With so many private and public scandals swirling around, it’s illuminating to see the contrast between how private entities handle embarrassing episodes and how government does.
In less than a week, the Newseum dropped its boneheaded idea to honor two Hamas terrorists on its wall documenting journalists slain in the previous year. It pledged to undertake a study of how terrorism impacts journalism. (“To further our First Amendment mission to provide a forum where all may speak freely, the Newseum will establish a new initiative to explore differing views on the new questions facing journalism and journalists.”)
In a week, Heritage and Jason Richwine, the widely panned immigration-study author obsessed with IQ, parted company.
And when Bloomberg discovered that its news reporters were accessing its financial customers’ usage of the company’s proprietary terminals, it profusely apologized and committed to installing a firewall to prevent journalists from such conflicts of interest and its customers from privacy breaches. (The company’s top editor wrote, “Our reporters should not have access to any data considered proprietary. I am sorry they did. The error is inexcusable. Last month, we immediately changed our policy so that reporters now have no greater access to information than our customers have. Removing this access will have no effect on Bloomberg news-gathering.”)
In each case, the organization tried not to prolong or deny the controversy. It cut its losses. In two of these cases, it pledged to go further in self-regulating.
Then there is the sorry behavior in the Obama administration’s Benghazi and IRS episodes. Months (or years, in the case of the IRS) passed until the issue was addressed. Senior officials wrongfully denied responsibility. Spokespeople parsed words or fabricated. The name of the game was limiting information, not candidly releasing it and making sure the mistake didn’t happen again. Those responsible viewed critics as the enemy. Oh, and for too long the media didn’t take complaints seriously.
Why such a difference in approach? To be candid, private entities, even nonprofits, fear controversy since it has an impact on their bottom line. They respect, even fear, media scrutiny. Their executives have learned from industry scandals.
In the Obama administration (it’s not alone but certainly the most egregious offenders since the Nixon era), top officials feel put-upon and resent inquiry. They seek to snow, evade and deny access at every turn. They circle the wagons; they lack remorse. Even today at his brief press conference, the president said he was thought it was outrageous “if” the IRS was targeting conservatives. The IRS already admitted to doing so. His tone was entirely emblematic of the ethos that leads to scandal — irritated, peevish and defensive.
The Newseum and Bloomberg will put their problems behind them quickly. Heritage might do so if it takes self-scrutiny seriously. The Obama administration? Judging from Jay Carney’s horrific press conference performance Friday and the president’s words today, it has learned nothing and is still in denial. Its arrogance is undiminished. Convinced it’ll spin its way out of it, it’s shown little candor and less remorse. (The president treated the IRS scandal as if it occurred under some other administration.) And you wonder how they got in this mess in the first place?