Have you ever wondered why some scandals are more scandalous than others? Nobody died at Watergate, but it would be hard to overestimate the political shock waves that resulted. Compare that to lying about the notion that a video caused Benghazi—or the fact that not all of Hillary Clinton’s emails (sent from a private account on a private server!) have been recovered—and the dichotomy is stark.
This, of course, brings us to FBI Director James Comey’s decision not to recommend indicting Clinton (which came on the heels of former President Bill Clinton having a private meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch). For whatever reason—be it ideological bias, the fact that the legal options have now been exhausted, or simply a modern bias toward “horse race” coverage over substance—the press’s outrage doesn’t feel so breathless.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s recent mini-scandals (including sending out the Star of David tweet and saying positive things about Saddam Hussein) predictably overshadowed the Clinton story.
For those who are wondering if we will ever resolve this perpetual problem Republicans have with the press, there are two schools of thought regarding how to handle this perceived media double standard.
The first theory says the game is rigged and that political correctness is run amok. But instead of bowing to this, we should simply ignore it. This school of thought applauds Trump’s refusal to stay on message as an act of heroic civil disobedience. What is more, they claim that he is actually shifting the Overton Window. These frustrated Americans would rather win the argument than win the election—but they will end up losing both.
The other school of thought is resigned to the status quo. These people also concede the fix is in, but rationalize that we should just accept the world as it is. Republicans must play the hand they are dealt. What are you gonna do? they say. This sort of “small ball” sometimes results in a short-term electoral “win,” but does nothing to resolve the long-term problems that require Republicans to campaign on pins and needles.
Both theories are problematic. Conservatives who worry about political bias must launch a sustained campaign to challenge and correct media bias where it exists and also field candidates capable of running disciplined campaigns that can survive in the current media milieu.
I could write an entire book on how to actually accomplish this, but the bottom line is that the first step is to admit we have been given a false choice: One side is guilty of magical thinking and quixotic optimism; the other is guilty of cynicism. Both sides are destined to fail. Winning requires thinking about this in a different way.