Media and IG-Gate: Question the Timing?
posted at 5:31 pm on June 28, 2009 by The Other McCain
Last night, I spent a few hours compiling a massive round-up on the IG-Gate story at NTCNews.com. After spending all that time plowing through Google News searches, the question that naturally occurs is, “Why aren’t Time and Newsweek covering this story?”
There is so much material to work with — e.g., Sen. Chuck Grassley just released a 94-page report on the Amtrak IG case — and this is a story that cries out for the attention of someone like Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff, or a team of Time reporters. To date, however, the only notice of the IG-Gate saga I’ve seen from any of the news weeklies is a “Washington Whispers” column item by Paul Bedard at U.S. News & World Report.
Before everybody starts screaming “liberal MSM,” let me explain that the problem isn’t really bias — or, rather, it’s not merely bias. Timing is everything in the news business, and IG-Gate has inarguably suffered from bad timing.
AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin got his quit-or-be-fired ultimatum on Wednesday, June 10 and Grassley sent his letter to President Obama warning of “undue political pressure” on Thursday, June 11. That started the ball rolling. If not for the fact that the Iran election erupted into protests and bloodshed, the IG story would have gotten even more attention than it did. I know that I was all-Iran, all-the-time for a few days until Michelle Malkin devoted her June 17 weekly column to the Walpin firing, which was what got my attention.
IG-GATE GROWS LEGS
However, despite the shocking news from Iran — and President Obama’s HuffPo press conference – for a solid week Grassley’s investigation of the fired inspectors general produced extensive news coverage, as I noted June 19 in my first Pajamas Media report on IG-Gate:
- Byron York of the Washington Examiner has filed multiple reports on Walpin and the Grassley investigation; . . .
- Walpin was interviewed by Glenn Beck on Fox News and by Lou Dobbs on CNN;
- ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper reported on the conflict between Barofsky and Geithner;
- Top talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh did a long segment about the Walpin case during his Thursday show, citing accounts by York, Matthew Vadum of the American Spectator, bloggers Dan Riehl, John Hinderaker, and others;
- The Washington Times interviewed a witness who contradicted White House claims that Walpin was “confused and disoriented” during a May meeting; and
- The Chicago Tribune, the Sacramento Bee and the Washington Post, among other newspapers, have produced major stories about the case.
So far, so good. As Jimmie Bise Jr. of Sundries Shack observed, this little scandal was growing legs. The story was generating enough media smoke that the suspicion of a four-alarm fiery scandal even drew the attention of the Village Voice. However, in the past week, IG-Gate was overtaken by events, as they say:
- The weeklong battle over Waxman-Markey sucked up a vast amount of oxygen in the media. This was predictable. When I made a shoe-leather reporting trip to Capitol Hill June 18, one of my sources explained that Republican congressional staffers were busy planning a major pushback against the Democrats’ energy tax, beginning Monday, June 22.
- Somewhat less predictably, Mark Sanford’s idiotic Argentine tango chewed up the news cycle for three days. (Just shoot him, Jenny.)
- Predictable or not, Michael Jackson’s death-by-Demerol triggered endless hours of televised paeans to the pedophile plastic-surgery addict, complete with lurid accusations by tabloid reporters taking shameless advantage of a convenient legal truth: You can’t libel the dead. (“Sources say that Michael Jackson’s torrid affair with Farrah Fawcett ended when Ed McMahon told her about Jacko’s gay S&M drug orgies with River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur and Chris Farley . . .”)
This overtaken-by-events situation was unavoidable. After all, IG-Gate itself began with an unexpected event – Obama’s decision to fire Walpin — and spontaneously grew its own legs without assistance from any coordinated media campaign. God knows that the clueless idiots in charge of communications at the RNC couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.
EINSTEINS OF THE NEWS CYCLE
Experienced conservative communicators in Washington (I could rattle off two dozen names, beginning with Craig Shirley) have the news cycle down to a science. If you’re going to push an issue, you start by scheduling a press conference for Monday or Tuesday. That way, the story has three or four days to run before Friday, the black-hole day when anything that happens is reported in the Saturday papers, which almost nobody reads. A well-orchestrated conservative P.R. campaign rolls out at a Monday press conference at the National Press Club and is accompanied by a week-long blizzard of newspaper op-ed columns, plus a rat-a-tat drumbeat of items on the Web sites of National Review, Weekly Standard, etc. Members of Congress issue press releases and hold their own press conferences. Ex-congressmen and former Cabinet officials appear as spokesmen on Fox News and CNN. Talk-radio hosts talk it up.
That’s how the game is played, and the liberals play it, too. Reporters and editors learn to take these types of P.R. campaigns for granted. Your e-mail inbox fills up with “ICMYI” (In Case You Missed It) messages calling your attention to whatever issue is being pushed, and a clever reporter need never buy lunch if he knows how to work the news-conference buffet circuit just right. After more than a decade as a Washington journalist, there are times when you see an op-ed column and you don’t “question the timing,” because you were schmoozed by the same P.R. people you saw schmoozing the columnist at that think-tank reception last week.
You could get cynical about stuff like that, but just as it’s a game played by liberals and conservatives, it’s also a game played both by Bad Guys and Good Guys. One Monday afternoon a few years ago, I attended an interesting press conference in Washington. I returned to my office and filed a story that ran on Page A9 of the next day’s issue of The Washington Times:
Coalition watches war on drugs for rights violations
By Robert Stacy McCain
A broad coalition of conservative and civil liberties groups wants assurances that the Bush administration’s war on drugs will respect constitutional rights and the privacy of citizens.
Bringing together such diverse groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the social conservative Eagle Forum, the ad-hoc Coalition for Constitutional Liberties has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to question President Bush’s top drug-policy nominee on issues of electronic surveillance and other law-enforcement tactics that they say violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. . . .
The next morning my wife woke me up early to tell me that my brother was on the telephone. “Are you watching Fox News?” he said. “A plane just hit the Twin Towers.”
Needless to say, my article about the ad-hoc civil liberties coalition – published Sept. 11, 2001 — was one of the least-noticed news stories ever written. Overtaken by events, you see.
CONSPIRACY THEORISTS NEED NOT APPLY
There is no need to worry that IG-Gate will disappear. The story may stay below the MSM radar for a few weeks, but if you’ve spent years watching how scandal stories unfold in Washington, IG-Gate looks like one that will keep making headlines for months. In addition to Grassley’s multiple investigations, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling is asking some very pointed questions about the administration’s hassling of ”SIGTARP,” Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the “emergency” financial bailout that Congress rushed into law a month before last year’s election.
SIGTARP’s been poking around the bailout in a way that seems related to the bipartisan outcry over the bonuses paid to insurance giant AIG. I give credit to Dan Riehl for figuring out that the SIGTARP situation may well be the most explosive angle in IG-Gate. It’s a bit early to get too excited with read-between-the-lines speculation, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is looking like a front-runner to become the first member of the Obama administration to win the Orange Jumpsuit Derby. (Watch out for that bus, Tim.)
However, there’s no need for conservative bloggers to mimick the DKos/DU crowd’s Fitzmas fantasies of a Plamegate perp-walk for Karl Rove, loudly denouncing anyone in the MSM who doesn’t join their connect-the-dots crusade where every far-fetched suspicion deserves a felony indictment. I’m old enough to remember the opportunistic GOP scam artists who played on the gullibility of chuckleheads with jealous-lesbian-Janet-Reno-murdered-Hillary’s-lover-Vince-Foster nonsense circa 1993-94.
Relax, conservatives. Just don’t relax too much. There are experienced, energetic investigators diligently at work on IG-Gate, and there will be plenty of headlines to come. If you feel the need to do something, don’t let yourself be sucked into a depression of helpless pessimism and dyspeptic mutterings about liberal media bias. (Coup in Honduras? Question the timing! Riots in Tehran? Question the timing! Billy Mays dead? . . .)
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Here’s an important message for you, anxious reader. There is work to be done that only you can do. Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins are the chairman and ranking member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction to hold hearings and issue subpoenas on IG-Gate. Various other committees in the House and Senate have their own jurisdictions related to the investigation.
Most members of Congress are reluctant to pick a fight with the White House so early in a new administration. Only pressure from their constituents will cause representatives and senators to speak up and take action. Whether your own members of Congress are Republicans or Democrats, you should call or e-mail them, or speak to them in person when they hold a town-hall meeting or appear at your local Fourth of July parade. They’re all about transparency, right? Ask your members of Congress what they’re doing to safeguard the independence of the inspectors general.
Trust me. This advice is endorsed by sources close to the investigation, as they say.
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