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If Clinton Had Done This…

April 28th, 2005

If you follow this blog, you may have wondered why I didn’t report on the Jeff Gannon case. After all, it had pretty much everything. It exemplified how the Bush White House is interested in controlling the news media (also paying off journalists to hype administration programs, and using federal funds to create fake news videos that double as campaign and agenda commercials). It shows how far they’ll go, giving White House credentials to anyone they damn please without the slightest background check, if it suits them. And the fact that the guy was a gay male prostitute and pin-up on a porn site shows up the utter irony of this “moral” administration. It was a juicy story.

So why not go nuts over it? At the time–and still now, to a certain degree–I just had another bout of overload and contempt for how this kind of story is handled by the media. I knew what the end script would be. No investigations, a bit of chuckling in the media, and in a few months’ time, few recall it. The thing is, this event fit perfectly into a category I first saw mentioned by Joe Conason, which could be referred to as the “If Clinton Had Done This” syndrome.

Conason first came up with this comparison in the wake of 9/11, when Saudis–some of them having given Bush money in the past, some of them closely related to Osama bin Laden–were given special clearance, when most US air traffic was still grounded, to jump onto jets across America and be spirited out of the country, without allowing the FBI to perform the checks they wanted to make, or ask the questions they needed to ask.

Conason framed it in terms of how Republicans would have reacted if it were Clinton: what if, after the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton had allowed the family members of Timothy McVeigh to get on a jet and fly out of the country without the FBI checking them out first? And then it turns out they gave money to Clinton in the past? What would Republicans have done? They’d have gone nuclear is what they would have done, they would have exploded in a furious orgasm of righteous anger, calling for investigations and perhaps impeachment. Showing hypocrisy when they don’t react like this when Bush does the equivalent, and showing the media reacting differently to Bush and Clinton stories of equal status.

A very good analogy, in any case. A few problems, though: first, noting such discrepancies doesn’t make any difference in the real world. Though the comparison is apt, and shows up GOP hypocrisy and corruption to no end, it does not wind up doing anything. No investigations began because of the comparison, no new public attention or outrage was stirred. Second, it was hardly the last time such a comparison could be made. How about Bush’s string of outrages concerning the aftermath of 9/11? His opposition to any investigation or commissions, his refusal to become available to investigators except under absurd conditions, the fact that he did not properly react to intelligence he received, that he was warned about bin Laden and didn’t do anything to stop him, didn’t “shake the trees.” Any one of these, and more, would have been mortal crimes in GOP eyes had Clinton done them. How about Valerie Plame, the CIA agent outed by a vindictive White House? The GOP would have gone insane with rage had Clinton done such a thing. The bald-faced lie to Congress about Medicare costs. Same reaction. The invasion of Iraq on the pretext of WMD, and the cherry-picking and exaggeration of intelligence to deceive the people? The failure to go after bin Laden? Jeff Gannon is simply the most recent of dozens of examples. Hell, the GOP demanded investigations of Clinton at the drop of an anonymous, unsubstantiated rumor. But Bush gets a bye on many more scandals of far greater importance and impact–and on a regular basis.

And that’s where the overload comes in. It’s a perfect argument: if Clinton had allowed a gay male prostitute with no real journalism credentials working for a left-wing rag to be admitted to the White House press corps under an assumed name and toss the president softball questions… you know how Republicans would have reacted. Again.

But despite the fact that the media went postal for years over trumped-up sex scandals over Clinton, Bush can preside over scandals that cause wars, kill tens of thousands of people, compromise national security and threaten our economic stability, and no one seems to give a damn.

There is a point where the hypocrisy and corruption go beyond the threshold of anyone doing anything about it, and reporting for the Nth time that if Clinton had done this, well, it tends to lose its appeal.

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  1. Enumclaw
    April 29th, 2005 at 03:50 | #1

    This is the biggest problem that the Democrats have. If they want to start winning, they need to have teams of people just sitting around, ready and willing and able to go nuclear on this kind of thing.

    For example, within a few hours of the vote on the Terri Schiavo bill, there should have been a web site and PAC or 527 group set up called “ButtOUT” or “FamilyChoices” or something along those lines.

    The group would “officially” be non-partisan, kind of like those “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” were. Ha.

    Ad time with ads exorciating the Republicans, quickie polls to see how the public was taking the decision (overwhelmingly negative, BTW) to interfere in the Schiavo case, talking heads with real information on how she was not an active, living, communicating person (like DeLay tried to make it sound) but actually in a vegetative state with fluid where her brain used to be.

    That kind of stuff.

    Same thing with the Gannon case. If the Dems had a team of attack dogs, doing the function that Newt and some of his cronies used to do, they’d be so much better off.

    James Carville gets it, but he’s only one guy. The sooner we convince Howard Dean and the entrenched leadership of the party that they’ve got to change their operating practices, the better America will be.

    Yes, it does mean lowering the Dems to the Republicans’ level in many ways. Too bad. Winning some friggin elections is too important.

    Seattle, WA (yeah, I moved)

  2. Luis
    April 29th, 2005 at 13:18 | #2

    Yeah, I know, I agree wholeheartedly… but they just can’t seem to get their asses in gear. They need to set up a special office just for this at the DNC. When something like the Gannon scandal, or much worse (as is often the case) comes along, they need to get Democratic congresspeople to start ranting on the floor of both houses, threaten to hold up proceedings if nothing is done, and at the same time start a press blitz, arranging interviews and talk show appearances. But mostly to organize the congresspeople, get them all on the same wavelength, and don’t cow down, ever!

  3. Anonymous
    May 11th, 2005 at 12:52 | #3

    I think you’re missing a key factor: the media.

    Watch “OutFoxed”. Then you’ll realise that there’s this immense bias in the media toward the Republicans and away from everything else. This is why there weren’t newscasters and special documentaries and big publicity over every stupidity, every deliberate injustice that the Republicans made. This is why the Democrats get hounded on everything they say. This is why things that should be a minor issue – two gay people getting married – gets blown up into a major, nation-wide scandal.

    As an Australian, I’ve recently watched the media blow a very minor comment from the Prime Minister into a complete two-week long “issue” about the leadership. The media here love conflict in the ruling party (except at election time, where they love conflict in the opposition), so every little minor quibble was added as fuel to the fire, and every journalist out there was ringing every MP and commentator waiting for someone to be foolish enough to say something that the media could then bend into looking like the treasurer had a problem with the PM.

    So ask yourself, Americans: how much TV do you watch? What newspapers do you read? What radio stations do you listen to? How much of all that is run by Rupert Murdoch, a man Australia divorced long ago and who has the same scruples as Henry Kissinger?

    Do whatever you can to boycott and block the Fox network. State this publicly. Get your information from independent media. And if you hate the situation, for the sake of your country, vote – it’s supposed to be a “representative” democracy, after all!

    Have fun,


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