MRC Special Report: The Media's Obama Miracle

How Journalists Pretend There Aren't Any White House Scandals

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On October 27, 2011, former Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter wrote a column for Bloomberg News headlined “Obama Miracle is White House Free of Scandal.” Alter began: “President Barack Obama goes into the 2012 [race] with a weak economy that may doom his reelection. But he has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest.”

Alter even bragged: “According to a metric created by political scientist Brendan Nyhan, Obama set a record earlier this month for most days without a scandal of any president since 1977.” Nyhan’s methodology insisted that a president doesn’t have a scandal until The Washington Post calls it a “scandal” by using that precise word.

This grants nearly all the power in defining what is or is not a scandal to the Washington media elite. Congress can launch investigations, hold hearings, or otherwise make real news, but journalists have repeatedly ignored or dismissed the Obama scandals. (This also helps to keep the Obama scandals from entering the satire stream of late-night comedy shows.) 

To study the media “miracle” of scandal denial, MRC analysts reviewed the coverage – or more precisely, the stunning lack of coverage – of just a few Obama scandals and allegations, large and small, on the morning and evening news shows of ABC, CBS, and NBC, and found: 

– Fast and Furious: The Obama Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious” encouraged American gun shops to sell weapons to Mexican drug cartels, which backfired as Mexican gangs shot and killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010 (as well as many Mexican citizens) with guns they allowed to “walk.” While CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson filed 29 stories unspooling the scandal, ABC and NBC stayed almost perfectly silent for many months, even as Attorney General Eric Holder admitted he had misled Congress about when he learned of “Fast and Furious.” Only when Congress voted to hold Holder in contempt did they discover the story, and then it was dismissed on NBC as “vicious” and “another example of our broken politics.” 

– Solyndra: In the first two months of 2002, the Big Three networks reported a stunning 198 stories on the Enron bankruptcy, often tying the fiasco to President Bush. By comparison, since declaring bankruptcy on August 31, 2011, despite a half-billion dollars in federal loans from the Energy Department through Obama donor connections, ABC, CBS, and NBC filed a grand total of 24 stories on Solyndra, and barely connected it to Obama -- even as Obama told ABC he had no regrets, and even as the promise of “green jobs” demonstrably collapsed.

– MF Global:
An investment company run by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (a major Obama fundraiser) declared bankruptcy on Halloween 2011 and admitted they lost more than a billion dollars of customer money that was supposed to be kept separately from risky investment schemes. This scandal garnered only six full stories and 16 briefs. Only NBC once mentioned Corzine was a Democrat. None even whispered any connection to Obama. 

– Gibson Guitar:
Some scandals are less weighty, but more interesting to viewers. Federal agents twice raided the plants of Gibson Guitar in Tennessee to investigate whether they improperly imported wood from Madagascar and India, but waited for almost a year before settling with the guitar maker for a $300,000 fine. No one found it newsworthy that Gibson’s CEO is a Republican donor, while other guitar makers who weren’t Republicans were not raided by the government over wood imports.

– Reverend Wright:
After a long silence after the inauguration, as the networks pretended Obama’s longtime reverend Jeremiah Wright didn’t exist, network stories erupted in mid-May at the whisper of an idea that Republicans might exploit him in an ad. But the networks offered nothing on an interview in Ed Klein’s book The Amateur, where Reverend Wright claimed in a taped interview that Obama friends offered money for silence. 

A recent Gallup survey concluded that only 21 percent of those surveyed had confidence in television news. As the nonpartisan Tyndall Report found, broadcast networks racked up 171 minutes of royal-wedding coverage and 111 minutes on the Michael Jackson wrongful-death trial on the evening news in 2011. But Obama scandal news – and hence, any notion the media act as a watchdog or a check on government – was almost nonexistent.