National | View from Osaka

The real Moritomo Gakuen story is clear as mud

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”Mark Twain

Two months have elapsed since the scandal involving Osaka-based private school operator Moritomo Gakuen went from a local land deal gone bad to a national political scandal. Yet we remain in the dark as to who is lying and who is telling the truth.

The result is that what really happened with the nationalist school and whether Akie Abe, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, really gave Moritomo Gakuen’s Yoshinori Kagoike a ¥1 million donation in her husband’s name, is as clear as mud. Despite Kagoike’s electrifying Diet testimony last month and the continued insistence of both he and his family that Akie Abe did hand him an envelope full of cash during a school visit on Sept. 5, 2015, she and the prime minister continue to strenuously deny it. Without solid evidence on either side, we remain in a “he said, she said” situation.

As time passes, however, the story is becoming overtaken by events — OBE’d, as we in the newspaper trade say. From debate over the so-called conspiracy bill designed, so the government insists, to combat terrorism, to somewhat overheated but very real concerns about a clash with North Korea, there have been other, more important things to think about if you were a reporter, editor or television producer — especially if you were reporting from Tokyo. The Osaka media took the lead on the Moritomo story back in February and have never really let go. Tokyo’s media, out of the loop and no doubt irritated at getting scooped by the Osaka competition, adopted an initial tone of “Oh, it’s just a local story.” Even as evidence came to light — in the form of phone calls and emails between Akie Abe and Kagoike’s wife, Junko — that Akie Abe did, indeed, have a closer connection to Moritomo than she or her husband had initially let on.

The Prime Minister’s Office realized, too late, that the public nationwide, and not just in Osaka, was concerned, and that this was a story they needed to take seriously because the opposition parties were not letting it go. Even members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party grumbled to TV cameras or complained to weekly magazines about how badly Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga were handling the media fallout.

At the same time, as the scandal drags on, Tokyo pundits from media firms that are generally sympathetic to Abe have increased their presence, appearing on news programs and serving as de facto spin doctors for the administration.

A cynic might wonder if some of them aren’t getting cash under the table from the LDP for their enthusiastic defense of the honor and virtue of the prime minister and his wife, and their sneering dismissal of Kagoike’s claims.

On the other hand, there may be no need to pay them off, as they appear to truly believe “Honest Abe” would never tell a lie.

In Osaka, it’s a different story. Popular local TV news and variety shows that are not broadcast in Tokyo have adopted a more skeptical — which is to say more journalistic — view. Commentators in Osaka repeatedly note that Akie Abe has yet to be publicly questioned about her relationship with Moritomo, while Kagoike and his family have agreed to face the microphones and cameras on multiple occasions.

What does Kagoike have to gain by lying? Not just to the media but in sworn testimony (which carries possible prison time if found to be untrue) to the Diet? Perhaps Akie Abe — if she ever submits to questioning by the media or by the Diet — will provide the answer.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

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