Ignore the Twitter News Cycle on Scandals

On Tuesday, they were measuring out the president’s tomb. Yesterday, with no big revelations on any of the current scandals (or “scandals” as the case may be), liberals at least, and I get the sense much of the neutral press, is almost ready to announce the whole thing a dud.

They were wrong on Tuesday; they were wrong yesterday. The truth? We mostly don’t know what will happen.

Look, the Benghazi thing remains, as far as I’m concerned, just as big a nothing as it’s been all along; the talking points, which have been the GOP focus, just don’t matter. That said, however, there’s nothing that’s happened which makes it likely that Republicans are going to give up on Benghazi. And if they keep pushing, they’ll eventually have another day somewhere down the road where neutral reporters will get tempted to buy back in on the “where there’s smoke” theory.

As far as the IRS mess ..well, it’s absolutely possible that we know pretty much everything that will matter. On the other hand — there’s going to be a serious investigation on the IRS, and Congressional hearings. There’s no way of knowing, at this point, whether there’s anything else to find out or not. The IG report (as one conservative tweeted today; sorry, don’t remember who) is not necessarily the final word; it’s really not hard to imagine any number of fresh revelations that could emerge which could make the scandal much worse, without resorting to far-fetched scenarios. I’m not predicting it will; just saying that there’s absolutely no reason to guess one way or the other what an investigation will show.

The same is basically true about the AP/DoJ story, although there it’s less a case of discovering what happened in this particular case and whether it was kosher than of deep press interest in keeping the story alive. Still, a live story means reporters actively digging for something to justify it. They might find stuff!

Again: I’m not predicting very much here, other than that Republicans are almost certainly going to stick with Benghazi and IRS regardless of what they find, and that the press is likely to behave the way they always behave — which includes love of scandals. But I didn’t get around to writing a “calm down, relax, be patient” post about all this back on Monday and Tuesday when the press was freaking out, and that kind of thing is still just as worth saying to the extent that they’re now ready to declare the whole thing over.

Real investigations don’t conform to twitter news cycles. Or even the old 24-hour news cycles. Just remember, when you’re consuming the news, that you’re reading a lot of people who have massive incentives and norms that involve rushing to judgement on everything. Be aware of it, and be ready to fight it.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.