Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when every jackleg news organization in Washington — that is, virtually all of them — was feeding out of Kenneth Starr’s soft little hand like a Shetland pony.
Having recently left the country for a few weeks of media deprivation therapy, I returned to find excited pundits comparing President Obama to Richard M. Nixon on the basis of three transparently bogus White House “scandals” that make Starr’s fabled “Whitewater” investigation look like the crime of the century.
Once again, the word “impeachment” is in the air, as excited GOP congressmen dream of driving a Democratic president from office. Once again, the nation appears to be headed for a fun-filled summer of televised hearings, elaborately feigned indignation and predictions of dramatic revelations that either never materialize or blow up in their sponsors’ faces.
With luck, we might even see something as funny as the day in 1995 when a partisan S&L regulator who’d planned to market Hillary Clinton-themed “Presidential BITCH” T-shirts from her government office fainted dead-away under cross-examination. The witness had to be carried from a Senate hearing room, never to be heard from again.
Deeply committed to Whitewater humbug, the New York Times, Washington Post and TV networks contrived not to notice.
The good news is that couldn’t happen again. Today, the ill-fated L. Jean Lewis’ swoon would be all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sure, she’d get her own Fox News talk show, but rationally consequent citizens wouldn’t have to watch. The Internet has lessened the ability of scandal entrepreneurs in the Washington media to control the flow of information to the rabble.
Sure, the Internet empowers crackpots. But it also enables in-house bloggers like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein to bring facts and arguments into the online pages of the high-dollar press that could be censored out of the “mainstream” as recently as the Clinton administration.
So nobody’s getting impeached on this tripartite nonsense, OK?
Anyway, let’s take them one at a time:
One: Regarding IRS “targeting” of right-wingers, I’m planning to rename my little one-man cattle operation “Tea Party Patriot Farm.” With that on my Schedule C, the IRS won’t DARE to audit my tax returns. I’ll be free to deduct not only feed bills and veterinary expenses, but pizzas, movie tickets, six-packs, whatever. My recent train ride across France? Studying French cattle husbandry techniques at 180 mph.
But see, that’s the thing. Contrary to a thousand indignant screeds and editorial cartoons, no aggrieved Tea Partiers got audited, fined, or jailed. Instead, they saw their applications to turn their political hobbies into tax-free scams — oops, charities — delayed for a few months, on the quite reasonable assumption (from an IRS functionary’s point of view) that an organization named for a political party might actually be one. Boo hoo hoo.
The IRS was politically idiotic, no doubt. But until somebody tracks this to the White House, it’s a big nothingburger.
Meanwhile, my man Charles Pierce quotes the Nixon White House tapes to remind us how a real crook uses the IRS: “Now here’s the point, Bob: please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats,” Nixon said. “Could we please investigate some of the [unprintables]?”
Two: Then there’s the Great Benghazi Cover-up. As this column pointed out last December, it’s largely a matter of selective quotation. Nobody at the CIA or State Department who had a hand in preparing Susan Rice’s “talking points” on the Sunday shows knew with any certainty who organized the attack.
And it’s worthwhile pointing out that THEY STILL DON’T KNOW.
However, if “extremists elements with heavy weapons” doesn’t say “terrorist” to you, Rice got more specific on CBS’ “Face The Nation:” “Whether they were al-Qaida affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al-Qaida itself,” she said, “… is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”
In the interest of keeping this phony scandal alive, everybody’s pretended for months that Rice never said that. Meanwhile, CBS News’ Major Garrett has reported that partial CIA emails leaked to him by Republican sources turned out — after the originals were released — to have been doctored to cast suspicion upon the State Department and Hillary Clinton. He didn’t identify the leakers.
But when people resort to faking documents, it’s a good clue that no real evidence of wrongdoing exists. The end.
Three: As for the Associated Press flap, the Los Angeles Times reports that its “disclosure of a counter-terrorism operation in Yemen last year compromised … an informant who had earned the trust of hardened terrorists.”
If true, that’s perilously close to treason. In which case the Justice Department had every reason to subpoena AP phone records after other means of finding the leaker’s identity failed. Sorry, but journalists have no rights that trump those of ordinary citizens in a serious criminal investigation.
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Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.