One picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words, and the one that graced the front page of the Feb. 24 Asahi Shimbun is worth more than all the kanji expended on the Democratic Party of Japan’s e-mail fiasco.

The photo, taken during a Lower House session on the afternoon of the 23rd, shows the four leaders of the DPJ seated at their bench. To the left are former party presidents Katsuya Okada and Naoto Kan and Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama, all looking sleepy and out of sorts. On the far right sits current party chief Seiji Maehara, staring out of the corner of his eye at these three as if he’d like to punch them out.

Given the loss of political face that the DPJ has suffered in the wake of the scandal, one could hardly blame him. Lawmaker Hi-sayasu Nagata carries the bulk of the blame for the disaster, but it might not have been a disaster if the party had its act together. For what it’s worth, the DPJ exists to be the nemesis of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is why its ideological breadth takes in the whole political spectrum — as long as you hate the LDP, you’re welcome to join. One can hardly expect everyone to agree on policy, but at least they should be united and thorough in their mission to bring down the big boys.

They almost did. Before Nagata waved the fateful missive in the Diet, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his minions were on the ropes, dodging accusations of poor leadership in the Livedoor, imported beef, Defense Agency, and falsified construction-data scandals. Nagata charged in, ready to deliver the coup de gra^ce, only to have it flung back in his face. The Asahi said it was like a game of Othello: one chip flipped, and then they all flipped.

The media is having a great time portraying Nagata as the perfect chump: young, naive, excitable. They noted that he bowed 11 times in apology during his first media conference (last Tuesday), where he admitted failure in proving his assertion that disgraced Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie transferred a large sum of money to the son of LDP General Secretary Tsutomu Takebe last summer for presumed favors. After falling ill from exhaustion when it became apparent that the e-mail containing this information was, as Koizumi put it, “nothing but a fake,” Nagata entered a hospital and didn’t emerge until the media conference, where he stopped short of saying that everything in the mail was a lie. The LDP said it wouldn’t be satisfied until the DPJ completely renounced the e-mail.

By not doing so 100 percent, Nagata left a grain of doubt in everyone’s mind as to whether everything in the e-mail was bogus, and as long as that doubt existed the LDP wouldn’t have been able to relax.

Despite the humiliation the e-mail caused him, Nagata said he still had complete trust in the person who passed it on to him. At the time, this person was unnamed, but it was clear the media knew who he was: A former reporter who has a close “private” relationship with Nagata, this “middleman” was once convicted of libel and now publishes a “high-class” magazine that featured Nagata on one of its covers. Shukan Shincho said that the former reporter has connections with Soka Gakkai, thus insinuating that the LDP’s coalition partner New Komeito, which is affiliated with the religious group, may have been trying to set up Nagata.

The weeklies finally identified the middleman as Takashi Nishizawa, who could shed a lot of light on the scandal. According to TBS, however, he has denied through his lawyer that he even passed the e-mail to Nagata, an interesting development since the DPJ’s own investigation found that both the e-mail’s sender and recipient boxes, which were blacked out, contained Nishizawa’s name. That means either it was fabricated by someone else (maybe the anonymous Livedoor insider who is said to be the original source of the e-mail) or that Nishizawa is lying.

It could also mean that Nagata is lying, but that doesn’t seem likely. Every description of the young lawmaker paints a picture of an earnest do-gooder without a cunning bone in his body.

Born in Fukuoka to a family of doctors, Nagata graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1993 and entered the Ministry of Finance where, according to Aera, his colleagues looked upon him as a klutz. He was first elected to the Lower House in 2000, and told Asahi at the time that he was sure “after two or three general elections” the ruling party would change.

Nagata is as dedicated a party man as the DPJ has, and if he erred, he erred on the side of enthusiasm. Veteran lawmaker Kozo Watanabe, a former LDP member who now represents the conservative wing of the DPJ, told reporters that, while Nagata was woefully sloppy in his attack, he was no worse than opposition politicians of the past who always asked “stupid questions” in the Diet. Then, the LDP at least gave the appearance of taking the questions seriously. They could do so because the opposition didn’t pose any real threat. But ever since election reform created winner-takes-all districts, no party can afford to be magnanimous. If one side even appears to have made a mistake, the other will attack with everything it’s got.

Nagata has thus had to publicly state that he now concludes the e-mail was forged. In addition he has been forced by the LDP to beg for forgiveness while his own party stands by red-faced and impotent. But Article 51 of the Constitution permits lawmakers to make any statements in the Diet that they want regardless of the consequences as long as the persons making them honestly believe such statements are in the interests of the people. That he was given e-mail — fake or not — in the first place, raises questions and requires answers. Nagata may have been overzealous, but he wasn’t wrong.

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