fake scandal

A Necessarily Inevitable Point

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya, 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)

What seems most bothersome about the so-called email scandal is the number of people who ought to have known better, by which we ought to mean among those pretending to be shocked and appalled. Matt Yglesias phrases it delicately for Vox: “The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign”.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election―overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way.

When all is said and done, who else do we treat this way? Who else would tolerate a quarter-century of this? Who else could endure it yet still find ways to flourish? Seriously, they can even tell us it’s bullshit, and there is still a market sector anxious to gobble it up like manna from Heaven.

____________________

Image note: Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press.

Yglesias, Matthew. “The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign”. Vox. 4 November 2016.

A Problem with the Politics of Distraction

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media in regards to her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State in New York, on March 10, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)

This would seem one to keep an eye on:

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday to appear for a private interview about her exclusive use of a personal email account when she was secretary of state.

(Schmidt)

Obviously, there is more to the New York Times report than just the lede, and for the moment we might pause for an exercise in contrasts. To wit:

Mr. Gowdy said the committee believed that “a transcribed interview would best protect Secretary Clinton’s privacy, the security of the information queried and the public’s interest in ensuring this committee has all information needed to accomplish the task set before it.”

But Mrs. Clinton indicated on Tuesday that she wanted to give her testimony in a public setting. In a written statement, a spokesman for her said she had told the committee months ago that she was prepared to testify at a public hearing. “It is by their choice that hasn’t happened,” said the spokesman, Nick Merrill. “To be clear, she remains ready to appear at a hearing open to the American public.”

There is, actually, a lot going on with this story that amounts to essentially nothing, which in turn allows such moments to slip beneath notice. Kevin Drum noticed―

Go ahead and call me paranoid, but this sure seems like the perfect setup to allow Gowdy—or someone on his staff—to leak just a few bits and pieces of Clinton’s testimony that put her in the worst possible light. Darrell Issa did this so commonly that it was practically part of the rules of the game when he was investigating Benghazi and other Republican obsessions.

Who knows? Maybe Gowdy is a more honest guy. But since Clinton herself has offered to testify publicly, why would anyone not take her up on it? It’s not as if any of this risks exposing classified information or anything.

―and perhaps what is most significant there is the reminder that while much of the nitpicking going on around our political discourse often seems petty and pedantic, it is sometimes important to check these aspects because they are, in fact, revealing about the nature and condition of the discourse itself.

(more…)

A Reminder: Beltway Scandal IRS Edition

Lois Lerner

Bearing in mind that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or any number of other proverbs suggesting at once the merit of and annoyance caused by speaking out, and recalling that in normal cases the question is not so much liberal or conservative news media bias as it is a preference toward advert revenues, one might not be surprised, then, to learn how much of the bluster and noise coming from Congress is actually nothing more than hot, rancid vapor.

Or perhaps that is the wrong way to express it; even those who presume the national political discourse so broken as to hold themselves aloof generally also presuppose a tremendous amount of putrid hot air in the Beltway chatter.

Still, though, something seems amiss. It is one thing for pundits and bloggers to argue about the editorial points of a story, but the number of times some find themselves wondering about the alleged factual coverage is itself striking. Consider Steve Benen’s note on the Scandal of the Week:

It started with an Associated Press headline that wasn’t true: “Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator.” From there, conservative and mainstream media outlets went berserk on Wednesday, reporting that former IRS official Lois Lerner tried to audit Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as part of some kind of partisan vendetta.

“Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator,” one headline read. “Lerner Set IRS Sights on Sen. Grassley,” said another. A third abandoned subtlety altogether: “Lois Lerner’s Threats To Investigate Grassley Should Terrify You.”

All of this, it turns out, wasn’t true. The reality is unambiguous: “[Grassley] wasn’t ‘targeted’ at all. Instead, Lerner asked a colleague if it made sense to examine whether an outside group had made Grassley an inappropriate offer. Her colleague dismissed the idea, and that was the end of it.”

At least in theory, reporters, Republican officials, and conservative activists who ran with this story on Wednesday had a decision to make: they could either correct their mistake or pretend they hadn’t made the mistake.

Of course, this is the IRS “scandal,” which naturally led conservatives to choose Door #3: keep repeating the inaccuracy as if it were true.

But it is also important to remember that in reporting these merry tales of politics, it is not the journalists’ job to actually consider whether the facts they are reporting are true. As such, it is occasionally worth a moment to actually pause and sniff the excrement, tally up the morbid score, and figure out just where the political discourse actually is compared to reality.

____________________

As the estimable Jim Lehrer once expressed, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained nearly a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Benen, Steve. “Repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true”. msnbc. 27 June 2014.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.