Over the last week and a half of scandal-mongering, most people on the left have agreed on the basic contours of the story. Benghazi isn't a "scandal," because tragic as the killings there were, there's no evidence of malfeasance on the part of Obama administration—no crimes, no cover-up. (And no, interagency bickering over talking points does not constitute a cover-up). The IRS, on the other hand, is potentially scandalous, there having almost certainly been inappropriate behavior on the part of some of the agency's employees, but it doesn't seem to reach up to the White House. And the Justice Department's subpoenaing of phone logs from the Associated Press isn't a "scandal" as much as a disagreement over policy. What Justice did was problematic in a number of ways, but it was also legal; touching as Republicans' newfound interest in press freedoms is, you can't simply call any policy you don't like a "scandal" just because it happens to be in the news at the same time as other things you want to become scandals.
But now we have learned of something much more serious. In its zeal to pursue a case against a State Department official for leaking a classified report on North Korea, the FBI not only went after a reporter's phone records, but tracked his movements in and out of the State Department building and accessed his emails. In a request for a search warrant, they claim to have probable cause to believe the reporter broke the law "at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator." How did he break the law? By writing a story based on what his source told him.
It's a good bet that conservatives will be up in arms about this new case for little reason other than that the reporter, James Rosen, happened to work for Fox News. They'll cry that this is all of a piece with the IRS story, an Obama administration campaign to intimidate its political opponents. One can acknowledge the absurdity of that argument but still be extremely concerned, to say the least, about this case.
When all the facts are known, it may turn out that the FBI acted within the law in pursuing this reporter. But leaks happen in Washington every day, and if the government starts treating every reporter who obtains one from a source as though he or she is a criminal suspect, even conservatives' opportunistic warnings of overreach are going to start to sound reasonable.
So They Say
"Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it."
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, finding many faults with the Obamas' moralizing speeches to black colleges this weekend
Daily Meme: Climate Changes
- The environment seems to be on the minds of many a journalist this week; stories about climate change and its many dismal effects are running rampant across the web ...
- ... perhaps inspired by the studies currently predicting disaster if temperatures keep rising like they do ...
- ... and the fact that communities the world over—like the Rockaways or Newtok, Alaska or the Great Plains—are already cleaning up from disasters past and ongoing.
- This American Life devoted an entire hour to climate change this weekend.
- In Detroit, they're watching the slow accumulation of petroleum coke at Koch Mountain, where oil sands from Canada are refined, and the byproduct dumped, all thanks to the famously rich brothers.
- Speaking of oil sands, the House is going to vote on a bill that would expedite Keystone XL construction this Wednesday.
- Meanwhile, Organizing for America, the former Obama election behemoth turned grassroots policy organizing behemoth is starting a big push against climate change deniers ...
- ... but environmental groups want the organization to start explicitly campaigningagainst Keystone.
- Elizabeth Kolbert bleakly lays out what Obama's support of the pipeline would mean: "Once Keystone is built, there will be no putting the tar back in the sands. The pipeline isn’t inevitable, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s just another step on the march to disaster."
What We're Writing
- "It’s plenty exciting to see the branches of government start pressing the military to clean out its Augean Stable as far as sexual assault goes," writes Nancy Goldstein. Now, she argues, similar attention should be paid to preventing service-member suicides, which have been on a steady rise for the past 12 years.
- The newest edition of psychiatry's "Bible," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), will be released this weekend, and critics charge its more relaxed guidelines will lead everyone and their mother (because of their mother) to end up medicated and psychoanalyzed. Gabriel Arana writes that, actually, undertreatment is the primary problem with mental illness in the U.S.; if the new DSM helps fix that, so much the better.
What We're Reading
- Is the Virginia GOP's pick for lieutenant governor the "craziest black conservative"we've yet seen? Jonathan Chait thinks so.
- Jamelle Bouie says that Virginia Republicans' gubernatorial contender, right-winger Ken Cuccinelli, will be poorly served by his even more extreme running mate.
- Does geography explain why some state capitols are more corrupt than others? Two studies say so.
- Poverty is a problem all over the United States, but it's growing twice as fast in the suburbs.
- "There is a technical term economists like to use for behavior like this. Unbelievable chutzpah.” So a professor describes Apple's truly insane use of tax shelters.
- Jane Mayer checks in on the Koch brothers.
Poll of the Day
Scandal fever is gripping Washington, but it's yet to hit the general populace. Fifty-three percent still approve of President Obama, according to a CNN poll. That figure is up two points from last month, back when the White House had no reason to dislike the IRS more than any other American.