05/19/2013 09:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : The InsaneStream Media Says 'It's the Scandals, Stupid'

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What a week for Republicans! It started with Obama fighting off simultaneous scandals and 24 coming back this Fall. But as Spitzer and Reagan discuss, by Friday the Scandals Scorecard revealed more smoke than fire. Who'll tell FOX?


August, the slow news month that manufactures scandals (remember the "Killer Rabbit" that attacked Jimmy Carter?) has come early in 2013.

After years of fulminating that Obama's birth certificate, ACORN, Black Panthers, Fast-and-Furious and Solyndra were "bigger than Watergate," it appeared that the GOP and Fox had struck gold on the IRS, Benghazi and AP stories. So Eliot Spitzer and Ron Reagan are asked to rank these on a 1-10 Scandal Scorecard -- with 1 being Who-Killed-Vince-Foster level and 10 being Watergate. Channeling Gertrude Stein about Oakland, is Obama right that "there's no there there"?

On the IRS 'Scandal.' Eliot thinks the agency is "guilty of the crime of stupidity" by discriminating against Tea Party applications for 501c4 "social welfare" tax status. When the public wouldn't buy the White House's initial claim that the agency was "independent" of the president, his subsequent actions -- firing two and accepting the IG's recommendations -- were decisive and calming.

But didn't the IRS commit two errors on one play, booting the grounder of political donors pretending to be "social welfare" agents and also overthrowing first base by looking only at only the GOP? Ron agrees both with Eliot that "this was a bureaucracy run amok" and that "the real scandal is [secret] money in political campaigns... this may become an opportunity to fix that."

On a scale of 1-10, the panelists both grade this a 4 because there was improper conduct though, unlike Nixon compiling an "Enemies List" and personally targeting Democrats for audits, Obama did nothing of the sort. With the IG himself saying there weren't any political motivations or influence, this does not sound like a four-alarm fire.

Host: We listen to Charles Krauthammer urge fellow-travelers not to blame Obama for Nixon-Watergate-like crimes, but he's Canute shouting at the tides when it comes to Marco Rubio ("tactics of the third world... a culture of intimidation"), John Boehner ("who's going to jail?"), Michele Malkin ("culture of corruption, every day another eruption!"), Messrs Inhofe, Chafetz, Bachmann ("Impeachment" is now on the table), Peggy Noonan ("Barack Nixon") and Lou Dobbs ("Obama is showing his inner-Nixon"). Frustrated by years of faux scandals, a bitter defeat in 2012 and a popular Democratic agenda on immigration and guns, this crowd simply cannot resist disrupting Obama's second term by appealing to their angry base of voters and viewers. But we've seen how this movie ends -- Bill Clinton's popularity grew despite Lewinsky when voters compared him to Gingrich.

So get ready for years of hearings based on the truism that "we need answers, more and more answers" with Fox daily reporting to credulous viewers that Obama's a crook. But the rest of America will be seeing an improving economy -- unemployment down, deficits down, stock market up. The 2014 narratives are now being written -- "It's the Scandals, Stupid" vs. "Jobs for the Middle Class." Good luck with that Rush, Roger and Karl.

On the Benghazi Talking-Points 'Scandal.' The panelists rank this one no better than a 2 on the Scandal Scorecard. A surprise attack killing four Americans was surely a policy failure that created confusion about what happened immediately afterwards. But why, they wonder, are we spending so much time talking about talking points rather than embassy safety?

Ron reminds us that an incendiary anti-Muslim video had indeed ignited demonstrations the day before 9/11/12 in Cairo and other Muslim populations and that GOP criticism about what Susan Rice said on television "was a political dog-and-pony show dreamed up by Darrell Issa and fellow Republicans. Focusing on that rather than how the security lapse happened dishonors the Americans who died there."

Explains Eliot: "If I had someone on the witness stand to talk about what they did yesterday from 8-9 am, I could get them to make a lot of inconsistent statements, which the Republicans would then call perjury. This is crazy -- the GOP has been wrong about the economy for 30 years and their projections especially wrong for the past 10 years. But no one says they should go to jail for that."

How has Obama handled the criticism? The two think that the White House release of a hundred pages of email traffic confirms that "talking points" emerged not from a politicized White House but largely from a CYA bureaucratic turf-tussle between State and CIA. So they both rank this event as a 2 on the Scandal Scale.

But if Fox had 40 segments on how two Black Panthers standing near a polling place in Philly helped Obama win in 2012, they anticipate wall-to-wall mentions of Benghazi for several years much like the word Munich still arouses FDR-haters. ("We're going to the TransLux to hiss Roosevelt" was the caption on that memorable New Yorker cartoon.) "With the economy improving," notes Eliot, "they gotta say something."

On the AP 'Scandal.' Ron explains that "the Department of Justice may well have cast too wide a net" in searching for who leaked a CIA operation in Yemen. But it's always a hard-balancing act when it comes to freedom of the press and national security. That's not a classic 'scandal' especially since, adds Ron, "it was the Republicans were pushing for an investigation originally," not to mention Bush's warrantless wiretapping as part of a huge national security apparatus. We then listen to Bill O'Reilly tell a shocked Laura Ingraham on Fox and Friends that this one is no scandal. "But you're giving Obama the benefit of the doubt!" she complains, as if that's a direct violation of their contract.

Eliot, a past prosecutor and chief executive, is asked about the repeated complaint of Chris Matthews on Ron's network that the President only found out about the AP issue when he read about it in the newspapers. Was that "leading from behind"? Post-Watergate, should a president beforehand get more involved with or know more about such cases? Eliot: "The short answer is no. Imagine if he had known more, then he'd really get the blame." That would be a scandal. The Host notes a conversation he had with Eric Holder two years previously when the AG confirmed that he hadn't consulted POTUS on where to try KSM because there should be an arm's length relationship between a president and his law enforcement agency.

The two differ on the 1-10 Scandal Scorecard: Eliot sees it as a 1, Ron potentially a 6 if the facts show a broader involvement by the White House.

Any Meta-Theme Here? Dana Milbank calls him a Passerby President while Louis Gohmert believes him to be tyrannical. But while Obama's laid-back liberalism frustrates critics of all stripes, he can't be both passive and bullying at the same time. So is there a word, a narrative, a connective tissue that links these three events for the public mind -- as Watergate, Death Panels, Pro-Life, 99 percent clearly did -- or are they disconnected dots being lumped together by partisans?

Ron comes up with "incompetence" as the prism that Republicans hope voters see all this through, for which he is derided by his radio-mates. The Host says "he's no Frank Luntz" while Eliot recalls how Mike Dukakis's theme of "competence" failed to arouse anyone. Instead the former governor guesses that the GOP will try to tie everything together under the rubric of "overreach"...because Obama believes that government should do more and more and that, therefore, it will fail to do anything very well. These scandals, ergos, prove that big government is bad.

If "overreach" does become the coda, will it end up applying to activist government generally or to the GOP calling everything Nixonian, Watergate, Impeachment, stone-walling, coverup, what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it? Is Krauthammer right to fear a backlash to partisan hype? Recall that "Mission Accomplished" was originally used to communicate a patriotic success, then not so much.

Conclusion: So who won this week's Watergate Sweepstakes Powerball? No one, so far.

There will be both Senate and House hearings next week into the IRS and Tea Party with Noonan, Podhoretz, Lowry, Will, Goodwin, Krauthammer, Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Savage etc. presumably reporting every new or old disclosure in order to hang onto this political life-preserver... But going forward Mainstream Media like ABC's Jonathan Karl won't want to again be snookered and stampeded by the InsaneStream Media into being conveyor belts for Obama Derangement Syndrome. Will the major media shortly go back to what the public cares about -- jobs, jobs, jobs?

*Quick Takes: Bloomberg LP, Heritage-Immigration, Jolie's Decision. We discuss two private sector 'scandals" that didn't garner much attention due to the frenzy of the trifecta above.

The two are shocked by Bloomberg LP allowing its reporters to use its terminal data to spy on clients - with Eliot thinking it'll inflict long-term damage on the company. He adds that, unlike an era of pamphlets and books, today's information technology is two-way, both informing us and getting information from us.

As for the Heritage Foundation's study that immigration reform will supposedly cost $6 trillion over 50 years, they concur that it will significantly damage the institution now that it's been admitted that the co-author did an earlier study arguing that Hispanics were inferior. "That's the kind of undercurrent of racism among Republicans," argues Mr. Reagan, "that sometimes raises its poisonous head."

Last, both are awed by Angelina Jolie's grace and courage in telling the world that behind her external beauty is a genetic inheritance that threatens her life. Perhaps our health care system will now more regularly test women in her situation so that they too better understand the odds while making excruciating life-and-death decisions.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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