As the Obama scandals surround the White House, some conservatives are suggesting that -- finally -- the media are "getting tough" on Obama. Don't count on it. All our modern experience suggests tough reporting on a Democratic president is more of a temporary sensation than an ongoing trend.
The news media honestly believe they were tough on Team Clinton. It is simply not true. There was a seemingly endless supply of Clinton administration (and Clinton pre-administration) scandals, yet can you name one that was resolved? The floating FBI files. The illegal fundraising. Whitewater. On and on they went, and the media response was predictable: two or three days of tough coverage -- if at all -- and then, inevitably, political spin overtaking the hunt for facts. The search for truth became a discussion about "Republican overreach."
Bill Clinton committed a crime -- perjury -- but that story quickly dissolved, replaced by an expose on GOP excesses in pursuit of a Puritanical agenda over the Lewinsky affair. Almost overnight, the media target became Ken Starr, not Bill Clinton.
Already some in the news media are setting the stage -- at least trying to set the stage -- for a repeat of 1998, taking the bull's eye off the Obama administration and putting it squarely on the leadership of the GOP.
On May 16, NBC "Today" co-host Savannah Guthrie began the rush to question Republican zeal: "I read a headline yesterday that said Republicans see blood in the water. That they see a president who's very vulnerable politically. Is there a danger that they will overreach?" White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed: "There is. I mean, that's what happened to Republicans in 1998 with Bill Clinton. And if all of Congress is focusing on hearings to do scandals, the voters will punish them. They've done it in the past."
This is historical revisionism. The actual results of the 1998 elections cannot be painted as "punishment" of any sort. The Senate remained unchanged with Democrats still in the majority. House Republicans lost five seats and retained control. At worst, the Republicans failed to capitalize politically on these scandals -- but they did not suffer. None of this matters, however. The media spin is that Republicans will suffer. Their wish is clearly that this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
ABC "Good Morning America" co-host George Stephanopoulos also pushed the revisionist line on May 17, asking reporter Jonathan Karl, "Are some leaders worried that some of the Republicans may be overplaying their hand?"