Political Animal


May 14, 2013 10:00 AM Time’s Ripe For a Scandal “Co-Production”

By Ed Kilgore

If you want a good understanding of why the Obama administration now seems mired in scandal politics after avoiding that common fate for so very long, check out Brendan Nyhan’s explanation at Ten Miles Square today. Nyhan has pioneered political science work on the subject of presidential scandals, and isn’t surprised at all that this is happening at this particular moment:

My research suggests that the structural conditions are strongly favorable for a major media scandal to emerge. First, I found that new scandals are likely to emerge when the president is unpopular among opposition party identifiers. Obama’s approval ratings are quite low among Republicans (10-18% in recent Gallup surveys), which creates pressure on GOP leaders to pursue scandal allegations as well as audience demand for scandal coverage. Along those lines, John Boehner is reportedly “obsessed” with Benghazi and working closely with Darrell Issa, the House committee chair leading the investigation. You can expect even stronger pressure from the GOP base to pursue the IRS investigations given the explosive nature of the allegations and the way that they reinforce previous suspicions about Obama politicizing the federal government.
In addition, I found that media scandals are less likely to emerge as pressure from other news stories increases. Now that the Boston Marathon bombings have faded from the headlines, there are few major stories in the news, especially with gun control and immigration legislation stalled in Congress. The press is therefore likely to devote more resources and airtime/print to covering the IRS and Benghazi stories than they would in a more cluttered news environment.

Second terms, Nyhan also notes, are usually prime time for presidential scandals. Moreover, the emergence of yet another controversy, over the Justice Department’s apparent “sweep” of phone records for AP reporters, is especially ominous for the administration. Nyan’s original research described big presidential scandals as invariably involving a “co-production” by the opposition party and “elite political media.” Although the AP “scandal” is in no way related to Benghazi! or the IRS brouhaha, it could well help invest media in the overall atmosphere of scandal-mongering, all aimed at the administration.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Maritza on May 14, 2013 10:05 AM:

    Immigration reform isn't stalled.

  • Maritza on May 14, 2013 10:07 AM:

    I don't see the AP thing right now being anything big.

  • Peter C on May 14, 2013 10:09 AM:

    So, the Republicans hate Obama and there isn't much else in the news? They've hated him all along. And, there have been dead news patches before this.

    Sorry, but this seems to me to be a weak explanation.

  • c u n d gulag on May 14, 2013 10:17 AM:

    We all know the Republican base and politicians hate Obama with the heat of 100 Trillion suns.

    But, he's not exactly beloved by the DC Village punditry, either.
    Boob Woodward acts as if he personally caught President Obama peeing in the coffee that was in front of Boob in the Oval Office.
    Tom Brokaw acts like he caught President Obama either banging his wife at his ranch, or one of his horses.
    The Politico gossip-columnists hate him, because he treats them like the insipid gossip columnists that they are.

    So, combine the Republicans who hate Obama, with the MSM pundits who hate him, and you have a recipe for "(Fill-in the blank:) __________________________gate Scandal" du jour.

    And both group will keep going until one finally sticks, and the Politi-media feeding-frenzy can take place in earnest.

  • Peter C on May 14, 2013 10:27 AM:

    So, perhaps the other factor is that the presidential election is over and now the scandal mongers can't be accused of trying to influence an election.

  • biggerbox on May 14, 2013 10:29 AM:

    You bet the media are hankering for a scandal to play with all summer. Yesterday on the Nice Polite Republican morning show, you could hear the eagerness in Steve Inskeep's voice as he was talking with Cokie Roberts - "Well, Cokie Roberts, this administration has been described - I don't even know how many times - as remarkably scandal free. But when you get into the second term of an administration, there's often some dirty laundry that comes out. Is that what's happening now?" Is it?! Is it?!!

    Oh, they SO want there to be 'dirty laundry' coming out!

    It's not just that there aren't any other juicy stories around, it's that there hasn't been a good Obama scandal at all. And it's getting to be summer, when no Beltway reporter wants to be working too hard reporting real news, and nothing goes with cool drinks better than spending a couple hours a day recording statements of outrage from willing Republicans and just slapping an intro on them, and knocking off for the day.

    If they get lucky, they can 'report' this 'scandal' all the way until they go to Martha's Vineyard in August.

  • mmm on May 14, 2013 10:30 AM:

    Well, how else will the history books in Texas justify that the Obama administration was "riddled with scandals"?

  • ex-curm on May 14, 2013 10:41 AM:

    The AP story should be a big deal but alas probably won't.

  • PTate in MN on May 14, 2013 10:43 AM:

    These are hate-filled, despicable people. They've been trying to find a reason to impeach Obama since the day he was elected back in 2008. This is exactly analogous to stalking Clinton until they were able to manufacture a case out of Monica Lewinski. The sideshow of bullying Democratic presidents is the only thing the GOP really cares about (since Democratic presidents are threats to the GOP's twin goals of lowering taxes for gazillionaires and controlling sexuality.) These are people who would squabble about where to sit at dinner after the iceberg has hit the Titanic.

    I am reminded of the late 1990s when Paul Wellstone was on the Foreign Affairs committee. I heard him mention that he kept trying to bring the issues of the middle East and terrorism to the attention of the Republicans who controlled the Senate, but that all they cared about was attacking Clinton. Then, when 9/11 happened, Republicans were all chuffed "OMG, OMG! Look what we have discovered!!! The Democrats didn't do anything about this!!! "

    As I say, hate-filled, despicable people. Incompetent, too. The bees die, the climate goes haywire, millions are unemployed, and all Republicans can think about is hating Obama and keeping their guns to protect themselves in the coming apocalypse that their incompetence bring about.

    These people are the problem. They are the cause of what ails the USA.

  • esaud on May 14, 2013 10:51 AM:

    All of this focus on faux-scandals shows how the media are hard-wired into the Republican party. Always, whenever Republicans stage a fainting spell, it is child's play to find something a Republican did that was much worse, but the media happily looked the other way.

    Lie and torture your way into a war? Gee, don't want to dwell on that, why dig up the past. Download whole trunks of fiber optic communications? No problem, gotta stay safe, ya know.

    Once, just once, when Darrel Issa convenes an investigation, I would like the story to be about the number of false alarms he has rung. I mean, can't a news producer look at it and say, Jeesh, him again?

  • red rabbit on May 14, 2013 11:02 AM:

    I'd say that you're in bed with the MSM on these "scandals" by your willingness to even call these things scandals at all.
    The only one that might be is the AP story, and we still don't know a lot about that beyond what the AP has alleged-which I would take with a grain of salt.
    Some of what I read indicates that they wanted to determine who leaked information that put the life of an informant in Yemen in danger.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 14, 2013 11:13 AM:

    Re the AP thing.

    I will shut my mouth wide open if none of DOJ's justifications have anything to do with the post-9/11 anti-terrorism super-structure or the Patriot Act. Just sayin...

  • zandru on May 14, 2013 11:14 AM:

    All I've read so far about the AP "scandal" has been stories from the AP. Today, I'll see if I can locate a less-involved source, to try to get some actual information...

  • mom on May 14, 2013 12:24 PM:

    The major parties have already shredded the constitution. The government is already spying illegally on pretty much all and any Americans they damn well please. The AP shouldn't get any special treatment. Most Americans likely now believe that being under constant illegal government surveillance is just the price you have to pay to live in a free society. This country is already a totalitarian police state. If you're not willing to do anything about it, just STFU and get used to it.

  • Bonnie on May 14, 2013 1:06 PM:

    Booman has a good writeup on the AP situation: http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2013/5/14/102151/828

  • SYSPROG on May 14, 2013 1:15 PM:

    WHY is the AP subpoena a 'scandal'? Right now the 'outrage' is from the MEDIA who was all over Julian Assange and the Patriot Act until THEY were targeted. I don't LIKE them having to give up their records but Smith v Maryland 1979 says WHO they call and WHO they receive calls from is fair game because of public phone lines.

  • AndThenTheresThat on May 14, 2013 2:00 PM:

    @ PTate in MN 10:43 AM

    I couldn't agree more.

  • Anonymous on May 14, 2013 2:48 PM:

    Re these manufactured scandals.

    1) According to Jake Tapper, who has now the full emails on Benghazi the GOP EDITED the emails to make Obama look bad.



    2) AP "scandal": perfectly legal under the Patriot Act, since GOP demanded an investigation of who leaked the info about the CIA.

    Not to mention that Issa voted AGAINSt a bill, co-sponsored by Obama in the Senate, to prevent this search-- a bill the GOP FILIBUSTERED.

    3) IRS scandal ignores the several times the Bush IRS investigated organizations like the NAACP, the Episcopal Church of Pasadena, et al.

  • LaFollette Progressive on May 14, 2013 3:15 PM:

    The AP incident is the first one of these that has the whiff of a real, honest-to-God Nixonian scandal...

    ...except for the part where the Patriot Act (which every Republican in the Senate voted for) made this sort of subpoena completely legit, and the people currently braying about it on the internet are mostly the same ones who wanted to jail journalists for treason 6 years ago when they published intelligence leaks.