The most specious (and probably predictable) reaction to the unfolding scandal imperiling the presidential aspirations of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a silly attempt at misdirection by whiny conservatives who complain that journalists ignored the Obama administration’s Benghazi and IRS “scandals” but have jumped all over Christie.
Because he is a Republican.
I don’t know where this fake talking point first originated — my guess is Fox News — but my in-box has been full of emails from readers asking, as one did: “So how does Benghazi impact Clinton? Does this mean she'll never be president?”
Another suggested, “Maybe you could really cut your teeth on much more serious matters like Benghazi and the IRS targeting of conservative groups.”
And maybe you people could start paying attention.
But why would we expect that, when even the news doesn't pay attention to the news?
Monday, a laughable headline over a column in the New York Post declared: “Why Bridgegate made headlines, but Obama’s IRS scandal didn’t.”
Is this sloppy language or sloppy thinking?
As it happens, the IRS story got plenty of headlines. Every news outlet in the country in every medium — newspaper, television, radio, Internet — covered it. In fact, I tried to count the Post's own headlines on IRS “scandal” stories, but gave up because there were too many.
Perhaps that Post headline writer meant to say the IRS “scandal” has not gotten traction. The reason it did not get traction with voters is because the partisans who pushed it overreached.
No amount of reporting can change the reality for Republicans (especially Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and proud architect of pointless, politically self-serving investigations) that the IRS was trying to do its job. In some contexts, ineptitude — say, a botched hurricane response — is scandalous.
But that’s not what happened here.
Sure, conservatives went crazy after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s famous May 2013 audit found the IRS may have flagged groups with “tea party” in their names for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
But that's because Issa had asked the inspector general to look only at how tea party-affiliated groups were treated. He didn’t care to know, as we later found out thanks to Democrats on his committee, that the IRS was also flagging applications from liberal groups that used terms such as “progressive,” “medical marijuana” or “healthcare legislation.”
The IRS, see, was trying to prevent groups whose work is mainly political from receiving inappropriate tax-exempt status.
As for Benghazi, no any amount of reporting can change the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton did not cause the tragedy that befell four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, nor that the Obama White House did not lie about what happened.
Will the events of Benghazi affect the presumed White House aspirations of former Secretary of State Clinton? Probably not. The people hammering away on the Benghazi tragedy were never going to support her anyway. And we see that exhaustive reporting, most recently by David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, has done nothing to quell her critics, who, like Issa, operate purely out of partisan instincts, not a quest for the truth.
Unfortunately for Christie, the jury is still out on what happened in Fort Lee in September, which means it’s also out for the Republican donors who will not want to fund a tainted candidate, and for the tea party wing of the GOP, whose support in the grueling primary phase of the campaign is important. (Don’t forget: Rick Santorum, who thinks contraception is a bad thing, beat the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney, in the Iowa caucuses in 2012.)
In a bad break for Christie, reports surfaced Monday that federal auditors are looking into whether New Jersey improperly used federal disaster funds for political purposes after the Christie family was prominently featured in tourism ads for the state during his reelection campaign.
Eventually, the state and federal investigations focusing on Bridgegate will provide some much needed answers. We don’t yet know exactly why Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, orchestrated a four-day traffic jam on what is said to be the world’s busiest bridge.
Nor do we know yet whether Christie, despite his denials, explicitly or implicitly played a role.
Until we do, the Obama and Clinton haters can scream “Squirrel!” til they're blue in the face. Doesn’t mean we have to look.