Welcome to the second term, everybody. The month of May has so far been a whirlwind for the Obama administration, first with the never-ending Benghazi non-scandal and most recently with the Associated Press and IRS stories that threaten to give any high-strung cable talking head an asthma attack.
The truth is that what makes a scandal is not only the precipitating event but the mainstream media’s willingness to pick up on the story and cover it incessantly. That’s what is happening with the Benghazi, Associated Press and the IRS stories this week. The media has decided that President Obama is suffering from the “second term curse” — a fiction that’s convenient for filling airtime as we head into the slow news cycles of summer.
Certainly, of the three “scandals” getting round-the-clock coverage right now, the subpoenas sent to phone companies to seize the phone records of reporters at the Associated Press is the story most likely to get the attention of the press. Anything that is perceived as unjust treatment of fellow colleagues automatically deserves front page attention. That isn’t to say that the AP story isn’t newsworthy, but the AP story is getting breathless attention even in the wake of the Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans, and just weeks after Congress refused to pass universal background checks for gun purchases.
The IRS story is revealing itself to be a story about a few “rogue” IRS agents in Cincinnati, but it crystallizes many Americans’ worst fears that the IRS will unfairly and unjustly target groups based on their political affiliation. And while Republicans are calling for someone to be sent to jail over the scandal, the reality is that with the Inspector Generals’ report finding no ties between the agents and the White House, it’s not exactly Obama’s Watergate.
And then there’s Benghazi. The relentless Republican and conservative media fixation on the Benghazi attack has a lot less to do with President Obama as with preventing a second President Clinton. Benghazi may have began as a “scandal” meant to derail the president’s re-election, but it has transformed into both a GOP storyline, meant to bring Obama’s second term agenda to a halt, and a convenient way to take some of the “new penny” shine off of Hillary Clinton’s would-be 2016 White House bid.
Essentially, Benghazi is Whitewater 2.0, a trumped up scandal, connected to a real tragedy, that is meant to tarnish Secretary Clinton politically. Let’s not forget that it was Whitewater that lead to Monica Lewinsky becoming a household name during Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton’s, second term.
What starts small has always has the potential to derail a presidency, as long as the partisan opposition has the motivation and can harness the interest of the media. Hyper-partisans invent a scandal out of nothing and watch as the right wing media coverage seeps into the mainstream. ABC News is in damage control mode for running with a Benghazi email “scoop,” only to be outed as incorrectly reporting on emails their reporter never actually saw.
It appears that what is happening this week might just be the perfect storm of faux scandals that can be spun into real ones. The media takes an active role in shaping this transformation and over the next few months, after congressional testimony, and further revelations, the American people will find out if Obama’s second term will mirror Bill Clinton’s, and if the whole mess will serve the additional purpose of making sure Hillary Clinton never has a first term as president.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.