What does the scandal cascade teach us about trust in government power?

posted at 3:21 pm on May 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Let’s step back a bit and take a longer view of the scandals erupting in Washington over the past week.  We have a hat trick of them emerging and growing, from the attempt to paper over the al-Qaeda connection to the Benghazi consulate attack, the IRS targeting and harassment of conservative groups for a three-year period, and a raid on the phone records of more than 100 reporters working for the Associated Press.  Matt Lewis writes today that the three could converge into a powerful narrative of Barack Obama as Richard Nixon redux, or perhaps worse:

When political opponents are targeted, and when the press (the very people who ought to bravely call the administration out for it) feel threatened, themselves, they are less likely to hold the politicians accountable. The same rule applies to whistleblowers who might tell the press information that could embarrass the Administration. So how do you expect the press — and the whistleblowers — to feel after it was revealed that the Obama Administration had seized phone records of Associated Press reporters?

Nobody is saying this rises to the level of an authoritarian regime. But freedom requires eternal vigilance, so we should have zero tolerance for this behavior. We’re treading on very dangerous territory here. If oppressing your enemies and silencing your critics doesn’t constitute tyranny, I don’t know what does.

In my column today for The Week, I point out that the media would normally insert itself into these scandals to run interference for the White House and proclaim it all just a “partisan exercise,” as many painted the Benghazi hearing last week.  The raid on the AP might have cut Obama off from his media apologists for good — or at least some of them:

Just when he needed a sympathetic media to help downplay the politicization of the IRS and the rinsing of the Benghazi talking points (which Obama dismissed as “no there there” in a Monday press conference), the Associated Press announced that the Department of Justice had seized two months of phone records of as many as 100 of its reporters and three of its offices. The presumed trigger for this was a leak investigation into a May 2012 story about the CIA operation in Yemen that kept an airliner bomb plot from reaching fruition. Rather than alert the AP that it would subpoena the phone records, the DoJ seized them secretly, claiming that notifying the AP would “pose a substantial threat to the investigation” — even though the APcan’t bury the records of the phone companies involved, even if it was inclined to try.

Suddenly, conservative claims of active intimidation and pressure from the White House looked a lot less conspiratorial to the media. Erik Wemple at the Washington Post called the action “a dagger to the heart of AP‘s newsgathering activity.” What source will trust that their identity will remain anonymous if the government can seize the phone records without warning? TheACLU called it “an unacceptable abuse of power,” which is what conservative groups had called the IRS’s attack on them for most of the past three years.

What does the harmonic convergence of these stories tell us? First, it’s clear that at the very least, this administration has allowed abuses of power to run unchecked for years — out of ignorance at best, and malice at worst. The extraordinary attack on the AP and its reporting may get the media’s attention, but the attempt to massage the Benghazi attack through 12 sets of talking points and to allow the nation’s tax power to harass and attack the administration’s opponents present a at least as great an injury to accountability and representative democracy. Perhaps now that the media has also become a target for the administration, they might start taking these injuries a little more seriously.

Even Andrea Mitchell is outraged, at least for now, as AP linked earlier:

Will that outrage last? Perhaps not at MSNBC, but the apologists may soon end up the small minority among the mainstream media after the assault on the AP.  It’s about five years too late, but at least we may finally see more attempts at accountability from the media in regard to the Obama administration.

So what lessons should we learn from this trilogy of abuses and cover-ups, as well as from Operation Fast and Furious and earlier scandals that the media mostly ignored?  Glenn Reynolds writes today that trusting in government power is the big mistake:

The rest of the week consisted of scandal after scandal, suggesting that maybe our government is . . . a sham with which Obama, at least, can’t be trusted. …

A cynic might conclude that these scandals are of a piece. The IRS harassment, focused at an IRS office in the key swing state of Ohio, crippled Tea Party groups during the 2012 election cycle. The blame-the-video spin, meanwhile, obscured the administration’s, and the State Department’s, culpability in terms of poor security and inept intelligence, while protecting Obama’s triumphalist Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-and-al-Qaeda-is-on-the-ropes election-season line on the war on terror.

Politics over principle — and public safety. That’s what a cynic would conclude is going on here. And you know, these days the cynics are often right.

It’s a lesson we apparently need to learn over and over again.

Update: Chris Cillizza hits a bullseye in a story more focused on Obama’s “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad” week, emphasis mine:

There’s simply no escaping the fact that the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups (without any similar flagging of liberal groups) happened on President Obama’s watch. That he learned of the scandal from news reports on Friday despite the fact that senior officials at the IRS were aware of it as far back as 2011 makes it worse, not better as it relates to Obama’s pledge to restore competence across all aspects of the government.

Then there is the AP phone records story.  While the Justice Department will defend their actions as necessary to ensure leaks don’t endanger national security and American lives — the phone records they obtained were tied to a failed terrorist attack last year — the idea of an arm of government secretly grabbing phone records from reporters is, literally, the opposite of transparency.

The cumulative weight of the series of stories, of course, is, potentially, the most dangerous thing of all for the Obama Administration.  Group Benghazi, the IRS and the AP into a single narrative and it reads something like this: The government knows better than you. As a result, the government can do whatever it likes.

And has, at least until the media became one of its targets.  This may fundamentally change that equation — or at least, it should.

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Comment pages: 1 2 3

The mask is slipping. This is all engineered. There are other forces at work. We should all be very alert and watchful. We are being played like a fiddle and the fiddler is none other than the devil so to speak.

I don’t believe a word Holder, Obama, and any of the underlings say. They are engineering this to their own outcome. We are expected to buy the bull that they were looking for a leaker (in the Government) by keeping tabs on the A.P.? No, they are in cahoots with the A.P.

Obama sanctions leaks all the time.

The administration revels in the mistrust, especially from conservatives. They want to stir a hornets nest. Why do they want to intentionally stir the hornets nest? So they have an excuse to apply some raid.

We are playing checkers, they are playing chess.

James on May 14, 2013 at 7:06 PM

You guys are on the Catholicism border, you know. I’m just mentioning because this sometimes goes horribly awry. I can’t imagine INC/davidk taking up arms, but . . . we’re not alone. :)

Up to you, of course; I mean no disrespect.

But life on Earth, flawed man, the need to limit government — we’re on this same page.

Axe on May 14, 2013 at 7:01 PM

INC and I are brothers. No animosity ever.

As far as Catholicism is concerned. One does not need a pronouncement from Pope to become a saint. All who are in Christ are saints; holy ones.

davidk on May 14, 2013 at 7:07 PM

Axe on May 14, 2013 at 6:51 PM

aka Barnabas.

davidk on May 14, 2013 at 7:09 PM

Axe on May 14, 2013 at 6:51 PM

I was trying to clarify exactly what David meant—I can’t always remember exactly where everyone is coming from in their beliefs if it’s been a while since I discussed things with that person.

I’m not Catholic. David used the word impute, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to Christians, and never infused. Our works are the fruit of our salvation, but they do not serve as merits for our salvation. Christians are justified by faith alone.

INC on May 14, 2013 at 7:27 PM

Hey, David, except for the fact that I’m a woman!

INC on May 14, 2013 at 7:29 PM

David, while I’m sorry to hear of Dallas Willard’s death, I do disagree with you about him. He was a false teacher who said some very wrong and dangerous things.

INC on May 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM

aka Barnabas.

davidk on May 14, 2013 at 7:09 PM

Will be answering you as soon as I can figure out whether or not that was ironic. :)

— lol

Axe on May 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM

The IRS isn’t run by saints, nor will it ever be, and the same applies to every other government institution, here and everywhere else.

rightmind on May 14, 2013 at 7:35 PM

1) F&F
2) Benghazi
3) IRS
4) Wiretapping
5) Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate

Did I miss any? — Longing4Lincoln on May 14, 2013 at 3:44 PM
Here are just a couple:

6) Failure to pass an annual budget, which is required by law

7) Ordered Holder NOT to arrest/ charge/sentence/deport any Illegal for committing crimes less than a ‘Felony’ – giving Illegals a ‘right’ Americans don’t even have

8) Dropped charges against New Black Panthers who were arrested for brandishing weapons & voter intimidation at a voting location in 2008

9) Bailout violated ‘Separation of Powers’ act & bypassed Bankruptcy laws

10) Violated the Constitution & War Powers Act by going over the time limit a President has to use the military without asking Congress for permission to do so (Libya)…

11) Crime within a Crime – Fast & Furious 2.0: REMINDER: Holder perpetrated 3 Felony counts of perjury regarding Benghazi & the Justice department refused to press chrges against their Boss, leaving Congress the only option of Censuring him – Holder was/is the 1st AG to ever be Censured. Considering the man should have been PROSECUTED FOR A CRIME & only received a paper ‘slap on the wrist’, it kinda shatters the whole farce about our government having a ‘Checks & Balances’ control over government, huh?

This only scratches the surface…

easyt65 on May 14, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Someone up thread probably already amplified, but how about adding:
1. Screwing of the Chrysler bondholders
2. Discriminatory closings of car dealerships
3. Harassment of Fox News
4. Sebelius’ active campaigning for Obama 2012
5. Sebelius’ unethical fundraising for Obamacare
6. Pigford
7. Firing of Inspector Generals
8. Refusal to recognize court decisions on illegality of recess appointments
9. Refusing to enforce laws the President doesn’t like
10. Allowing (and probably encouraging) Federal Reserve to QE1/2/3/4 (any more we don’t know about?) taxing us all by inflation

Firefly_76 on May 14, 2013 at 8:15 PM

The public’s trust in a government should be inversely proportional to that government’s power.


EdmundBurke247 on May 14, 2013 at 8:19 PM

It’s un-American to trust the government, that should be stressed to students across the nation over and over again.

Axion on May 14, 2013 at 8:52 PM

Here’s another angle to the IRS attack that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet. The net result being that the nascent TPs were “aborted”. How many did we see start out like gangbusters with many donating in expectation of a writeoff? If those tax-deductible receipts never materialized, only the hardcore would continue to donate while those on a budget felt burned as if the group they joined was somehow a sham. That’s a question to be explored; the membership size before and after the IRS snuffed the fervor of supporters. Certainly the groups need to focus on this now while congress is awake to it. We have to get the grassroots back in the game for 2014 and 2016 to really punish the monks with GOTV.

AH_C on May 14, 2013 at 9:25 PM

“If oppressing your enemies and silencing your critics doesn’t constitute tyranny, I don’t know what does.”

Pretty much…

… I can’t help remember back in 2011 and 2012 everyone was asking:

“Where the he%% is the TEA Party?”

Now we know…

Seven Percent Solution on May 14, 2013 at 10:04 PM

“If oppressing your enemies and silencing your critics doesn’t constitute tyranny, I don’t know what does.”

Pretty much…

… I can’t help remember back in 2011 and 2012 everyone was asking:

“Where the he%% is the TEA Party?”

Now we know…

Seven Percent Solution on May 14, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Yep, and “where is the Republican GOTV effort?”

Now we know.

slickwillie2001 on May 14, 2013 at 10:28 PM

Did I miss any? — Longing4Lincoln on May 14, 2013 at 3:44 PM

Add the Extortion 17 helicopter shoot-down to the list. 30 US Soldiers including 25 US Navy SEALS died and the families of those soldiers have been lied to from the beginning. There was No close air support and no top cover air support. This helicopter wasn’t supposed to be used to transport them in a hot zone. This administration and/or its lackeys said that it was a lucky shot that brought the helo down. BS. Islamo-Fascists most likely had night vision equipment, RPG’s and/or a heat seeking missile.

This president makes me want to hurl. Hopefully his arrogance will mean that he will get impeached and removed from office.

hamradio on May 15, 2013 at 1:37 AM

Michelle Obama is rubbing her hands with glee as she leaks more Barackish scandals to eliminate her “beard” before her own run for the White House.

Arugula mah azz!”

profitsbeard on May 15, 2013 at 2:25 AM

Meet the real “culture of corruption” … Obama and the Chicago-Alinsky gang.

“About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.” Will Rogers

kregg on May 15, 2013 at 6:06 AM

Firefly_76 on May 14, 2013 at 8:15 PM

This President / Administration could very wel be the 1st to have more black marks / scandals than true accomplishments….

easyt65 on May 15, 2013 at 8:13 AM

To paraphrase a great theological scholar: The chickens of affirmative action, have come home to roost.

JackM on May 15, 2013 at 8:54 AM

With a government like this, who the hell needs a gun?

JackM on May 15, 2013 at 9:00 AM

What does the scandal cascade teach us about trust in government power?

Shorter Ed: The Founding Fathers knew what the he11 they were doing.

GWB on May 15, 2013 at 10:36 AM

This is the most Un-American Administration in the history of the United States of America.

JackM on May 15, 2013 at 11:06 AM

From now on, B.O. will be known as President Schultz.

“I see nothing!!”

JackM on May 15, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a bad way to analyze events. Just maybe this is the one and only exception since it doses show the mind set of the White House In September- October and November 2012. The “Supporters will try to keep the scandals separate to show that less then 40% of the public cares about an one Item. What is most important to our Democracy is if you connect the Dots the BIG Picture starts to show.

“The First Tuesday In November”

What if anything would The Democrat Party NOT do to win the election? Only Monday Moring Quarterbacking will tell.

jpcpt03 on May 15, 2013 at 2:14 PM

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