Probably time to tamp the Obama scandal narratives

obama7.jpgOne of the sillier practices in journalism is taking three somewhat similar events and making them the basis of what we used to call a trend story. For whatever reason three was always the magic number (editors like heft - maybe it's just their CYA reflex). Anyway, the three-pack principle has been used this week to develop a case that the Obama administration is awash in scandal - that the president is either a conniving, corrupt worm or inept beyond comprehension (there's usually no middle ground). The problem is that adding two and two gives you four, not 18, as the attack dogs in Congress and the media would want you to believe. Thankfully, these stories are not all that compelling (boring is the less charitable word), and the Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes that, barring new revelations in the IRS, Benghazi, and AP cases, the scandal angle is starting to fall apart.

The crucial ingredient for a scandal is the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions. Government wrongdoing is boring. Scandals can bring down presidents, decide elections and revive down-and-out political parties. Scandals can dominate American politics for months at a time. On Tuesday, it looked like we had three possible political scandals brewing. Two days later, with much more evidence available, it doesn't look like any of them will pan out. There'll be more hearings, and more bad press for the Obama administration, and more demands for documents. But -- and this is a key qualification -- absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don't seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don't reach high enough.


The scandal metanarrative itself is also changing. Because there was no actual evidence of presidential involvement in these events, the line for much of this week was that the president was not involved enough in their aftermath. He was "passive." He seemed to be a "bystander." His was being controlled by events, rather than controlling them himself. That perception, too, seems to be changing. Mike Allen's Playbook, which is ground zero for scandal CW, led Thursday with a squib that says "the West Wing got its mojo back" and is "BACK ON OFFENSE." Yes, the caps are in the original. The smarter voices on the right are also beginning to counsel caution. "While there's still more information to be gathered and more investigations to be done, all indications are that these decisions - on the AP, on the IRS, on Benghazi - don't proceed from [Obama]," wrote Ben Domenech in The Transom, his influential conservative morning newsletter. "The talk of impeachment is absurd. The queries of 'what did the president know and when did he know it' will probably end up finding out "'just about nothing, and right around the time everyone else found out.'"

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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