Three brewing scandals have formed a vicious trifecta which threatens to sink the Obama Administration: the Internal Revenue Services’ targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi scandal, and the subpoena of two months of phone records from the Associated Press. The Administration’s relationship with the news media, according to The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi, has escalated from "simmering tension" to a "boil" over the last of these actions.
One might dispute the original idea of a "simmering tension" between the love-struck media and President Barack Obama. Likewise, Bob Schieffer’s reporting and other media narratives call into question that the room’s temperature has risen for the right reasons. It seems that the media are calling for more leadership, rather than for justice in the midst of these scandals.
In an effort at damage control, President Barack Obama asked acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign, requested the creation of a new shield law for reporters, and released 100 pages of Benghazi emails. The first two of these actions are farces. Firstly, Steven Miller was set to retire in June. "But it turns out that Miller was subject to a term limit that would have forced him out of the job in three weeks," report Abby Phillip and Jonathan Karl for ABC News. (Abby Phillip had previously authored a piece in which she said the IRS apology about its targeting conservatives "in some ways vindicates conservative groups that have been hounded by allegations that their activities were not completely legal," insinuating that conservative groups somehow deserved their maltreatment at the hands of IRS agents (emphasis added).
Steven Miller had planned, before his resignation, to "go back to his job as Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, a position that put him in charge of the tax exempt unit at the center of a scandal over targeting conservative groups," report Phillip and Karl.
ABC News has also reported that the IRS official in charge during the targeting of "Tea Party," "Patriot," "9/12" and other conservative organizations, Sarah Hall Ingram, currently runs the health office of the IRS. In other words, this official is in charge of enforcing Obamacare—a revelation which justifies the connection that Republicans have made between the IRS’ partisanship and what awaits Americans under this law.
Even more telling, Ingram’s successor and the fall guy for this scandal is Joseph Grant, who was "appointed as commissioner of the tax-exempt office May 8, a week ago." Grant announced on May 16 that he would retire on June 3. ABC News went so far as to write that Grant "is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012." In other words, the lady responsible for this travesty is secure in her Obamacare-related post while Grant loses his job.
One hopes that ABC has graduated past its original perspective that this debacle was merely a political opening which could be exploited by conservatives—a "controversy" rather than a real scandal. "Conservative groups have rejected an Internal Revenue Service apology for unjustifiably scrutinizing tax-exempt conservative groups during the 2012 election cycle," reported Abby Phillip for ABC News on May 10. "The IRS apology has seemingly validated conservatives’ fears of politically motivated regulation," she writes (emphasis added). Likewise, The New York Times covered this scandal as a political opportunity for Republicans, under the title "I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On."
As for the shield law, The Washington Post wonders whether a media shield law would have protected the Associated Press from having two months of its phone records taken. It concludes that "Had it been law, the [Department of Justice] may well have gotten hold of the AP records anyway. But the process would have played out differently."
"The DOJ got hold of the AP records without the wire service even knowing it happened, because the subpoena was to the phone companies instead of the journalists involved."
Not only would such a law not have changed the outcome, the media seems to be conveniently forgetting that the Administration is at least partly to blame for the death of such legislation in its 2009 iteration. "The Obama administration has told lawmakers that it opposes legislation that could protect reporters from being imprisoned if they refuse to disclose confidential sources who leak material about national security, according to several people involved with the negotiations," reported Charlie Savage for The New York Times in 2009 (emphasis added). "The administration this week sent to Congress sweeping revisions to a ‘media shield’ bill that would significantly weaken its protections against forcing reporters to testify."
And get this: "The two Democratic senators who have been prime sponsors of the legislation, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said on Wednesday that they were disappointed by the administration’s position." This is the same Senator Schumer that the President has now reached out to revive a federal shield law. So, President Obama was against this legislation before he was for it. But don’t expect the news media to cover this fact. With a record like this, one questions whether the President intends to water-down the newest iteration of this legislation, and whether he’d even support it should it pass both houses.
"If the president wants to veto it, let him veto it," Senator Specter said at the time. "I think it is different for the president to veto a bill than simply to pass the word from his subordinates to my subordinates that he doesn’t like the bill."
Ironies like these beg for more than guffawing—they must lead one to question the honesty of the President’s actions.
But for Bob Schieffer of CBS News and other reporters, the real question in this is why the President is not grasping the reins and keeping track of what his subordinates are doing. This accepts the Administration’s narrative that low-level subordinates are responsible for the IRS debacle, and that Hillary Clinton was really not informed about Benghazi. "This is not the Nixon Administration, where you had burglars and people talking about blowing up the Brookings Institution. This is more a case [of] is anybody home?" said Schieffer on CBS This Morning. "I mean, somebody’s got to grab hold of this thing and I mean, it’s, it’s very very disturbing what we’re seeing here."
Similarly, "President Passerby needs urgently to become a participant in his presidency," wrote Dana Milbank for The Washington Post. Clearly, the tension in Washington between the media and President Obama is because of what the President has not supposedly been doing—taking charge—instead of because of what his Administration has done so far.
"Certainly, a president can’t know what everybody in his administration is up to, but he can take responsibility, he can fire people and he can call a stop to foolish actions such as wholesale snooping into reporters’ phone calls," argued Milbank.
This column was published at Accuracy in Media.