MRC Special Report: The Media's Obama Miracle

How Journalists Pretend There Aren't Any White House Scandals

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.”   

One way journalists can present Obama as honest is by avoiding the coverage of stories which define the word “scandal.” Dana Milbank of The Washington Post was perplexed at the charge of scandal avoidance: “I think to say the media isn’t interested in scandal is preposterous. We love scandal. I love scandal. That’s the thing that really drives us...It’s not an ideological thing. I think the media would love to have an Obama scandal to cover.”     

But scandal coverage has long been an “ideological thing.” That begins with the assertion that there are zero Obama scandals for journalists to cover. In the Bush years, the TV networks and national newspapers thought most of what President Bush did was a scandal: the Iraq war was a scandal, and so were several spinoffs (Plamegate, Abu Ghraib prisoner humiliations, and so on). The war on terror was a scandal, from the detention and harsh interrogations of terror suspects at Guantanamo to the monitoring of phone conversations with terror suspects abroad.    

Whatever Obama has done to extend this battle (after dumping the “war on terror” mantle), from keeping Gitmo open to unleashing drone attacks – even one killing a radical-Muslim American citizen – are no longer treated as scandalous. 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.