Scandal in the Age of Obama

If anyone has reason to complain about this White House, it’s reporters who live off of presidential scandals. In the post-Watergate era, most presidents have offered these reporters plenty to chew on, but President Obama has left them starving.

Reagan had Iran-Contra and the S&L debacle. Clinton had the Lewinsky affair. Bush/Cheney had so many scandals, it was tough to keep up with them all: lying a nation into a war, illegal wiretaps, Abu Ghraib, the U.S. Attorneys purge, outing a CIA operative and then lying about it, Hatch Act violations, MMS corruption, paying pundits to toe the administration’s line, the suppression of scientific data the White House found politically inconvenient, the misuse of “faith-based” grants to help Republican congressional candidates, inviting a male prostitute to ask friendly questions during press conferences, etc.

Reporters love White House scandals, but with Obama, there just haven’t been any. In a new piece in the new print edition of the Washington Monthly, Jonathan Alter reports on the changing nature of Washington feeding frenzies in an era when the president just isn’t accused of anything scandalous. The editors’ summary of the story helps set the stage for an interesting piece:

For all the trends working against his chances of re-election, Barack Obama does have one thing going for him that few pundits have recognized: he’s gone longer than any recent president without facing a classic scandal. Yes, there have been birthers, uproars over “policy czars,” and empty allegations of corruption. But even the Solyndra affair seems to have fizzled without the mainstream press invoking the “s” word on a front page.

In his new cover story for the Washington Monthly, Jonathan Alter steps back and asks why this is. Could it be the Obama administration’s obsession with running a tight ship, and its willingness to fire officials at the drop of a hat whenever the appearance of impropriety arises (remember Shirley Sherrod)? Is it the high-stakes news climate that has not relented since Obama took office, leaving little air for prurient digging? Is it the historic decline of investigative reporting? Or could it be that our hyper-partisan climate has, counter-intuitively, made scandalous accusations less likely to catch fire in the mainstream media, and more likely to burn themselves out in niche outlets?

These and other factors have not necessarily made Obama a beloved president, but they have made him a Teflon one. And in a tight race, that could turn out to give him the extra margin he needs to stay in office.

Read “Scandal in the Age of Obama.”

Also note, the entire table of contents for the new issue was also published online this morning.