Mark it on your calendars: if President Obama has just 20 days to go -- October 6! -- in order to claim the record as the most scandal-free president since 1977. The prior record holder is also his predecessor: George W. Bush, who in the appraisal of Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan, hit the first scandal of his presidency on October 5, 2003, with the Valerie Plame affair. Nyhan's study this past May predicted that Obama was due for a scandal any day and the Solyndra loan matter may just be the issue that attaches the first S-word to Obama. Literally.
The criteria for what amounts to a scandal according to Nyhan is whether a news story on the front page of The Washington Post uses that word "scandal" in the reporter's own voice to describe the president or his administration. His study cites a other political scientists who have argued that what the Post publishes is a good measure of elite opinion, and thus, he would argue, can pinpoint the moment when a brewing controversy solidifies into a bona fide scandal. As Nyhan wrote in his study: "This restriction helps identify the most salient controversies at the point at which they become highly prominent and generate widespread coverage."
Bush made it 34 months before the controversy over the White House's outing of then-undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame hit The Post's front page on October 5, 2003 with the headline, "A Question of Naming Names: Journalists' Secrecy at Issue in Scandal."
Obama had a close call with the ATF blunder Operation Fast and Furious and other newspapers (as well as The Atlantic Wire) have already used the s-word to describe solar technology company Solyndra. Nyhan is watching The Post closely. "Solyndra definitely could break Obama's scandal-free streak," he says. "I'm keeping an eye on the story, but it hasn't crossed the threshold I use in my research yet -- the only Post print article on Solyndra with the word scandal in it so far is an editorial that says the controversy 'may mutate from an embarrassment to a scandal.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.