05/17/2013 08:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points [258] -- Scandalpalooza!

Things have gotten so bad in Washington that both pundits and Republicans are beginning to use the "N-word" to describe the president. No, no... not that N-word! Instead, Obama is now actively being compared to Nixon. This comparison is patently...

... WE INTERRUPT THIS COLUMN FOR BREAKING NEWS -- We here at FTP News Network have obtained exclusive before-and-after photos of Angelina Jolie's breasts! In these side-by-side shots, the viewer can easily see the transformation of two of the most famous breasts on the planet. As the camera zooms in and pans around our 3-D representation, we will utter pious thoughts on cancer screening which you won't pay the slightest attention to. Later, we'll have our resident nipple expert in to discuss what you're seeing now...

Sheesh. Now, before anyone gets too irate, allow me to state that the preceding paragraph is (1) entirely fictional -- we have no exclusive shots of anyone's breasts, sorry; and (2) intended to satirize the media's take on any news item with the word "breast" in it -- and not Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie's breasts, breast cancer, any cancer, cancer screening, or medical decisions by anyone.

Seriously, consider that there is one medical procedure which gets shown on television in pretty much any breast story: mammogram images. Are pale silhouettes of any other body part ever routinely shown on television news, for any reason? I don't recall any testicular cancer or prostate cancer stories with such graphics, personally. Nor X-rays displayed after a story about someone getting injured. Not only are the mammogram images seemingly mandatory, but television news will also gratuitously throw in an image of a woman undergoing the procedure, just for kicks. What woman really wants a video of her boobs getting squashed by a machine to be on the news, after all? This was all on full display this week with the Angelina Jolie story, complete with CGI shots of (you just can't make this stuff up) how "the nipples were saved."

Am I the only one who has noticed this? Seems like there'd be a cries of "blatant sexism!" but if there have been, I guess I haven't noticed.

But back to the political news. Scandal! Scandal! Scandal! That's the type of week it's been, and the only way to see a silver lining is to point out that if you're going to have several scandals erupt, you might as well schedule them all for the same week -- because Washington reporters are infamous for not being able to follow more than one story at a time. When the reporters hit "scandal overload," then just imagine how the rest of the country feels.

For instance, while there really have been at least four scandals this week, the media have mostly focused on only three. None of these (Republican bloviating aside) have risen to the Nixonian level, but all have certainly been grist for the mill this week. Here are my snap judgments as to how all three scandals will play out (the fourth one I'll deal with in a minute...).

First, Benghazi. The "scandal" this week was based on some emails Republicans leaked to the media. The White House countered by releasing the actual text of the emails, which showed that the Republicans had lied to the press by significantly editing the text. This continues their long tradition of hyping the "scandal," and it truly seems like nobody outside the Fox News universe is even paying attention anymore. This "scandal" isn't going to impact Obama much (if it were going to, it already would have -- and it has not), but the target has now shifted to tarnishing Hillary Clinton in pre-emptive fashion. So expect to hear a lot more about Benghazi, with little in the way of actual news contained within. Benghazi will remain the Republican "go-to" scandal for years, when they can't dig up anything else.

Second, the IRS. Obama moved pretty quickly on this one, and his damage control may indeed work. This scandal was the easiest one to fix, when it gets right down to it. Two IRS leaders have already been cashiered, and they likely won't be the last ones to get their walking papers. Fire those responsible in any way (all the way up and down the chain of command), institute strict rules so it cannot happen again, and the scandal goes away. That's assuming there isn't some sort of "other shoe to drop" in terms of the known facts, of course, but so far this scandal looks like the one which won't go much further after the initial outrage.

Third, the AP phone records to identify leaks. This scandal may generate more outrage than the other ones, because the press was the target. Whenever the press is the target of governmental overreach, they tend to close ranks and defend their own. So this scandal will be the only one without the taint of partisanship, really. The Republicans' hands are somewhat tied on this one, because they themselves demanded aggressive investigation over the leaks when they happened. So it'll be hard for them to say they're shocked that the Justice Department did exactly what they demanded, in the end. The White House damage control on this one is just getting going, after a rather pathetic appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder before a congressional committee (which, bizarrely, involved asparagus... more on this at the end). Now the White House seems to have pivoted to arguing the case on its merits -- making the case of how dire this leak was to national security, and how irresponsible it was for the media to have reported on it. This isn't going to make them friends in the media, but it may convince the public. Of all the scandals, this is the toughest to predict the outcome -- again, because the outrage is mostly going to come from the media itself.

Whew! If all this is just too much scandal for you to contemplate (and if you thought my anti-mammogram rant was too prudish), well, there was always the video of Barbara Walters donning a Playboy bunny costume for distraction (it's a very, very old clip, we should mention, when Walters was first starting out in the business). Bunny dip, anyone?


Alas, we're not done yet with Scandalpalooza Week. Because the story that kind of got ignored this week was a second military man getting charged with sexual impropriety when his job was supposed to be policing sexual propriety in the ranks.

The magnitude of this brings to mind two acronyms from the military world: SNAFU and FUBAR. Think about it: not only is the military incapable of preventing or policing sexual assaults, they are incapable of doing so within the units responsible for doing so. That's beyond incompetent, really.

President Obama had all the military big brass over for a chat about the situation, and by his report, they're all feeling pretty bad about the state of things. But you know what? That's really not good enough. Imagine if Obama had taken the same route with the military as he just took with the IRS. Start firing people from the top down. Or, if they cannot be fired for some reason, then (at the very least) assign some generals the important duty of moving to Antarctica to protect penguins from Russian ICBMs. For the rest of their military careers.

Think a few actions of this type would change things in a hurry over at the Pentagon? I do. If it doesn't, then start working your way down the chain of command. That penguin defense base can grow to be as big as necessary, really.


One Democrat is really getting out in front of this issue, and for doing so Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Gillibrand, along with a few other senators (such as Barbara Boxer), introduced a bill to remove any decisions regarding punishment for sexual assaults from the military chain of command. No longer would a Colonel or a Major be able to wave a magic wand and erase a conviction for rape from a soldier's record. This is such a basic reform it is stunning that it hasn't already happened. The Pentagon doesn't like it, because it reduces the power commanding officers have, but you know what? Tough. Tough biscuits. This power is so obviously being misused that it is time to remove it altogether.

For taking a giant step in the direction of fixing the Pentagon's lackadaisical attitude towards rape and other sexual crimes, and for such a commonsense solution, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand more than deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week. More power to you, Senator Gillibrand.

[Congratulate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


While it might seem that there would be a lot of disappointment to choose from in such a scandal-plagued week, it's actually hard to identify anyone bearing responsibility for the "big three" scandals.

The IRS scandal involved non-partisan employees, for the most part. The presidentially-appointed head of the IRS has already been fired, and he wasn't exactly "a Democrat" to begin with, from all reports. Eric Holder would seem to be a logical choice over at the Justice Department, but he recused himself from the decision to grab the AP phone records, and we've already suggested once this week that it might be time for him to go, just on general principles. Benghazi has always been a "scandal" and not a real scandal, if you know what I mean.

I could give Obama the award for his rather timid "let's give the Joint Chiefs more time to solve the problem" attitude on rape in the military, but we'll see whether he gets behind Gillibrand's bill first.

There's always Harry Reid, of course, who just announced that he (yet again) made another "mistake" by not changing filibuster rules when he had the chance earlier this year -- even though he had made the same "mistake" two years ago. Now, apparently, he's talking tough about maybe using the "nuclear option" in a month or two. Yawn. Wake me when he caves (yet again), someone.

Instead, we're going to fall back on a story with no national importance, but which is about as disappointing as you can get. South Carolina state lawmaker Ted Vick has been charged with drunk driving, on the grounds of the statehouse, no less. Normally, a drunk driving arrest wouldn't rise to the level of a MDDOTW, but almost exactly a year ago we let Ted off the hook with only a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, because (as we wrote back in FTP [212]):

Vick was arrested for suspected drunken driving and speeding. Oh, and he had a handgun in his pocket. And by the way, a 21-year-old college student was reportedly in the car with him, because he had "offered the student a ride home" -- after he met her at a local bar.

Second time's the charm, Ted. You have more than earned this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, in fact. You quite obviously need some sort of help, and we hope that you get it soon.

[Contact South Carolina state Representative Ted Vick via his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 258 (5/17/13)

In such a scandaliferous week, our talking points are mostly going to be playing defense this time around. Although there are a few at the end which I threw in just to lighten things up. But before we get there, we've got to slog through the scandals, so let's just get on with it, shall we?


   Rolling, rolling, rolling...

We'll start with the best damage control from the White House all week.

"In the case of the IRS, the scandal was exposed by the Treasury Department's internal investigation, and President Obama has taken immediate action in firing people from the top down at the agency. Two heads have already rolled as a result of Obama's quick action. And it's entirely likely that a few more people at the IRS will soon be 'spending time with their families,' as they say in Washington. The IRS situation was indeed a scandal, but so far it looks like it is already well on its way to being fixed, and I have to credit the president for doing so. There was no coverup, there was no sweeping it under a rug, the report was publicly released and punitive action swiftly followed."


   Nixon reforms worked (backwards)

Again, with the "N-word."

"I see that some are comparing President Obama with Richard Nixon in the IRS scandal, which is laughably wrong -- at least from the information that has so far surfaced. Yes, Nixon did use the IRS for revenge on his perceived political enemies. When it came to light, reforms were put in place. One of those reforms is that if the White House has anything to say to anyone at the IRS, they have to direct their communications through the Treasury Secretary's office -- they are not allowed to contact the IRS in any other way. This wall of separation was installed to prevent political misuse of the agency. It was put in place to make the IRS almost completely independent of the White House, to protect the IRS from political interference. This reform actually worked, although it worked in the other direction than intended. Instead of protecting the IRS from political interference from the White House, it instead isolated the White House from the political shenanigans which took place within the IRS. It's ironic, when you think about it. But that's the only connection to how Nixon abused the agency, sorry."


   Investigate Benghazi lies!

Here's another one to turn around.

"The Republican Party has adamantly decried all the lying about Benghazi for over half a year now. So I find it mysterious that they're not outraged over what happened last week. Emails were leaked to reporters which were false -- they were, in fact, lies -- about Benghazi and the talking points. I find it rather telling that no Republicans have called for investigating these lies, and no Republicans are denouncing this misinformation from government sources to the media. Perhaps this is because those doing the lying were in Republican congressional offices? The more we hear from Republicans on Benghazi, the more the naked partisanship shows. Can anyone now doubt that this is only about scoring partisan points?"


   Tie it to promotion

Gillibrand's bill doesn't really go far enough, the more I think about all those poor, vulnerable penguins....

"I appreciate the fact that President Obama is taking the problem of rape and sexual assault in the military seriously, but I have my doubts about how seriously the Pentagon is taking the situation. So why not hit them where it hurts? For any officer up for any type of promotion, create an explicit review of how many sexual assaults and other problems occurred under that officer's command. Too high a rate? No promotion. Those with the highest rates in their military branch should be transferred to the most remote dead-end postings available, or demoted, or even discharged. The head of the IRS was just fired because he was ultimately responsible for what happened on his watch. Any private corporation would fire the boss of any department with an obvious sexual assault problem. The military is supposed to set the gold standard for accountability and taking responsibility for those under any officer's command. So why not hold these officers responsible? You want to change the culture in the military overnight? Send some officers to Antarctica to count penguins. I bet that would do it."


   National Privacy Association?

This one is just wishful thinking, unfortunately.

"In seeing how much time and energy the Justice Department puts into wiretapping and searching reporters' phone data -- to say nothing of such efforts against those who aren't journalists -- I find myself wishing that there were an organization devoted to the Fourth Amendment in the same way the National Rifle Association was dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment. Maybe America needs a National Privacy Association, what do you think?"


   Why voting matters

The ultimate argument for the importance of voting, really.

"Christina Mercado just won an election to a school board in Texas by a margin of one vote this week. What is truly astounding, though, is that the vote that put Mercado over the top was, in fact, the only vote cast in the race for any candidate. Her opponent didn't even bother to vote, apparently. Kids, there's a lesson here: your vote is important! Don't forget to vote -- especially when you are a candidate yourself -- because your vote may well be the one that makes all the difference!"


   Questioning my quiche! Denigrating my dumplings!

Amazingly enough, that wasn't the most bizarre story of the week.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to ask what in the heck Republican Representative Louie Gohmert was alluding to during the appearance of Eric Holder in front of his committee. Gohmert was upset that Holder was, and I quote, casting aspersions on my asparagus. Unquote. Um, aspersions? On his asparagus? Now, I can usually decode what Republicans are saying or at least trying to say, but I have to admit I've watched the video a number of times, and I am still completely stumped on this one. Maybe Holder said something nasty about Britney Spears, and Gohmert just misinterpreted it? OK, I apologize, that was a pretty bad pun, but still -- can anyone tell me what Gohmert was thinking? Anyone?"


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