Politics

08.02.13

Why Can't "No Scandal" Be Big News?

Via Ezra I see this fascinating set of graphs from Brendan Nyhan at CJR about coverage of the IRS "scandal" at major media outlets. He finds that at the New York Times and the Washington Post, they published far more IRS stories in the early days, when everyone thought it might be a real story, and far fewer over the period of time that it has become clear to everyone this side of Our Lady of the Magic Dolphins that it's a nothing sandwich.

And over at Politico, perhaps unsurprisingly, the numbers are far, far, far more extreme. The Times and Post ran 10, 15 stories during the hot period. Politico ran nearly 70! And after all the excuplatory news breaks, about the White House not being involved and some progressive groups being targeted and so on--the stuff I've been writing about over the past three, four weeks--they've been down in single digits. I'm proud to say that if Nyhan had charted me, my line would be pretty much the opposite of Politico's.

I wonder what Politco's jefes would say about this. No, I know what they would say. We were "driving the day"!

This gets to the heart something that's very wrong about the way we define the word "news," and how it distorts people's views of...well, I guess I want to write here, of reality. In this case we had an admittedly suspicious looking set of circumstances. That guarantees huge coverage. Then on top of that we had a Republican (Darrell Issa) willing to say anything, make outlandish allegations. That guarantees huge coverage. But the closed-door testimony of bureaucrats? Not so much. And yet, the media helped get nearly half of America to think something corrupt happened here, when it did not. And the media are not set up to put toothpaste back in the tube.

By the way, more has happened this week on the exculpatory front. Ranking committee Democrat Elijah Cummings released some more transcripts on Monday showing no political motivation. Relatedly, the House R's were trying to push through three bills so they could try to wring at least a little blood out of this desert-dry well. One, for example, would have made it legal for any citizen to tape-record a conversation with a federal government employee without the employee's knowledge. If you're interested watch this less-than-three-minute-long video, which starts with the Fox crazy and then rebuts it to death.