Of all the disturbing things I have seen on Fox News, nothing makes me sadder than watching Bob Woodward get in bed with the network without calling them out on their journalistic malpractice. Whether it’s because he doesn’t know what the network is up to (although he should by now) or because he’s angling for a paid spot, what better indicates the tragedy of the state of American news than watching the foremost icon of journalism acting as a patsy for a Fox News agenda?
It’s not as though Woodward had no clues to the situation. Not counting how he saw in person how Fox tried to use him to make Benghazi the latest Watergate nor how Sean Hannity tried to prod him into attacking the press for not investigating Obama’s (non) relationship with Bill Ayers, Woodward appeared after O’Reilly spent his Talking Points segment trying to characterize the IRS controversy as some kind of Watergate – while feigning caution and objectivity.
Talking Points is not linking the IRS scandal to the White House. We are not implying, insinuating, hinting or doing anything else other than reporting the facts.
Well, except that O’Reilly has insinuated exactly that. Last week, in a Talking Points memo “asking,” “Is there now a smoking gun in the IRS scandal?” O’Reilly said:
Today, there is disturbing information. This man, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, visited the White House—ready -- 157 times. Incredible.
By comparison then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the White House 43 times, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta 20 times. So what the heck was Mr. Shulman doing at the White House with that kind of frequency?
…The President of the United States should explain tomorrow what Mr. Shulman was doing at the White House all those times.
Tonight in his Talking Points, O’Reilly repeated his call for the White House to explain and went on to whine, “Before my analysis last Thursday, there were no mentions last week of Shulman’s visits to the White House on CNN, on ABC, on CBS or on NBC. None. Nada. Zip. That is what’s called a news blackout.”
But what “no spin” O’Reilly didn’t mention is that Shulman did not visit the White House 157 times. As The Atlantic explains:
And yet the public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that... Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That’s 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.
Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate.
…Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information—confirming that he actually went to them—for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments.
Whose blacking out the news now, O’Reilly?
Instead of clarifying the record about Shulman, O’Reilly said that while “at this point,” there’s no evidence of President Obama’s involvement in the so-called IRS scandal, “There is evidence that his deputies are involved and we could be repeating history.” By that he meant Watergate. “It took more than two years to flesh out the entire Watergate mess,” he said. So while O’Reilly again insisted he was not saying the IRS scandal is Watergate, he kept suggesting it could be. Then he bashed Tom Brokaw for saying that this controversy is not Watergate because no laws have been broken.
O’Reilly neatly ignored the no-laws-broken part as he condemned Brokaw's conclusion and announced, “It all comes back to honest reporting.”
But while that kind of spin from Bill O’Reilly was to be expected, I still held out hope that Woodward would slice through it and reveal what is at least as important, if not more important, than any truth uncovered in the IRS controversy: that Fox is using this story in a dishonest way to advance an anti-Obama agenda. But my hopes were dashed. Again.
Woodward didn’t exactly jump on the Watergate train. He told O'Reilly, “This is not Watergate at all.” But, he hardly debunked the nonsense, either.
Woodward said that there are “certainly” comparisons to be made between the IRS matter and Watergate because the IRS is part of the government. “This fiction that it’s totally an independent agency is absurd. …Clearly, in the pipeline, lots of people knew some of this or should know it and I agree this needs to be investigated,” he said.
Woodward didn’t point out that unlike in Watergate, no crime has occurred. Woodward didn’t even note that nearly three-quarters of the political groups targeted by the IRS were not identifiably opponents of the White House. Instead, he offered the mildest (and most irrelevant) of balance by saying that President Obama should do the investigating because the Obama administration “still respond(s)” to questions. And then Woodward took O’Reilly’s word for it that the White House had not yet explained the 157 visits from Shulman. “I’ll put in a request on it,” Woodward promised.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Woodward to tell O’Reilly or anyone else at Fox that the whole 157-visit thing is just a bunch of baloney.
As Woodward should have been able to respond, Watergate was but one example of many of outright criminality going on in the Nixon Administration. This wasn’t a matter of bureaucrats, policy differences or paperwork. Nixon’s people were grafting, stealing, moving money and pulling all kinds of dirty tricks. Breaking into the office at the Watergate Hotel was just the tip of the iceberg, and it was part of a much broader set of behavior. Woodward knows this, since he and Bernstein broke most of that story at the time. And not only was the behavior illegal, but Nixon was personally involved in it, as his own office tapes confirmed. When the heat got to be too much, he did the infamous “I am not a crook” talk – but even this was a lie. Nixon was absolutely a crook, and so were many of the people in his employ.
We faced this again with the Iran/Contra matter, which was arguably more serious than Watergate in that you had a bunch of people inside the Reagan White House violating not only the Congress but also several pre-existing laws in order to achieve their own agenda. As Caspar Weinberger pointed out at the time, it was illegal for Reagan and his people to sell weapons to Iran, even if he washed them through Israel. (The infamous exchange was preserved by the National Security Archive – wherein Weinberger told Reagan at a cabinet briefing in 1985 that this was illegal. Reagan answered “I can handle the illegality, Cap. But I don’t think the American people can handle that Ronald Reagan didn’t do anything to get the hostages out.” To which Weinberger famously answered: “Visiting hours are on Thursdays, Mr. President.”) Compounding the criminality was the decision to then take the money from these illegal sales and send it to the Contras in Nicaragua, in direct violation of the Congress and the Boland Amendment. As before, the record wound up showing a serious amount of blatant criminality, which frankly should have resulted in Reagan’s impeachment or resignation. People forget this in all the hagiography about how great the Reagan presidency was. As it was, Reagan was able to weather the storm long enough to get out of office without having to endure the disgrace Nixon did.
But this was not what the Reagan people tried to call the “criminalization of policy differences”. It was the pursuit of a criminal policy via criminal means.
The current matters facing President Obama really pale in comparison. You have Benghazi, which was already investigated and found to be a matter of State Department people getting caught flatfooted in the middle of a region-wide riot. You have the IRS matter, which is mostly a situation of filing and sorting that the right wing would like people to think is some kind of sinister plot. (Except for the fact that nobody was prevented from running their political ads, least of all in Ohio, which was inundated with Tea Party materials for the whole time from 2010 through 2012) And you have the press matter, which is sadly legal under the Patriot Act and the Espionage Act, the former of which was loudly supported by AM radio and Fox News under Bush. So I am forced to ask in looking for the deadly scandal that Fox News insists is here: “Where’s the beef?”
IRS = a faux political witch hunt by a faux news network.
Unfortunate that Woodward either can’t or won’t discern the difference.
Remember, Numbers don’t lie, but I do!