May 18, 2013

Benghazi, IRS, AP: The Scandal Week That Was

As we close out “scandal week,” let’s assess where we stand.

Benghazi, while a horrible tragedy for the U.S. citizens killed, their families, and the country, is not an actual scandal, and never was. For eight months Fox News and conservatives have tried to make Benghazi a scandal, and it looked like they might actually have achieved true scandal status when ABC reported two Friday’s ago on “smoking gun” White House emails. Unfortunately for conservatives, a week later we know ABC’s source was less than factual, and CBS later reported that Republicans were behind the false emails. So if there is a Benghazi scandal, it’s not in the State Department or the White House, it’s within Republican ranks.

Also last week news broke that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) improperly targeted conservative groups. Somehow this story was attached to President Obama and his administration. Conservatives simultaneous hate government, believe it is corrupt and inept, yet conservatives also hold the conflicting belief (when politically convenient for them) that the President of the United States is all-powerful and omniscient on all issues of government. — So of course President Obama was involved. Well not so fast. So far it looks like there might have been a cover-up going on within the IRS. It appears some in the IRS knew what was going on and knew it was wrong and they were not forthcoming. What is not clear is the intent. The Right believes the IRS targeting of conservative “Tea Party” groups was malicious and driven by ideology, but as of yet there is no proof of that. It could simply be that some IRS employees were using improper methods to categorize and prioritize their workload following the Citizens United ruling.

And finally, on Monday the Associated Press (AP) reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) obtained phone records of AP reporters and editors without their knowledge. The DOJ insists it was done for national security reasons in the after math of a CIA-foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. Out of the three big “scandal” stories in the past week, this is the one I believe is the most scandalous. It’s another example of post-9/11 overreach by the security apparatus of our government. This is also, unsurprisingly  the scandal that seems to have the least traction so far, particularly among right-wing pundits. Because national security was involved, conservatives are slow to fulfill narratives here. They will sit back and let the facts come out first, maybe offer some prudence and leeway toward good old-fashioned due process.

We have Benghazi which is not a scandal, but possibly Republicans trying to make it a scandal now have their own desperate actions to defend. And we have the IRS which is probably not a scandal, and certainly at this point has no connection to the White House. From my vantage point, there’s a lot of right-wing narrative-fulfilling going on with these two stories, but not much scandal.

However, the DOJ’s breach of the news media shield is heinous. This story wreaks because no matter what your opinion of the news media, we cannot allow government to spy on the press in the name of national security. We allowed government to declare war against a tactic (terrorism), giving it long-lasting and unprecedented power to kill in the name of national security. That was a huge mistake, resulting in diminished and devalued civil liberties. We cannot allow the same thing to happen to the freedom of the press.

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