Opinion: Columnists

David Freddoso: No limits on 'right to gripe' for people who buy ink by the barrel

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Surely, some enterprising public relations person is already drafting a book about how not to handle embarrassing and potentially damaging scandals, and basing it entirely on the example the Obama administration has provided in the last 30 days.

Its publication, several months or a year from now, may even then surprise the White House and its allies, who seem oblivious to their unforced errors and intent on digging themselves into a still-deeper hole.

Chapter One of this new book would explain the importance of getting all of the bad news out there quickly. It will surely cite the "drip-drip" of the IRS targeting scandal, which has added both to its shelf life and to the bad taste it is leaving in everyone's mouth.

It all began with a top bureaucrat's answer to a planted question at an event -- a half-baked, partial admission that the agency had subjected some Tea Party groups to additional questions.

In the days after, the number of groups targeted nearly doubled and their nature expanded to include pro-life and pro-Israel nonprofits. The nature of the extra scrutiny also became increasingly severe with each new revelation (even prayers were the subject of interrogations), and the picture sharpened to suggest a concerted effort to delay conservatives' applications for extra months and years -- conveniently coinciding with an election timeline.

At first, it was all the fault of a couple of rogue IRS employees in distant Cincinnati. Then it was clear that there were people involved in other cities, and at this point it appears the whole thing was cooked up in Washington.

Before you know it, it looks like top officials deceived Congress, and someone has even taken the Fifth to avoid testifying, after issuing an "I am not a crook" opening statement. Drip, drip, drip.

But as I mentioned last week, this scandal is far worse because of the simultaneous drip-drip revelations about Obama's Justice Department targeting the press.

A later chapter in the forthcoming book will point out and explain the administration's folly in ignoring the classic admonition not to tangle with men (or women) who buy ink by the barrel.

Before you secretly monitor the phone habits of Associated Press employees, or assert in court papers that a Fox News reporter is suspected of conspiring in criminal activity, it might be worth considering the consequences to the First Amendment -- to say nothing of the additional question of who will be covering your administration's other problems.

That scandal, which like the other has slowly widened with new revelations, entered a new chapter this week that is the subject of Thursday's Washington Examiner editorial.

After having gone behind the backs of the very reputable editors at various news outlets to snoop on their employees -- apparently disregarding the existing guidelines for leak investigations -- Attorney General Eric Holder wants to talk to the press about the matter but only "off the record," so that neither direct nor indirect quotes, nor the information conveyed, can be published.

It's a bit arrogant to expect journalists to agree to such terms with someone who has already shown bad faith, based on what's known publicly now. That's one reason why the New York Times, Fox News and AP would not agree to an off-the-record meeting.

"Off the record," whatever its exact definition in each case (and it varies), is for trusted sources who provide valuable information -- not for official functionaries accused of malfeasance to cover their own rear ends.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse responded with a petulant tweet: "POTUS asked AG [Eric Holder] to review how leak investigations are done but some in the media refuse to meet with him. Kind of forfeits your right [to] gripe."

In fact, there aren't any conditions on the First Amendment about granting special privileges to an attorney general. And an administration that deals with the press in such a high-handed manner can expect a lot more gripes coming down the pike, and more chapters in the book of PR fumbles.

Examiner Columnist David Freddoso is editor of the Conservative Intelligence Briefing.

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