Review: Bag Man, a Rachel Maddow podcast from MSNBC

Readability

Review: Bag Man, a Rachel Maddow podcast from MSNBC

By John Ruberry

One of my crit­i­cisms of my left-​wing friends is that they cocoon them­selves in media that is com­fort­able to them, such as the New York Times, the Wash­ing­ton Post, and MSNBC, TV shows fea­tur­ing fel­low trav­el­ers, such as Will & Grace, and agree­able authors, such as Noam Chomsky.

They yelp back, “But all you do is watch Fox News, read National Review, and lis­ten to right-​wing talk radio.” I do all of those things, yes. But also, since left­ist media and pro­gres­sive opin­ion is so per­va­sive – even in sports report­ing – I’m reg­u­larly exposed to lib­eral view­points. I don’t watch ABC’s The View by choice, but when I find myself in a wait­ing room at a doctor’s office at 10am – I’m con­fronted by three hard­ened left­ists because some­one already tuned in to it and I’m too polite to com­plain. Yes, there are one or two so-​called con­ser­v­a­tives on the couch of The View, but Meghan McCain, in my opin­ion, is at best a moderate.

So unlike left­ists in regards to con­ser­v­a­tive opin­ion, I am unable iso­late myself from lib­eral dogma even if I want to. Still, it’s not a bad idea to seek out con­flict­ing voices to keep your mind sharp. Which is why, after I learned about the show last week on the local NPR affil­i­ate, I sub­scribed to, and lis­tened to, every episode of Bag Man, A Rachel Mad­dow pod­cast from MSNBC.

Bag Man explores an unfor­tu­nately over­looked dark chap­ter of Amer­i­can his­tory, the vice pres­i­dency of Spiro Agnew. He was Richard M. Nixon’s first veep, and while not involved in the Water­gate scan­dal, Spiro had his own racket, one involv­ing bribery that dated back to his time as Bal­ti­more County Exec­u­tive and gov­er­nor of Mary­land. While Water­gate and its many ten­ta­cles was a com­pli­cated scan­dal, Agnew’s scam was pretty basic. He accepted kick­backs from devel­op­ers – deliv­ered by a bag man – or a “buffer,” as such peo­ple were called in The God­fa­ther Part 2.

As some of the rigged con­struc­tion projects, such as a road resur­fac­ing or a new gov­ern­ment build­ing didn’t come to fruition until years after the deal was set­tled, Agnew’s cash “com­mis­sions” were deliv­ered in plain envelopes even while he was next in line for the presidency.

One bribe was handed to Agnew while he was sit­ting in his White House office.

Which leads Mad­dow to state, ad nau­seum, that there was “a crim­i­nal occu­pant in the White House.” Many times. Mad­dow, who coin­ci­den­tally was born in 1973, the same year the Agnew bribery scheme was exposed and the Water­gate scan­dal broke wide open, utters that phrase with joy.

Mad­dow also delves into the pos­si­bil­ity that a pres­i­dent, yes, “a crim­i­nal occu­pant of the White House,” or a vice pres­i­dent, can be indicted.

He was blunt,” Mad­dow says of Agnew. “He was polit­i­cally incor­rect. He loved trash­ing lib­er­als. And the press. And minori­ties. He shot down heck­lers at his events with glee.” In short, Mad­dow is try­ing to cre­ate a par­al­lel between Agnew and the cur­rent res­i­dent of the White House, Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump. I don’t believe Agnew was a real con­ser­v­a­tive. He was an oppor­tunist. As gov­er­nor he was a cen­trist. Before join­ing the Nixon camp in 1968, Agnew sup­ported lib­eral Repub­li­can Nel­son Rock­e­feller for president.

Like the fable of the Scor­pion and the Frog, Mad­dow can­not help her­self, rather than stick­ing to a run­down of the much-​deserved fall of Agnew, it is her modus operandi to inject left­ist hatred of Trump into her report­ing. Because it is her nature.

That’s not to say the seven episode pod­cast isn’t worth a lis­ten. Or even two. Much of it is excel­lent. Think of Bag Man as a sump­tu­ous buf­fet table – but at the cen­ter of it is a cor­roded steel tub packed with roasted rats – and that tub is Maddow’s loathing of Trump. Ignore the rodents the best that you can. To be fair, Mad­dow never men­tions Trump or his vice pres­i­dent, Mike Pence, through­out the series, but what they call “dry snitch­ing” in prison is quite obvi­ous in regards to the cur­rent president.

There is some superb report­ing in the series by Mad­dow, as well as her pro­ducer, Mike Yarvitz, as they reveal doc­u­ments, White House tapes of Nixon plot­ting to res­cue Agnew by com­mit­ting non-​Watergate obstruc­tion of jus­tice, and even some audio diaries of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Mad­dow and Yarvitz inter­viewed the bulk of the pros­e­cu­tors of Agnew from the Bal­ti­more US Attorney’s office, as well as Agnew’s per­sonal attor­ney, Marty Lon­don. The fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors never heard some of those record­ings I men­tioned in the prior para­graph until Yarvitz pressed the “play” but­ton. “Wow, oh my God, this is beau­ti­ful,” Bar­ney Skol­nik, one of those feds, exclaims after lis­ten­ing to one clip.

Haldeman’s suc­ces­sor as White House chief of staff, Al Haig, gen­er­ally viewed as one of the good guys in the Nixon cir­cle, is impli­cated by Mad­dow in obstruc­tion of jus­tice, as is, unfairly in my opin­ion, the chair­man of the Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee at the time, George H.W. Bush.

Like I said, ignore the rats.

Amer­i­can democ­racy was in a frag­ile sit­u­a­tion in 1973. The impeach­ment and removal of Nixon from office was a real pos­si­bil­ity. Let’s say he was ousted and then suc­ceeded by Agnew, who by that time was under impeach­ment. Or how about this sce­nario? In con­cur­rent tri­als the Sen­ate was in the posi­tion to remove both men from office? Sure, a suc­ces­sor, the speaker of the House, was in place, but is this the Amer­ica the Found­ing Fathers envisioned?

For­tu­nately it didn’t come to that. Nixon’s attor­ney gen­eral, Elliot Richard­son, def­i­nitely a good guy, engi­neered a still con­tro­ver­sial deal that allowed Agnew to resign the vice pres­i­dency while enter­ing a no con­test plea to a sin­gle count of tax eva­sion. He paid a $10,000 fine and served no prison time. Ten days later, after Nixon demanded that Richard­son fire Archibald Cox, the White House spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, Richard­son quit instead.

Nixon chose Ger­ald R. Ford to replace Agnew. Con­gress rat­i­fied him that Decem­ber. You know the rest of the story.

All seven episodes of Bag Man are avail­able for free on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and on the MSNBC web­site.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

One of my criticisms of my left-wing friends is that they cocoon themselves in media that is comfortable to them, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and MSNBC, TV shows featuring fellow travelers, such as Will & Grace, and agreeable authors, such as Noam Chomsky.

They yelp back, “But all you do is watch Fox News, read National Review, and listen to right-wing talk radio.”  I do all of those things, yes. But also, since leftist media and progressive opinion is so pervasive–even in sports reporting–I’m regularly exposed to liberal viewpoints. I don’t watch ABC’s The View by choice, but when I find myself in a waiting room at a doctor’s office at 10am–I’m confronted by three hardened leftists because someone already tuned in to it and I’m too polite to complain. Yes, there are one or two so-called conservatives on the couch of The View, but Meghan McCain, in my opinion, is at best a moderate.

So unlike leftists in regards to conservative opinion, I am unable isolate myself from liberal dogma even if I want to. Still, it’s not a bad idea to seek out conflicting voices to keep your mind sharp. Which is why, after I learned about the show last week on the local NPR affiliate, I subscribed to, and listened to, every episode of Bag Man, A Rachel Maddow podcast from MSNBC.

Bag Man explores an unfortunately overlooked dark chapter of American history, the vice presidency of Spiro Agnew. He was Richard M. Nixon’s first veep, and while not involved in the Watergate scandal, Spiro had his own racket, one involving bribery that dated back to his time as Baltimore County Executive and governor of Maryland. While Watergate and its many tentacles was a complicated scandal, Agnew’s scam was pretty basic. He accepted kickbacks from developers–delivered by a bag man–or a “buffer,” as such people were called in The Godfather Part 2.

As some of the rigged construction projects, such as a road resurfacing or a new government building didn’t come to fruition until years after the deal was settled, Agnew’s cash “commissions” were delivered in plain envelopes even while he was next in line for the presidency.

One bribe was handed to Agnew while he was sitting in his White House office.

Which leads Maddow to state, ad nauseum, that there was “a criminal occupant in the White House.” Many times. Maddow, who coincidentally was born in 1973, the same year the Agnew bribery scheme was exposed and the Watergate scandal broke wide open, utters that phrase with joy.

Maddow also delves into the possibility that a president, yes, “a criminal occupant of the White House,” or a vice president, can be indicted.

“He was blunt,” Maddow says of Agnew. “He was politically incorrect. He loved trashing liberals. And the press. And minorities. He shot down hecklers at his events with glee.” In short, Maddow is trying to create a parallel between Agnew and the current resident of the White House, President Donald J. Trump. I don’t believe Agnew was a real conservative. He was an opportunist. As governor he was a centrist. Before joining the Nixon camp in 1968, Agnew supported liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller for president.

Like the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, Maddow cannot help herself, rather than sticking to a rundown of the much-deserved fall of Agnew, it is her modus operandi to inject leftist hatred of Trump into her reporting. Because it is her nature.

That’s not to say the seven episode podcast isn’t worth a listen. Or even two. Much of it is excellent. Think of Bag Man as a sumptuous buffet table–but at the center of it is a corroded steel tub packed with roasted rats–and that tub is Maddow’s loathing of Trump. Ignore the rodents the best that you can. To be fair, Maddow never mentions Trump or his vice president, Mike Pence, throughout the series, but what they call “dry snitching” in prison is quite obvious in regards to the current president.

There is some superb reporting in the series by Maddow, as well as her producer, Mike Yarvitz, as they reveal documents, White House tapes of Nixon plotting to rescue Agnew by committing non-Watergate obstruction of justice, and even some audio diaries of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Maddow and Yarvitz interviewed the bulk of the prosecutors of Agnew from the Baltimore US Attorney’s office, as well as Agnew’s personal attorney, Marty London. The federal prosecutors never heard some of those recordings I mentioned in the prior paragraph until Yarvitz pressed the “play” button. “Wow, oh my God, this is beautiful,” Barney Skolnik, one of those feds, exclaims after listening to one clip.

Haldeman’s successor as White House chief of staff, Al Haig, generally viewed as one of the good guys in the Nixon circle, is implicated by Maddow in obstruction of justice, as is, unfairly in my opinion, the chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time, George H.W. Bush.

Like I said, ignore the rats.

American democracy was in a fragile situation in 1973. The impeachment and removal of Nixon from office was a real possibility. Let’s say he was ousted and then succeeded by Agnew, who by that time was under impeachment. Or how about this scenario? In concurrent trials the Senate was in the position to remove both men from office? Sure, a successor, the speaker of the House, was in place, but is this the America the Founding Fathers envisioned?

Fortunately it didn’t come to that. Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, definitely a good guy, engineered a still controversial deal that allowed Agnew to resign the vice presidency while entering a no contest plea to a single count of tax evasion. He paid a $10,000 fine and served no prison time. Ten days later, after Nixon demanded that Richardson fire Archibald Cox, the White House special prosecutor, Richardson quit instead.

Nixon chose Gerald R. Ford to replace Agnew. Congress ratified him that December. You know the rest of the story.

All seven episodes of Bag Man are available for free on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and on the MSNBC website.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.