Scandal Media 101
Over a year ago I took one of my periodic trips down memory lane and roughly outlines the press treatment of the Whitewater story. At the time, the Rezko story was just starting to bubble up out of Chicago, and I explained how these stories are used to degrade the reputations of Democrats:
The NY Times treated this story [Whitewater] like it was The Pentagon Papers. They legitimized its obfuscatory style of reporting and the confusion that resulted led to the naming of an independent counsel and finally to the partisan impeachment of a popular and successful president. Yet, it was obvious to observers that they were being led around by a cabal of rightwing hit men from very early on. They simply refused to see the story for what it was and instead validated their erroneous reporting with a continuous narrative stream of unproven implications that fed the toxic political environment --- and that fed them in return.
I know this is all boring, arcane history now, but it's important to note that we are seeing similar stuff happening already with respect to various "deals" that are being reported in the press about Harry Reid and John Edwards. So far they are thin, nonsensical "exposes" written by one man, John Soloman, formerly of the AP and now of the Washington Post. Soloman is known to be a lazy reporter who happily takes "tips" from the wingnut noise machine and faithfully regurgitates them. He holds a very important position at the paper that was second only to the Times in its eagerness to swallow Ken Starr's spin whole.
We are also seeing some similar reporting begin to emerge on Obama, much of it generated by hometown political rivals, just as we saw in the Clinton years. Today the LA Times implies that Obama is exaggerating his activist past. A couple of weeks ago we saw a truly confusing report on a deal he made to buy some land from a supporter.
These are patented Whitewater-style "smell test" stories. They are based on complicated details that make the casual reader's eyes glaze over and about which the subject has to issue long confusing explanations in return. They feature colorful and unsavory political characters in some way. They often happened in the past and they tend to be written in such a way as to say that even if they aren't illegal they "look bad." The underlying theme is hypocrisy because the subjects are portrayed as making a dishonest buck while pretending to represent the average working man. Oh, and they always feature a Democrat. Republicans are not subject to such scrutiny because a craven, opportunistic Republican isn't "news." (Neat trick huh?)
No single story will bring down a candidate because they have no substance to them. It's the combined effect they are looking for to build a sense overall sleaziness. "Where there's smoke there's fire" right?
Keep that in mind as we watch this campaign unfold. These stories are very difficult to control once they get going. The MSM gasbags start "analyzing" the whole thing in terms of whether the subject of the inquiry is being forthcoming or if he's "stonewalling" and it snowballs into armchair psychology and novelistic character studies. From what I gather of the Rezco matter so far, we can probably expect this to have the same trajectory. The press conference yesterday was deja vu all over again.
And by the way, is everyone aware that the judge in the case is a former member of both Robert Fiske and Kenneth Starr's Whitewater team? Something to keep our eyes on as the story progresses.