USA Today Shifts Corruption Focus from Illinois - to North Dakota?

You can just see the scene from the Wizard of Oz, where the wizard says ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.'

When it comes to diverting attention from a scandal plagued home state, don't worry Senator Obama, USA Today has your back.

In a bizarre demonstration of spinning numbers with the sole purpose of getting people to look away from the recent Blagojevich scandal, John Fritze and others at USA Today took statistics from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, crunched them in the liberal media calculator, and decided they had proof that North Dakota is actually the most corrupt state in the nation. 

According to the article, North Dakota has 8.3 public corruption convictions per 100,000 residents.  Illinois only has 3.9.

The trick here was to use the phrase ‘per-capita basis' in the analysis.  Using the logic presented here by Fritze and his colleagues, they have logically justified that North Dakota's 53 overwhelming public corruption convictions between 1998 and 2007 is solid proof that the state has more of a black eye when it comes to its government, than Illinois, which had a mere 502 convictions during the same period.  Why?  Because North Dakota is a more sparsely populated state.

Using USA Today's methodology, this means that if a double homicide were to occur in the tiny town of Bowbells, ND, with its population of 406, they would immediately become the murder capital of the US - news to which residents of Chicago would surely become quite relieved with only 400+ murders so far this year.  After all, Chicago would only have about 15 murders per 100,000 residents, and Bowbells would have 493.  Ridiculous, right?

The opening paragraph to the article is what helps to mislead the reader (emphasis mine):

Its largest city is legendary for machine-style politics and its elected leaders have been under investigation for years, but by one measure, Illinois is not even close to the nation's most-corrupt state.

The article then goes on to cite numbers that include unelected officials that have been convicted of corruption.  Don't make a sweeping statement about elected officials and then proceed to analyze numbers involving unelected officials. 

One thing for average government employees to break the law, quite another when the public trusts someone enough to elect them to office, only to have them violate that trust by failing to uphold and abide by the government and its laws. 

From an article in U.S. News & World Report:

The Chicago Sun-Times once calculated that 79 Illinois elected officials were convicted on federal corruption charges between 1972 and 2006.

From that same report, corruption is so prevalent in Illinois at the highest level of government that:

Blagojevich is the fourth out of the state's past eight governors to be indicted on corruption charges.

That's four out of eight.  Fifty percent.  North Dakota it seems, doesn't have quite the same problem.

However, as the report correctly surmises, there is no real objective way of discerning whether or not Illinois is the most corrupt state.  The real question is why, when the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is the number one news story of the day, would USA Today bother to try and shift the focus of corruption in other directions? 

Photo Credit:  AP