If Clinton Had Done This…
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.