Forget the political “blame game.” The biggest game in town now is the credibility game -- a high-stakes exercise that will end with America’s political middle deciding who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Some key players:
President Barack Obama: In the case of the Benghazi emails, government snooping on the Associated Press and Fox News, and the IRS, the issue is now whether Obama is more ruthless than he publicly showed or is a hapless, out-to-lunch manager. The media and political class take his seeming delay in acting on their criticisms as a flaw. But could it be this is how Obama works?
Obama’s former speechwriter John Favreau, writing in The Daily Beast, says yes:
“The handwringers and bed wetters in the D.C. punditocracy should know that Barack Obama will never be on their timeline,” he writes. “He does not value being first over being right. He will not spend his presidency chasing news cycles.
“He will not shake up his White House staff just because of some offhand advice offered to Politico by a longtime Washingtonian or a nameless Democrat who’s desperately trying to stay relevant. And if that means Dana Milbank thinks he’s too passive; if it means that Jim VandeHei will keep calling him arrogant and petulant; if it means that Chris Matthews will whine about him not enjoying the presidency, then so be it. He’ll live.”
The Republicans: Are they overreaching and so visibly thirsting for scandals that the middle will dismiss their assertions?
National Journal’s level-headed Charlie Cook notes how in the Clinton impeachment Republicans were sure the country was outraged (it wasn’t) and how during election 2012 GOPers were convinced Mitt Romney would win (he didn’t). He points to polls showing Obama’s numbers firm, or going up.
“The simple fact is that although the Republican sharks are circling, at least so far, there isn’t a trace of blood in the water, “ Cook writes. “...But it might just be that Americans are more focused on an economy that is gradually coming out of the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression...One wonders how long Republicans are going to bark up this tree, perhaps the wrong tree, while they ignore their own party’s problems, which were shown to be profound in the most recent elections..”
It boils down to credibility -- the kind of credibility undermined when a GOPer suggests these scandals are the worst in American history, or means Obama should be impeached. Talking Points memo has documented eight prominent Republicans raising the impeachment issue. A can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli on the shelf at Safeway would look at that hyper-partisan list and say: “Politically motivated!” And the Beefaroni would have no beef with that.
The Press: ABC’s John Karl wrongly reported as fact Benghazi emails inaccurately paraphrased to him by his Congressional Republican sources. Washington Post fact-checker Glen Tessler gave the White House “three Pinocchios” for calling the emails “doctored.” NY Journalism professor Jay Rosen says Karl “dragged the entire news division at ABC into his self-dug pit. He got played.” ABC and Karl later did a PARTIAL retraction, leading Rosen to write that ABC and Karl were “attempting to rescue his ‘exclusive... All to avoid confessing error and protect a misbegotten scoop.”
For years conservatives warned about liberal moles in the media. Now liberals talk about a conservative mole (Karl). Reporters and news organizations that make major errors and don’t totally retract them are weeds in the garden of press credibility.
Here’s a tip: In coming months, get ready to see some pants on fire.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org