Obama and 'Overreach'

May 22, 2013 - 4:49 AM
As the Obama scandals surround the White House, some conservatives are suggesting that -- finally -- the media are "getting tough” on Obama. Don't count on it. All our modern experience suggests tough reporting on a Democratic president is more of a temporary sensation than an ongoing trend.

The news media honestly believe they were tough on Team Clinton. It is simply not true. There was a seemingly endless supply of Clinton administration (and Clinton pre-administration) scandals, yet can you name one that was resolved? The floating FBI files. The illegal fundraising. Whitewater. On and on they went, and the media response was predictable: two or three days of tough coverage -- if at all -- and then, inevitably, political spin overtaking the hunt for facts.

The search for truth became a discussion about “Republican overreach.” Bill Clinton committed a crime -- perjury -- but that story quickly dissolved, replaced by an expose on GOP excesses in pursuit of a Puritanical agenda over the Lewinsky affair. Almost overnight the media target became Ken Starr, not Bill Clinton.

Already some in the news media are setting the stage -- at least trying to set the stage -- for a repeat of 1998, taking the bull's eye off the Obama administration and putting it squarely on the leadership of the GOP.

On May 16, NBC “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie began the rush to question Republican zeal: "I read a headline yesterday that said Republicans see blood in the water. That they see a president who's very vulnerable politically. Is there a danger that they will overreach?" White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed: "There is. I mean, that's what happened to Republicans in 1998 with Bill Clinton. And if all of Congress is focusing on hearings to do scandals, the voters will punish them. They've done it in the past."

This is historical revisionism. The actual results of the 1998 elections cannot be painted as "punishment" of any sort. The Senate remained unchanged with Democrats still in the majority. House Republicans lost five seats, and retained control. At worst the Republicans failed to capitalize politically on these scandals -- but they did not suffer. None of this matters, however. The media spin is that Republicans will suffer. Their wish is clearly that this become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

ABC “Good Morning America” co-host George Stephanopoulos also pushed the revisionist line on May 17, asking reporter Jonathan Karl, "Are some leaders worried that some of the Republicans may be overplaying their hand?" Minutes later, CBS morning co-host Charlie Rose asserted: “The Republicans are pushing forward on this. Is it possible they may overplay their hand and somehow squander what they think is opportunity?”

CNN even asked in a poll if the Republicans were overreaching. The early returns do not augur well for Obama or his supporters: a majority of responders felt the Republicans were acting appropriately in their investigating of these scandals.

What should trouble the public is any attempt by any news outlet to minimize the enormity of these scandals. If "overreach" is the word of the day, isn't there an unlimited amount of this coming from this administration? It should be obvious that “overreach” is better defined as the shameless attempt to blame a YouTube video for the Benghazi fiasco.

“Overreach” can be defined as the IRS asking charities about the contents of their prayers, or the Justice Department conducting an overbroad investigation of AP phone records while shadowing journalists and accusing them of criminal activity for committing the act of journalism. This is the behavior of totalitarian regimes, and it deserves the undivided attention of our national press.

Some are doing their job. Others just can't resist the subtle jabs at the GOP, suggesting that nasty overreach. They don't come out and say it; the word choice implies it.

Paul Kane of The Washington began one story: "After two years of feverishly chasing any hint or suggestion of wrongdoing by the Obama administration, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may finally be having his moment." NPR’s Carrie Johnson called Issa a “fierce critic” of Obama.

The Obama administration has demonstrated an astonishing tendency to use government agencies to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Reporters should be at least as bipartisan and serious about this political aggression as congressional investigators. Otherwise, the public should view them with contempt.

As the Obama scandals surrounded the White House, lots of conservatives suggested that finally, the media would “get tough” on Obama for the rest of his presidency. But all our modern experience has shown that tough reporting on a Democratic president has been more of a temporary lapse than an ongoing trend.

The Clinton scandals sometimes unfolded like this: two or three days of tough coverage, and then, inevitably, spin overtook the hunt for facts. The subject of scrutiny quickly shifted from Democrat scandal to “Republican overreach.” In the Lewinsky affair, the media began beating themselves up for over-coverage on Day Three. The media target of controversy quickly became Ken Starr, not Bill Clinton.

On May 16, NBC “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie began the rush to question Republican zeal: "I read a headline yesterday that said Republicans see blood in the water. That they see a president who's very vulnerable politically. Is there a danger that they will overreach?" White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed: "There is. I mean, that's what happened to Republicans in 1998 with Bill Clinton. And if all of Congress is focusing on hearings to do scandals, the voters will punish them. They've done it in the past."

The actual results of the 1998 elections cannot be painted as a Democratic landslide. The Senate ended up unchanged, with Democrats up 55 to 45. The House Republicans lost five seats, but still controlled the House 223-211. That might have been disappointing to Republicans after a year of Clinton scandals (with the media fixated mostly on sex). But it doesn’t look like some kind of Republican Waterloo.

ABC “Good Morning America” co-host George Stephanopoulos also pushed a Clintonian line on May 17, asking reporter Jonathan Karl, "Are some leaders worried that some of the Republicans may be overplaying their hand?" Minutes later, CBS morning co-host Charlie Rose asserted: “The Republicans are pushing forward on this. Is it possible they may overplay their hand and somehow squander what they think is opportunity?”

CNN even asked in a poll if the Republicans were overreaching, which might imply that any Republican questioning Obama is only doing it for selfish motives, and not on behalf of helping the people find out the truth about what happened. Sadly for Obama, a majority felt the Republicans were acting appropriately so far in investigating the scandals.

It should be obvious that “overreach” is better defined as the shameless attempt to blame a YouTube video for the Benghazi fiasco. “Overreach” can be defined as the IRS asking charities about the contents of their prayers, or the Justice Department conducting an overbroad investigation of AP phone records.

In TV interviews, Republicans were mostly quick to dismiss questions about impeachment as premature and insist they were merely going to follow the facts on the emerging Obama scandals where they would lead. Journalists, too, should be chasing for new facts, and not just unanimously warning of the potential political pitfalls of holding the Obama administration accountable for their policy failures.

That’s not to say journalists didn’t try to affix adjectives like “fierce” and “feverish” to Republican legislators. Paul Kane of The Washington began one story: "After two years of feverishly chasing any hint or suggestion of wrongdoing by the Obama administration, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may finally be having his moment." NPR’s Carrie Johnson called Issa a “fierce critic” of Obama.

Issa’s Benghazi hearings, especially the most recent one where he allowed Greg Hicks, our deputy chief of mission in Libya, to explain at length the horrifying night of the 9/11 consulate attacks cannot be faulted for overreach. Hicks touted his own credentials, but unlike Joe Wilson, he wasn’t a partisan showboat engaged in a crusade against the administration he served abroad. He didn’t unfurl colorful quotes about how he wanted Obama White House officials to be “frog-marched” to jail. He just explained how this horror unspooled in real time.

Issa’s verbal combat with Attorney General Eric Holder in a hearing on the AP scandal was spotlighted by several networks, especially Holder denouncing Issa’s behavior as “shameful.” It might be easy to wonder which public official was being questioned for his staff engaging in unethical behavior. The liberal media certainly didn’t place it within the context of the House voting to declare Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to deliver documents in the Fast and Furious investigation.

The Obama administration has demonstrated an astonishing tendency to use government agencies to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Reporters should be at least as bipartisan and serious about this political aggression as congressional investigators. Otherwise, the public should view them with contempt.