President Obama annoyed his conservative critics quite a bit two weeks ago when he argued, “[W]ith this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball.” For the right, the controversies they’ve grown to love aren’t “phony” at all, so they’ve complained ever since.
So, Fox News conducted a poll.
Voters in the Fox News poll also indicated they thought the controversies should be taken more seriously. […]
The Fox News poll phrases the question as an either or question on all the scandals: “Please tell me whether you think this is a situation that should be taken seriously or if it’s more of a phony scandal.”
If you’re familiar with Fox News polling, you know it’s generally wise to take the network’s surveys with a grain of salt. Fox goes to remarkable, almost comical, lengths to guide respondents to the answer the network wants to hear.
But for now, let’s put that aside and consider the results. A 59% majority, for example, believes the “IRS scandal” is real and deserves to be taken seriously. The same majority reached the same conclusion on the subpoenas of AP reporters during a leak investigation, while a 78% majority also rejects the assertion that the Benghazi political controversy is phony.
And this brings us back to a discussion from last week. The political world and major news organizations were quick to let the public know about the so-called “White House scandals,” taking disparate stories, tying them together, and telling Americans Obama’s presidency had been rocked by “scandal.”
In time, the controversies either fell apart or became more routine policy disputes – including, in some cases, debates in which Republicans agreed with the president – making the whole “scandal” narrative look pretty silly.
But therein lies the rub: the political world neglected to mention this to the public. Of course the polls show results like these.
When the stories first broke, Americans were told, “OMG! Look over here!” And when details emerged showing the stories weren’t quite so scandalous after all, Americans weren’t told much of anything, leaving the public with the impression that those “scandals” were real.
I still think this matters, for all of the reasons we talked about last week: misguided coverage of phony controversies led the public to believe President Obama and his administration were responsible for serious misdeeds. The taint of “scandal” remains, for no reason other than the political world told the public about allegations, but decided the evidence to the contrary wasn’t important.
The result is polling data pointing to a predictable public reaction: Americans taking stories seriously that were discredited months ago.