argument on Saturday that the excess was in the investigation and indictment themselves, which they describe as political in nature and extremely dubious in legality.

It is a familiar pattern. When the substance of the charges leveled against Chris Christie and Scott Walker began to fizzle, the press also shifted the narrative from coverage of a significant breach of the public trust to speculation about how the charges would affect their political futures. In this case, the shift in tone in the press occurred with lightning speed, which is perhaps indicative of just how shallow the charges Perry is facing truly are.