In his speech on the middle class last week in Illinois, President Obama argued, "[W]ith this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney used similar language, lamenting the "phony scandals that have captured the attention of many here in Washington."
For reporters and Republicans heavily invested in made-up controversies, the choice of words clearly rankled. Consider this exchange on Fox News yesterday between Chris Wallace and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
Note in the clip how Wallace makes a deliberately misleading argument by putting it in the form of a question: "Does the president think that the IRS targeting of conservative groups is a phony scandal?" He added, "Explain to me how it was that conservative groups were targeted by the IRS."
Lew patiently tried to explain, "Chris, what we found out as we went through to find the facts is that there was equal opportunity and bad judgment. It was conservative groups. It was progressive groups."
That's a good response, which has the added benefit of being true.
Wallace has a point he wants his Fox audience to believe, but there's simply no evidence that the IRS "targeted conservative groups." That's simply not what happened. Fox hosts can keep phrasing it this way, and I'm sure Peggy Noonan will be delighted if it does, but doesn't make this story any less phony.
To reiterate what we discussed in early June, everything about this entire political controversy has been discredited; all of the allegations have proven baseless.
The political world treated Scandal Mania as a toy for several weeks, which eventually grew tiresome when those interested in facts realized there's no there there. As Jon Chait put it, "The entire scandal narrative was an illusion."
Perhaps instead of misleading questions, Wallace and others can explain why they pushed a non-story so aggressively?