Traficant plays us, the press, for fools

By Bertram de Souza

The Mahoning Valley’s No. 1 Con Man — con as in convict and con as in conniver — must still be laughing today about how he lured reporters to a press conference Thursday with the promise of a “major announcement.”

Is he going to announce his candidacy for Congress or some other federal office, we wondered. Is he going to introduce the doctor who will be performing a lobotomy on him? Is he bringing his clothes designer to town to talk about the new cut of his bell-bottom trousers?

There was breathless media speculation after a Traficant mouthpiece contacted certain reporters to inform them of the event.

Is there any significance to the location, the Hampton Inn & Suites in Canfield, political observers asked. Does the 9 a.m. start time mean he’s going to be on “Live With Regis and Kelly?”

So, when Thursday morning came around, reporters were on tenterhooks. (This writer was not invited to attend and chose not to give the former 17th District congressman the pleasure of barring him from the event.)

But it’s now clear that all the secrecy surrounding the reason for the press conference was designed to lure the media.

Traficant, meeting with local reporters for the first time since his release in September from federal prison, had nothing of significance to say. In fact, the only thing that was clear is that he’s still the mad hatter he was when he went off to the penitentiary mumbling to himself, “I’m the target of a conspiracy by the FBI, the IRS, the Justice Department and the White House.”

Criminal counts

Never mind that he was found guilty by a federal jury of 10 criminal counts, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. And never mind that federal prosecutors brought witness after witness to the stand who testified to this despicable individual’s greed and lack of integrity.

But the lemmings who are Traficant’s supporters nodded with understanding and kept up the ridiculous grand-conspiracy theory all through his time behind bars.

And when he emerged still claiming to be a victim, the Jimbonistas rose to up in feigned anger against the big bad federal government. Two thousand of them attended a Welcome Home, Jimbo party and thus began the mindless chatter about his running for Congress again.

That’s why the reporters went to the press conference. But instead of an announcement, Traficant said that one of his peeps is circulating nominating petitions in not one, not two, but three congressional districts. Based on the response, he’ll decide whether to run. That was the big announcement. (Here’s a campaign slogan he could use: Send a Con man to Congress.)

Or, was it his plan to bring an Indian casino to the Mahoning Valley — a plan missing the one key element that would give it legitimacy: a recognized Indian tribe. But that didn’t stop the ex-con from pontificating about his gambling con.

Or, could it be the warning he delivered to the unions to leave area grocer Henry Nemenz alone.

Even taken all together, none of the things Traficant talked about rose to the level of a press conference worth reporters’ time.

Thus the question: How long will we, legitimate journalists, allow Traficant to manipulate us? The answer is clear: Not long at all.

The next time he announces a press conference, he should be required to issue a news release that lays out in detail the issues he intends to discuss. Then we can decide whether he’s handling us again.

An admission

Indeed, the only reason the press should even bother with Traficant is if he admits that he’s corrupt, used his public position for personal gain and that he is withdrawing from public life.

We’ll give him a grand send off.

Otherwise, if he persists in pursuing the fool’s errand of seeking to return to Congress, this writer, for one, will be there to remind the public of what he is: A two-bit crook who believes that what he has to say is still relevant.

Here’s a suggestion: Just as Ashley Dupre, the hooker who brought down New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, has become an advice columnist for the New York Post, Traficant should offer to write an advice column — about political corruption.

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