3 Followups on 3 'Scandals'

Searching for leakers inside an organization is one thing; dragging in reporters -- or doctors, or clergy -- is another, and usually a mistake.

After this item late last night.

1) Benghazi remains a tragedy but not a "scandal," as a number of clearer-thinking Republicans are noting

2) The IRS/Tea Party imbroglio also looks more like a mess, and less like a scandal, as extra details emerge.  Ben Domenech of Real Clear Politics, no fan of Obama or the Democrats, made this point about the complex stew of facts:
The scandals we are talking about in Washington today are not tied to the individual of Barack Obama. While there's still more information to be gathered and more investigations to be done, all indications are that these decisions - on the AP, on the IRS, on Benghazi - don't proceed from him. The talk of impeachment is absurd. The queries of "what did the president know and when did he know it" will probably end up finding out "just about nothing, and right around the time everyone else found out."

3) Many, many readers are unhappy with my assertion last night that the AP leak investigation is the one of these episodes that should be held against the president. Samples:

Is it your position that any government official should be able to leak any classified information to a journalist with impunity even when that leak endangers lives and compromises national security? Where are your boundaries?


I don't think you're really grappling with President Obama's argument in favor of the leak investigation. His argument is straightforward: revealing national security secrets is a matter of life and death for Americans overseas. Anyone who reveals those secrets should be arrested and prosecuted as a matter of justice and deterrence. That's a solid argument, and for you to rebut Obama by talking about the lessons of history is an exercise in evasion. When Aldrich Ames exposed the names of CIA agents and sources to the Soviet Union, those agents and sources were promptly arrested and executed. It seems very likely that the wikileaks data dumps had the same result, especially since Julian Assange refused to redact any of the information. The Bradley Manning court case has been an embarrassment, but it's hard to argue that the federal government should not have moved heaven and earth to find the culprit and prosecute him.
I could be persuaded that AG Holder was wrong ... and that President Obama was wrong in backing him. But I am skeptical that the verdict of history is self-evidently against the president, who after all does have a responsibility to protect national security. One of the temptations that presidents should avoid is worrying about looking better in history's eyes. As you know, history is greatly influenced by journalists, who have a certain conflict of interest on issues like this. I am sure the President would rather not prevent journalists from talking to sources (in contrast to President Bush, who would have been overjoyed to send a few journalists to prison), but it's not his top priority. Should it be? You still have to do the hard work of arguing that this tactic, in this instance, was misguided.

Several people also pointed out this item, by Kevin Drum, on why the government took such a hard line in this leak case (although they've been consistently hard on leakers all along). And a university math professor said, in response to my claim that "secrets always get out," "My jaw dropped reading that, given the selection bias inherent in the claim!" (If I had said "all secrets always get out," I would have to respond Touché. My point is that every president has had to cope with "shocking" and "dangerous" releases of classified information.)

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In