This morning, Jonathan Chait reported, The Strange Creation of the Obama Scandals. And Glenn Greenward reported, The Major Sea Change in Media Discussions of Obama and Civil Liberties. Indeed, Obama does seem to be experiencing a perfect storm of bad sandal-like news. And most of the coverage of it is horrible.
It isn't as though all of these controversies don't tell us a whole lot about modern America. It is just that what they tell us is not playing much of a role in the coverage. Instead of looking at what is wrong with how this country is run, we get stories straight out of bad TV westerns. Obama wearing a black cowboy hat moseys into town and grabs an innocent woman. Suddenly, Rand Paul wearing a white cowboy hat rushes out into the street. "Take your hands off her!" Paul yells at him. And on and on. There's a bad guy in town and that bad guy is the president who is responsible for everything.
You all know me: I'm not a big fan of the president's. But he is not the bad guy in all of this. He certainly is one of the bad guys in an evil system that proudly rewards villainy. But he doesn't stand out in what is really going on and this is most definitely not a story of good versus evil.
Consider scandal number one: Benghazi. There is an important issue here. People in our foreign embassies should not be murdered. Were their problems with that particular embassy or our embassies generally? I'd like to know. I'm sure the American people would like to know. But that's not what the scandal is all about. It is about how the administration talked about the attack on the Sunday news shows after it happened.
Mostly, this all stayed in the right wing media rabbit hole. Until last Friday when ABC reported on emails that said that the talking points of Susan Rice were changed many times by the White House. Again, even if this were true, it would hardly be important. But it turned out, that it wasn't true. On Tuesday,CNN reported that ABC got it wrong. It turned out that the Friday report wasnot based on email, but rather upon what were surely Republican staffers' summaries. Once the actual emails were seen: no story.
That brings us to scandal number two: IRS targeting of conservative groups. Ever since Watergate, there has been a law that stops the president from even communicating with the IRS. Why? To stop the president from doing what conservatives are implying he did: use the IRS to go after his enemies. But there is absolutely, positively no reporting that even hints at this sort of thing going on. So what happened? It seems some low-level staff members were trying to deal with the huge increase in 501(c)(4) applications. These wereoverwhelmingly from conservative groups. And it isn't like they didn't also go after liberal groups. They not only went after them, they denied them. Norm Scheiber puts it brilliantly:
Democrats can't say it; Barack Obama can't say it; and the IRS certainly can't say it, so here goes: the only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness—that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.
But there is a real issue here. Why are all of these political groups (on the left but primarily on the right) being allowed to pretend that they are do-gooder social groups when they are just the newest kind of political action committees? Again, this is not the focus of the story. Instead it is that evil IRS (probably controlled by that evil Obama) going after all their enemies.
And finally, scandal number three: the Justice Department looking at the phone records of the Associated Press. This one has begun to bug me the most. I am one very small voice of a relatively limited group of leftists and libertarians who have been screaming about this for years. And now the press is interested in it because they think they might be able to tie it to the president? This is pathetic! There is nothing particularly appalling about this revelation. It may turn out to be completely legal. Because Obama (just like every president before him) has pushed these surveillance laws further and further. After the Washington Post said this scandal was calling into question Obama's status as a civil libertarian, Glenn Greedwald wrote, "You don't say! The Washington Post's breaking news here is only about four years late."
There are three important questions: (1) are our embassies safe; (2) are our tax laws being taken advantage of by political groups; and (3) what are we going to do about our ever degrading civil liberties? But the mainstream press isn't interested in these questions. Instead, they are like that dog in Up: "Scandal?!"
Fourth Estate my ass:
(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)