Back in the days when the Internet was little more than a glimmer in Leonard Kleinrock's fertile imagination, journalists received and retrieved information via teletype. These steely behemoths -- one for A.P., one for U.P.I. and if lucky, one for Reuters -- droned the steady,
comforting clackity clack without which no newsroom was complete -- or real. The wire's omnipresent clackity clack, clackity clack, clackity clack provided a muted cadence; it was, in a sense, muzak for newshounds. About the only time that clackity clack became aurally manifest was when it was replaced by the harsh clanging of an adrenalizing bell. This meant that a story of great urgency was about to come over the wire . . . all hands on deck! (The first time I heard that "urgent bell" it was to give a heads-up that singer Jim Croce had died in a plane crash; the second, to announce the kidnapping of Patty Hearst - both major stories.) In those days, a story of developing urgency was a bit of a rarity. When the bell sounded, everyone was on high journalistic alert.
Fast forward to a time when there is no more clackity clack. Although certainly neither voiceless nor mute, the Internet and other purveyors of information have made it virtually impossible to distinguish between the mundane and the momentous. If the Internet -- or cable -- had an urgent bell, it would be clanging twenty-four/seven. The rarely-used adrenalizing klaxon of yesteryear has been replaced by a never-ending "headline crawler," which turns every cough into a catastrophe, every misstatement into a moment of truth. Simply stated, in a world where everything screams "urgent," people become both cynical and desensitized to that which may truly be important; the line between chimerical and critical has become blurred beyond reason.
Case in point: the ongoing Congressional hearings into "getting at the truth about Benghazi." True to form, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa is doing everything in his power to suggest that the Obama administration -- which of course includes former Secretary of State (and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) -- has been less than forthcoming about last September's terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate. (Many will recall an essay I published back in early January of 2011 entitled The Issa Man Cometh, in which I predicted that left to his own devices, Issa would investigate the dickens out of the Obama Administration.) Arkansas Governor -- and current FOX commentator -- Mike Huckabee has publicly stated that the Benghazi situation is so heinous, so critical -- so urgent -- that the president "will not fill out his full term." Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told an audience in Iowa that he thinks the Benghazi attack "precludes Hillary Clinton from ever holding office."
Clackity clack, clackity clack.
Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering (who received diplomatic appointments by Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush and Clinton) who, along with retired Admiral Mike Mullen chaired the Accountability and Review Board which looked into Benghazi, says that Issa's hearings have failed to uncover any new facts or failings. His testimony has basically been ignored. Also, he has been denied the opportunity to appear as a rebuttal witness. Despite this, Issa and Senators Paul, McCain and Ayotte persist in talking up a Watergate-like cover-up.
And you had better believe at least a half-dozen other committee chairs are going to institute hearings over recent news that some mid-level IRS people in the Cincinnati office targeted some Tea Party groups for scrutiny. Apparently, people in that office were investigating whether any of the new tax-exempt organizations created by the Citizens United case were, in fact, thinly-veiled partisan political groups. To be certain, the IRS isn't anyone's favorite federal agency; especially if you're a member of the Tea Party. But now, even before all the facts are in and any high-level investigation has even begun, people are referring to "Obama's IRS" -- as if he knows everything every auditor in every office is doing, and actually gave the order to harrass Tea Party groups.
The clackity clack of normal news has morphed into the urgent claxon if screaming headlines:
IMPEACH THE PRESIDENT!
WORSE THAN WATERGATE!
Mind you, this is by no means meant to minimize either the horror of Benghazi or the inherent boneheadedness of the IRS screw-up. I agree with The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky: "Benghazi at the end of the day was a terrible tragedy in which mistakes, bad mistakes, were certainly made, and in which confusion and the CYA reflex led to some bad information going out to the public initially, but none of this remotely rises to the level of high crime. The IRS cock-up was just that, a mistake by a regional office."
What Issa and a majority of the Republican caucus are after is "proof" that President Obama is guilty of what the Constitution calls "high crimes and misdemeanors," and therefore susceptible to impeachment. But what precisely are "high crimes and misdemeanors?" Whatever Congress says they are . . . which makes the current of events all the more frightening.
Has the president actually committed a crime or impeachable offense? Of course not. But hauntingly, in today's political environment, that little fact makes not a wit of difference. Despite the various hearings, the ink and headlines, the urgent bells and angry posturing, public opinion has not turned against President Obama. According to a poll released by Pew just a couple of hours ago, less than 45% of those polled say they have "paid close attention" to Congressional hearings on Benghazi. To be certain, the GOP could care less about polling figures; they are content to do their base's bidding, not America's. They are far more interested in politics than policy -- in hamstringing the president, putting a hex on Hillary Clinton and making damn sure that nothing gets done between now and 2016.
How many times are we going to hear ". . . what did he/she know and when did he/she know it?" with regards to President Obama and Secretary Clinton? How many times are we going to be subjected to the opinion that "Benghazi is far, far worse than Watergate?" I daresay more times than we care to count. A witch hunt is a witch hunt no matter which side carries it out.
Clackity clack, clackity clack . . .
©2013 Kurt F. Stone