Here are two stories with the same plot: Democratic politicians get caught doing something bad, but journalists overreach and make accusations that go beyond the evidence–or even against the facts. The Democratic politician ends up nearly untouched.
Bob Woodward last week did a very good bit of journalism — the sort of journalism about President Obama the Washington Post and other major outlets did far too little of during the campaign. Woodward reported out the facts that very clearly showed Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were blatantly misrepresenting the history of the sequester — showing either bad memory or dishonesty.
This is an important story because it demonstrates an under-reported fact of this administration: its tendency to mislead the public and the media.
But then Woodward went a step further: he argued that the White House, by seeking tax hikes (oh sorry, am I supposed to say “new revenue”?) as part of a sequestration-replacement, was somehow shifting the “goal posts.” (Dave Weigel at Slate explains this all pretty clearly here.) Then Woodward took yet another step by going along with the claims the White House tried to intimidate him. This wasn’t true, we found out when the White House, presumably, leaked the supposedly intimidating emails.
So, Woodward’s good reporting — on Obama’s and Lew’s false and self-serving account of history — gets buried as the media swarms over more sensationalistic charges that are easily rebutted. At the bottom of this post, you can see me discussing this on CNN over the weekend.
Then the same thing happened with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. Menendez has a long, seemingly shady relationship with a major donor named Salomon Melgen. Menendez has repeatedly pushed legislation to help Melgen.
But another story about Melgen and Menendez got more attention: a charge involving prostitutes on a trip in which Melgen brought Menendez to the Dominican Republic. Much recent evidence suggests the prostitution-related charges are false.
So, Menendez now looks vindicated from the most eye-catching Melgen-related charges against him. But wait! Did he push policies to reward a donor? That story got less play because of the prostitution story.
Democrats win these two battles thanks to unforced errors by the journalists who set out to hold them accountable.