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.