18 1/2 Minutes vs. 2 Years: Which Is Worse?
Writing yesterday about the IRS’s amazing loss of more than two years of Lois Lerner’s emails (“Where’d they go? They were here just a minute ago!”), I wondered in passing how the Extended White House Public Relations Office, e.g., the New York Times, MSNBC, et al. would handle the news. The Nixon White House, you’ll recall, found quite a lot of the morning’s scrambled on its collective countenance when 18 and 1/2 minutes of audio tape somehow—somehow!—went missing as the Watergate scandal unfolded around the president.
What a godsend to the guardians of our "Right to Know" Watergate was! Day after day, week after week, month after month, the front pages and editorial pages of our former Paper of Record were full of stern admonitions about that egregious abuse of executive power. You could not look at the paper without a synesthetic shudder: Reading it, you could almost hear them licking their chops as their prey—the dastardly Richard Nixon—came ever closer to his doom.
So how does the New York Times handle this extraordinary loss of two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails? (“Really, they were here just a minute ago. We were just about to hand them over to Congress when, gosh darn, they just vanished. Damndest thing.”)
This will amaze you, I know, but it is true: the New York Times today devotes zero words to the story. Take a look at the front page here: Nothing. There are a couple of articles about Iraq’s descent into chaos—Iraq, the country whose transformation Joe Biden, in 2010, called one of the “greatest achievements” of the Obama administration. “I’ve been there 17 times now,” the vice president told Larry King. “I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.” But I digress . . .
What else do we have on the front page? Warnings about a connection between obesity and liver disease. Something about the tea party in the aftermath of David Brat’s upset victory in Virginia and a story about restauranteurs upset by apps bypassing maitre d’s in securing good tables at posh eateries. The public has a right to know these things. There is also advance word about a coming article about the entertainer “Beyoncé the Boundless” (they teach alliteration in J school), the soccer games in Brazil, and sundry other topics.
What about the missing emails? Nary a word on the front page. Or the next page. Or the next or the next. The editorial page has a stern piece about “The Soros Cycle of Endless Cash”—oh, wait, no, it’s not about the left-wing billionaire George Soros. My mistake. What he does with his money is his business. It’s about—can you guess?—yes! The Koch brothers, the men the Times just loves to hate. But about the missing emails in one of the most disgusting political scandals in recent times, the deployment of the IRS with its virtually unlimited powers, against political opponents of the administration? Nothing. Nada. Rien.
In my piece yesterday, I ended by wondering just when the Fourth Estate and the people were going to wake up to the spectacle of abuse of power and dereliction of duty in the White House—“the misconduct of public men,” Alexander Hamilton called it? The beheadings and rapes in Iraq seem far away. The release of five top Taliban murderers for one army deserter may seem abstract. The slaughter of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans by al Qaeda offshoots in Benghazi after the administration first denied their requests for greater security and then refused to lift a finger to help them during their 8-hour fire fight—“at this point,” as former Secretary of State Hillary “I was poor like you” Clinton put it, “what difference does it make?” Deliberately lying to the public about Obamacare, “period,” who can really get their minds around that?
But here we have a former senior official from the IRS who deliberately harassed hundreds of conservatives groups. She has taken the 5th Amendment—why? What sort of self-incrimination is she worried about? A look through her emails would have the answer. But those emails are, according to the IRS, unavailable because of a hard disk failure. Do you believe that? Do you believe that the agency charged with tax gathering for the United States does not have multiple backups of its business correspondence? Do you? Imagine what the IRS would have to say to a (conservative) business it decided to audit if a request for electronic records was met with, “Gosh darn, we had a hard disk failure, and they’re just plum gone.” Imagine. And why have there not been instant calls for the data recovery folks to get involved? Why? The public, I’d wager, would find all this keenly interesting—if only the people charged with reporting the news would tell them about it.
Maybe I am naive, but I wouldn't be surprised if those missing two years' worth of emails does for Obama what the missing 18 1/2 minutes of audio tape did for Richard Nixon.