The most important quote from the Sunday shows yesterday is this one on Meet the Press from Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of scandal-palooza’s most aggressive ringleaders on Capitol Hill:
“This pattern of deception administration wide is starting to become concerning. You know, when you look at the IRS and you look at the Benghazi issue and you look at the AP issue, I think the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals, it’s this broader notion that there’s a pattern of this activity. I think that’s what concerns people because what you don’t want to have happened is Americans lose faith and trust in their institutions. That, I think, is what’s at risk here and we better get this back in the box so Americans can rest easy at night knowing we’re working for them and not against them.”
This is a critical moment of candor. The most important thing here is not the individual scandals; it’s the sense of a “pattern” of activity that creates the risk (so worries Rogers, in a moment of fine concern trolling) that Americans will lose “trust” in their “institutions.” Those who remember the 1990s well (see Digby on this) will recall that this is a time tested tactic. The goal is to create an overarching atmosphere of scandal, because this intensifies pressure on news orgs and reporters to hype individual revelations within that framework with little regard to the actual importance or significance of each new piece of information.
Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I have to say that I’m seeing the stirrings of a media backlash to the GOP overhyping of all of these scandals. Things seem significantly better than they were in the 1990s.
It’s true that some news orgs have been way too quick to inflate the importance of this or that detail of what the White House knew and when about the timing of the impending inspector general’s report on the IRS scandal. But we’re also seeing a very serious effort in many cases to separate the scandal wheat from the chaff. The Washington Post has done great work detailing, contextualizing, and demythologizing what those emails concerning the Benghazi talking points really told us. The New York Times has done deeply reported, nuanced work on what really drove the IRS targeting of conservatives.
Meanwhile, some D.C. journos are now openly reacting badly to GOP scandal hyping. Remember that Daily Caller “scoop” reporting that the former IRS commissioner visited the White House 157 times? Garance Franke-Ruta’s debunking of the story prompted a surprisingly sharp discussion of it on Howard Kurtz’s Reliable Sources yesterday, with the Post’s Dana Milbank ripping into it as “shoddy reporting.” Meanwhile, House GOP investigations leader Darrell Issa is getting pilloried by reporters for suggesting, with zero evidence, that Obama administration officials coordinated IRS targeting of conservatives. CNN’s Candy Crowley insistently cornered Issa over the claim yesterday, and Ron Fournier (who has not refrained from slamming the White House) tore into Issa for resorting to “cherry picked evidence” and “weasel words.”
Also see today’s big Times overview of the House GOP prosecution of these scandals, which is appropriately skeptical, flatly suggesting that Republicans are allowing “investigatory zeal” to displace “serious legislating.”
Again: The goal of Issa and others here is to create an atmosphere of scandal, with the deliberate aim of obscuring the importance of the details of the actual scandals themselves (as Rep. Mike Rogers has now helpfully revealed). But there does seem to be a real media effort underway in some quarters to point out that that the smoke coming from the GOP smoke machine doesn’t mean there’s necessarily any fire there. That’s a far sight better than the 1990s, when scores of reporters would eagerly clamber aboard their shiny red fire truck to chase even the thinnest wisp of smoke whenever Republicans told them to.
Update: One more data point. On Morning Joe today, Chuck Todd described Issa as a “guy who cries wolf,” noting that he had promised huge scandal dividends from Benghazi but hadn’t delivered, and that he is now making similar claims about the IRS scandal.
* HOUSE GOP DRAGGING ITS FEET ON IMMIGRATION REFORM: This is ominous: GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the House GOP point man on immigration, is insisting House Republicans will introduce immigration reform in pieces, and won’t say what House Republicans will do in response to the Senate “gang of eight” compromise, which still represents the only real hope for passing reform.
As noted here the other day, some liberals are pushing Senate Dems not to move the bill too far to the right in the quest for broad bipartisan support in the Senate, which some top Dems want to force House Republicans to accept it. Given House GOP intransigence, it is increasingly likely that reform’s prospects turn on whether John Boehner will allow it to pass with mostly Dem votes — an outcome that doesn’t require overwhelming majority support in the Senate in any case. So why water down the bill with more compromises?
* SCHUMER WANTS BROAD BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR REFORM: Here’s the counterargument to the above, from Senator Chuck Schumer on Meet the Press yesterday:
“If we can come out of the Senate with close to a majority of the Republican senators and almost every Democrat, that may change the equation in the House and thinking in the House among mainstream Republicans. And they may want to go for our bill.”
The question is, How far to the right must the bill be moved to get nearly a majority of GOP Senators, and will that really get many House Republicans to budge on citizenship, which remains the core issue here?
* SENATE REPUBLICANS WARY OF PRIMARY CHALLENGES: National Journal on the delicate balancing act national Republicans are striking as they try not to appear eager to influence the outcome of primaries while subtly trying to ensure that they don’t result in an unelectable nominee that dooms their changes of taking Senate seats that are eminently gettable. This was a key factor in major Dem gains in 2012, and as National Journal notes, it’s not impossible that the hard right GOP base could saddle the party with bad candidates in places like West Virginia, South Dakota and even Georgia, which should represent all but certain wins for Republicans.
* GUN REFORM BATTLE SHIFTS TO STATES: Don’t miss the New York Times’s big weekend overview of the intensifying efforts by Michael Bloomberg’s group to fight for gun reform in multiple battles that are unfolding on the level of the states. The campaigns are a reminder that the gun reform movement is seriously reorganizing nationally for the long haul, and that real progress can be made despite Congress’ refusal to act.
Next up: Nevada, where a background check proposal is set to pass the state legislature. The GOP Governor will likely veto it, but moving the proposal forward in this state, which has a strong “gun rights” history, will be symbolically important.
* TED CRUZ AGAIN CAUGHT DISSEMBLING ABOUT GUNS: Glenn Kessler does a nice job taking apart yet another claim about guns from the Texas Senator: The notion that the Obama administration has dramatically scaled down prosecutions of gun violations, which Cruz holds up as his reason for not supporting the Manchin Toomey compromise to expand background checks. The larger context here is that Senators such as Cruz are obliged to resort to endless demagoguery about Manchin-Toomey in order to avoid engaging with what the legislation would actually do.
* FISCAL ALARMISTS PROVEN WRONG YET AGAIN: An excellent Paul Krugman column on how the new report from the trustees for Medicare and Social Security shows yet again that the alarmism about the two programs going bankrupt is nonsense. Obamacare’s efforts to control medical costs are beginning to work, and we can probably get Medicare under control largely with fixes focused on overly high prices Americans pay for health procedures.
It’s yet another way in which one of the main ideological preoccupations guiding policy makers for the last few years — that the solution to all that ails us is immediate, deep, and destructive spending cuts — has proven entirely wrong.
* AND THE LONG READ OF THE MORNING: McCay Coppins has an an interesting look at a onsulting firm that has served as a kind of messaging and strategic development center that has helped get as many as 40 extreme conservative candidates (“right wing rejects”) elected to Congress. Of particular interest is how this firm entices candidates, by casting itself as a foil against “money-grubbing operatives in Washington” and “moderate posers who look down sneeringly on their party’s base,” and pitching itself as “driven by marrow-deep ideological conviction — and Christian faith — that transcends the cynicism of the party poobahs.”