Broadcast Networks Drop the Ball on Obama’s Smarmy ‘Phony Scandal’ Mantra
For more than two weeks, President Obama and his spokesmen have scoffed at the various investigations of potential wrongdoing surrounding his administration, belittling them as “phony scandals” that have “distracted” Washington. But a Fox News poll released Thursday finds that even among Democrats, Obama’s “phony scandal” is falling flat, discovering that “voters across the partisan spectrum” say Benghazi, NSA eavesdropping, the IRS targeting of conservatives, and the seizure of journalists’ phone records as serious matters.
As for the three broadcast networks, they have essentially buried the administration’s not-so-subtle (and apparently ineffective) attempt to push these scandals away. Not only did all three broadcast networks skip the Fox poll, ABC and NBC have done Obama the apparent favor of never reporting his “phony scandal” mantra on either their morning or evening news broadcasts, and giving it just a passing mention on their July 28 Sunday talk shows.
For its part, the CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning both ran soundbites of Obama’s line after he first used it on July 24, but failed to suggest this was a controversial tactic to suppress matters of genuine concern. After that, the “phony scandal” mantra disappeared on that network, too.
If a Republican president had arrogantly suggested that it was a phony distraction to investigate scandals on par with the administration’s failures in Benghazi, or the obvious political manipulation of the IRS, media watchdogs would have re-doubled their efforts to dig out the truth. But in Obama’s case, the networks are taking a pass on both the substance of these scandals, and the President’s audacious attempt to intimidate anyone from digging deeper.
A review of Obama’s recent speeches, as transcribed by the Federal News Service and included in the Nexis database, finds that the President has used the “phony scandal” formula at least seven times over the past 16 days, starting with an economic speech in Galesburg, Illinois, and in both of his Saturday weekly media speeches:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (Galesburg, Illinois, July 24): With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington’s taken its eye off the ball. And I’m here to say this needs to stop....
PRESIDENT OBAMA (Warrensburg, Missouri, July 24): An endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals can’t get in the way of what we need to do....
PRESIDENT OBAMA (Jacksonville, July 25): With an endless distraction of political posturing and phony scandals and Lord knows what, Washington keeps taking its eye off the ball. And that needs to stop....
PRESIDENT OBAMA (weekly media address, July 27): Over the past couple of years in particular, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. An endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals shift focus from what needs to be done....
PRESIDENT OBAMA (Chattanooga, July 30): For most of this year, we’ve seen an endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals and we keep on shifting our way — shifting our attention away from what we should be focused on, which is how do we strengthen the middle class and grow the economy for everybody?...
PRESIDENT OBAMA (weekly media address, August 3): But too often over the past two years, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. They’ve allowed an endless parade of political posturing and phony scandals to distract from growing our economy and strengthening the middle class....
PRESIDENT OBAMA (Phoenix, August 6): Unfortunately, for the last year or so we’ve had an endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals that shift focus away from what do we need to do to shore up middle-class families and create ladders of opportunity for folks to get into the middle class....
Such an obvious campaign to re-define these scandals — by the President personally — should have inspired the networks to critically examine the administration’s role in all of them, and let viewers decide if they are really “phony scandals,” or serious matters worth continued investigation.
But the networks have themselves abdicated coverage of scandals like the IRS targeting of conservatives (a story which garnered just 92 seconds on the broadcast networks through the entire month of July -- a single item on the CBS Evening News). So, instead of juxtaposing Obama’s “phony scandal” claim against the evidence, the networks buried the attempt at a cover-up, too.
The totality of broadcast network attention given to Obama’s “phony scandal” claim over the past 16 days amount to less than two minutes — just 12 seconds on ABC, 42 seconds on NBC, and 44 seconds on CBS. Only NBC’s David Gregory, in a question to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew back on July 28, even suggested there was something controversial about the President claiming these were “phony scandals.”
Here is a transcript of all coverage (up to this point) that the Big Three have provided to Obama’s “phony scandals” claim:
MAJOR GARRETT (CBS Evening News, July 24): The White House fears that Mr. Obama’s economic agenda has been drowned out by the controversies over the IRS, the Benghazi terror attacks, surveillance leaks, and crises in Syria and Egypt.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop. (25 seconds)
CHARLIE ROSE: (CBS This Morning, July 25): But we begin this morning with a look at today’s ‘Eye Opener’ — your world in ninety seconds:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With this endless parade of phony scandals, Washington’s taken its eye off the ball. And I’m here to say this needs to stop.
ROSE: President Obama makes a call to action.
Voice of FNC’s BRET BAIER: President Obama makes what’s billed as a major address on the economy.
SCOTT PELLEY (from the CBS Evening News): He didn’t announce any new initiatives. So what was the point? (19 seconds)
REBECCA JARVIS (ABC’s This Week, July 28): Then there’s the other story, 11.8 million Americans without work. More than 4 million for six months or longer....Yet again, triggering a Washington blame game.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington's taken its eye off the ball. (12 seconds)
Host DAVID GREGORY (NBC’s Meet the Press, July 28): Back home, the President is focused on the economy, a refocus, if you will, as Washington prepares for another high-stakes budget debate.
Clip of PRESIDENT OBAMA: But over the past couple of years in particular, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. An endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals shift focus from what needs to be done. (22 seconds)
GREGORY (later in the same show): Before I let you go, the IRS scandal. First of all, was that a phony scandal as far as you’re concerned? Why did the President refer to that and others as a phony Washington scandal?
Treasury Secretary JACK LEW: You know the President has been clear and I have been clear that what happened there was unacceptable, it was an extremely bad judgment and it’s just unacceptable for groups, right or left, to be targeted because of their political views. (20 seconds)
The Fox News poll demonstrates that the public isn’t buying Obama’s attempted “phony scandal” deflection. But a serious news media would be challenging the President on this assertion, pitting his claim against the facts of these scandals, not letting him get away with this kind of rhetoric.
Of course, a serious news media would be covering these scandals in the first place.
-- Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.