The Convenient "Scandal" Scapegoat

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

We're at the point now where conservatives are going to have to start acknowledging that Barack Obama is the most talented politician in American history. By their own reckoning, the president's five years in office have been marked by so many Watergates, Iran-Contras, and combinations thereof that he should have been driven from office several times over by this point. And yet Obama was easily reelected and enjoys an approval rating in the mid to high-40s. How is this possible?

The explanation, it turns out, is the same explanation the right turns to whenever faced with political adversity: the media. It's all the media's fault. The corruption and various misdeeds of the Obama administration are manifest, but the public never catches on because the press covers it all up and throws out distractions to keep attention focused elsewhere.

When you actually write it out like that it sounds crazy. Because it is. It assumes a) close, unseen coordination between the administration and every major news outlet in America; b) close, unseen coordination between news outlets that are ostensibly competing against one another; and c) widespread moral vacuity among government officials and journalists that enables them to enthusiastically scrub away legal and ethical violations.

But that's what they're going with. Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing into the Benghazi attacks didn't quite live up to the pre-hearing promises of political "fireworks" and "bombshells." The morning after the hearing, published an op-ed by Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center arguing that the Obama administration had "cover[ed] up four murders after the fact" in Benghazi and "with a few notable exceptions, the American media haven't just let them get away it. Heck, they've helped." Now, had the Obama administration actually tried to cover up the fact that four people were killed in Benghazi, that would be a hell of a scandal. But that didn't happen. To my knowledge, no one has even attempted that accusation before now. But that what's Gainor thinks Benghazi is about and he thinks the mainstream press (of which The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is a member, apparently) are the sort of moral monsters who would sign on for such a cover-up.

This counterfactual column with its out-to-lunch premise proved popular among conservatives. Gainor got a link from Matt Drudge, and he managed to finagle for himself a segment on Fox News' America Live with Megyn Kelly, who said the hearing prompted a "collective yawn" from the press. 

"Collective yawn" is a curious description of the press reaction, given that the hearing was covered by all the network newscasts that evening. Also, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all ran front page articles on the hearing the following morning.

Ultimately it doesn't matter how the press actually covers Benghazi; it will always be guilty of assisting in the "cover-up" because that's a necessary component to the continued life of the "scandal." It just isn't possible, per the conservative rationale, that journalists don't see the Watergate-level criminality that is so obviously there. They must be in on the fix. Fox News reporters -- not the primetime opinion guys, but actual reporters -- are out there saying that Benghazi should be Obama's Watergate, but the rest of the media just won't align their coverage to Fox News'.

Writing for the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie pegs the reason behind the proliferation of "scandals" in the Obama administration:

Right-wing media has stoked huge demand for scandal among conservative consumers, but there isn't a supply. And so, Republicans have had to create them, latching onto mistakes and ambiguities, and magnifying them into epic examples of administration misconduct. With Fast and Furious, a poorly-executed anti-gun trafficking operation became a massive conspiracy to confiscate American firearms, and with Benghazi, it's a broad cover-up of gross mismanagement. And depending on the political circumstances of the next four years, I wouldn't be surprised if some Republicans tried to spin these "scandals" into grounds for impeachment. Already, Mike Huckabee is predicting impeachment over Benghazi and I expect to see more of the same other prominent Republicans.

None of these "scandals" have delivered the sort of political damage promised by their manufacturers, and yet, despite one fizzling flop after the next, the ardor for scandals goes on unabated. What keeps that demand alive? This notion of a liberal media protecting the Democrats. It is a foundational belief of modern conservatism. It enables right-wing media to keep drumming up scandals and conspiracies, assuring the faithful that the reason the Obama White House hasn't had to answer for their (imagined) crimes is because the mainstream media intervened and shielded the public from the truth.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Fox News Channel
Matt Drudge, Megyn Kelly, Dan Gainor
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