The newest scandal to rock the administration (it seems like there is a new one each week) involves the media, perhaps not the greatest offense but one that may finally tip the press into full-blown attack mode against an administration that has too often played them as fools.
In a sweeping and unusual move, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.
The AP’s president said Monday that federal authorities obtained cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor; AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn.; and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress. He called the Justice Department’s actions a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities.
Even if the administration was justified in looking at the media, this is extraordinary and beyond any inquiry we’ve seen before:
“This investigation is broader and less focused on an individual source or reporter than any of the others we’ve seen,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “They have swept up an entire collection of press communications. It’s an astonishing assault on core values of our society.”
One can only imagine if the Bush administration pulled this.
I’m sure we’ll hear a lot of excuses, just as we did on the Internal Revenue scandal. There, virtually every incarnation of the story proved to be false. The IRS didn’t target conservative groups. Well, yes it did. The IRS upper echelon didn’t know about it. Umm, I guess they did. At least it was limited to one office. No, not at all. The White House didn’t know until it read it in the press. Umm, actually the White House counsel was told about it last month.
So get ready for more of the same on the Justice Department. Are we now about to hear the president didn’t know, the attorney general didn’t know and it was George W. Bush’s fault? (Bush, by the way, refused to investigate journalists.) Well, because of all those leaks and the pressure to stop this, maybe it was really the Republicans’ fault? Yes, they’ll try that out, too.
Eric Holder will find it hard to maintain his cluelessness in these circumstances because, as The Post’s story points out, “Justice Department guidelines require that subpoenas of records from news organizations must be approved personally by the attorney general.”
Let’s review. The IRS is targeting conservative opponents of the president. The Justice Department is spying on journalists in a sweeping, unprecedented fashion. The Health and Human Services secretary is strong-arming health care companies. The Benghazi scandal has not yet come to its conclusion.
On Benghazi, the White House is now on second- and third-level prevarication. Last Friday Jay Carney falsely told us he never falsely told the press that the White House edited talking points that were untrue. If the most recent statement is untrue and the first one was as well, one tends to assume everything in between is as well. That’s a good assumption in all these scandals.
How did we get to this point? The Democrats in Congress too often carried the White House’s water, declining to engage in oversight and rubber stamping appointees. The press was asleep at the wheel or actively cheering for the administration. The president eliminated independent, respected figures in his cabinet. The entire ethos of the administration is one in which opposition is demonized and inquiries are treated as illegitimate. The president’s non-stop castigation of and obvious irritation with critics trickles down, and the inevitable result is an entire administration convinced of its own righteousness and devoid of restraint.
This should be a learning process for the press and the voters about the arrogance of power. If the administration is under the assumption that all opposition is operating in bad faith, then whatever excesses are justified and whatever shaving of the truth is simply in service of a higher cause.
It’s time to clean house, get some real legislative oversight and make certain there are consequences (legal or political) for those responsible. And the president needs to come forward and answer lots and lots of questions.