The False God of 'Narrative'

What's Being Buried Beneath a Story Line?

"What if the government starts enforcing the espionage statute whenever there's a leak?" Steve Roberts, a former New York Times journalist who teaches at George Washington University, observed to the Baltimore Sun. "It's going to have a tremendously chilling effect on this interplay between sources and reporters."

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) insisted that stopping leaks should be a very high priority. "When national security secrets leak and become public knowledge," he wrote in a letter to the president, "our people and our national interests are jeopardized. And when our enemies know our secrets, American lives are threatened."

As it happens, these two quotations are separated by seven years. Roberts was speaking in 2005 about the furor over Dana Priest's important story in The Washington Post revealing that the CIA was maintaining a series of "black sites" abroad where terrorism detainees were interrogated. For this, Priest came under searing attack from allies of the George W. Bush administration.

Smith's letter was sent to President Obama in 2012. It complained about national security leaks that set off the very investigation which this week prompted fury over the Justice Department's seizure of two months' worth of telephone records from a group of Associated Press reporters.

Isn't it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for? Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus even called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, saying he had "trampled on the First Amendment."

It's a funny thing about media leaks: They are either courageous or outrageous, depending on whether they help or hurt your political party.

Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation's political conversation. Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative -- everything is a "narrative" these days -- about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama.

What's being buried under a story line?

On leaks, I don't believe that the media have unlimited immunity. But I am very pro-leak because such disclosures are often the only way citizens in a free society can find out things they need to know. The Justice Department's actions in the AP case seem to go way beyond what is justified or necessary. There was no need to ignore guidelines suggesting that news organizations should usually have the chance to negotiate or challenge subpoenas.

Holder recused himself from the case, and the White House, which is, in effect, a subject of the investigation, can plausibly claim it was unaware of the decision.

Nonetheless, liberals have reason to contest the Obama administration on civil liberties questions. What's entertaining is to watch so many Republicans (let's exempt the consistent libertarians) reverse a decade of hard-line positions on national security matters and speak now as if they were card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then there is the IRS's targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny in applications for 501(c)(4) status. Of course this was wrong -- and stupid. Liberals were incensed when the IRS questioned the tax status of several progressive groups during the Bush administration. The IRS needs to be ultra-scrupulous about political neutrality, period. That's why Obama came out late Wednesday to announce a shake-up at the agency.

But the other scandal -- as The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Ruth Marcus and MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell have all suggested -- is that any groups involved in partisan electioneering are being granted standing as "social welfare" organizations, allowing them to hide the identity of their donors. A bad mistake could compound the IRS's timidity on the 501(c)(4) issue.

And finally, Benghazi, the "scandal" that seems to be all smoke and no gun. The House could have spent its energy trying to figure out what led to this tragedy, why diplomats were in such a dangerous place, and how to protect brave Foreign Service officers in the future. Congress could even have asked itself whether it's providing enough money for the task. But focusing on the narrow concern of who did what to a set of talking points (and bloviating about this episode as a new "Watergate") takes what could be a legitimate inquiry and turns it into a political carnival.

I know, I know: This "confluence" of "scandals" spells "trouble" for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It's a false god. 

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group


About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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Obviously Mr.Dionne did not read, or was unaware of,the Washington Post's own story on the AP's decision to publish the story of the failed al-Qaeda plot. 

"Some question whether AP leak on al-Qaeda plot put U.S. at risk By Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate, Published: May 15"

"For five days, reporters at the Associated Press had been sitting on a big scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot at the request of CIA officials. Then, in a hastily scheduled Monday morning meeting, the journalists were asked by agency officials to hold off on publishing the story for just one more day.

The CIA officials, who had initially cited national security concerns in an attempt to delay publication, no longer had those worries, according to individuals familiar with the exchange. Instead, the Obama administration was planning to announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.AP balked and proceeded to publish that Monday afternoon". The investigation was pure spite on the part of Obama and his administrationas he was unable to continue his "I killed Obama with I foiled a terrorist plot" mythology.

The reprehensible change of approach is by liberals like DIonne who say one thing and do the exact opposite. Mr. Dionnes partisanship is bordering on maniacal.  He continues to advocate that the Obama administration lie about information related to Benghazi, while suggesting that the Republicans are required to figure out the actual truth on what happened and why the administration lied to the AMerican people.  He's also burying the fact that Democrats use the IRS as a weapon of political power as long as it's wielded on conservatives alone and suggests that a planned retirement was actually some aggressive behavior by Obama.  This targeting has been going on by IRS democrats for 3 years.  One retirement a few days early does not constitute outrage, just a fall guy.  The apple is rotten from the core, but DIonne continues to eat.


Mr Dionne writes " And finally, Benghazi, the "scandal" that seems to be all smoke and no gun." as he totally ignores the the hard truth that the President, Ambassador Rice and every administration spokesperson publicly lied to the American people and the world by placing the entire blame for the attacks on the Banghazi "consulate" and the safe house on short Internet video and flash mob. In none of the communications released by the White House, two days are said to be missing, concerning the revisions to the original talking points is the video even mentioned once. If Mr.Dionne cannot see that the scandal is the coverup and lying to the public about who killed four Americans he is the Mr.Magoo of columnists.    

Everyone knows that  Benghazi terrorists killed the for Americans who were maybe all were CIA, Check Stevens' bio and keep  telling yourself  the Arabic speaking Ambassodor was State dept not CIA. Ask why the at the time CIA director Petreus is not being asked by the GOP to testify when his people were in charge and attacked in their 'safe' house in Benghazi.

"two days are said to be missing' this baloney is said by the same reps who are calling for impeachment. Obama said 'terrorists' the day after and that's why Romney was called out in the debate and lost the election.

Mr Gleason, If as you stated " Everyone knows that  Benghazi terrorists killed the for Americans" why did Obama and his lackey,Ambassador Rice, lie to the American people,blaming it on a video and a mob demonstration. As to Obama calling the attack terrorism or "act of terrorism" the Washington Post"s Fact Checker wrote" the president’s claim that he said “act of terrorism” is taking revisionist history too far" and awarded the President Four Pinocchio's, the highest award for liars.

Mr Mosman.

your link says that Obama called it 'acts of terror' three times. You and the GOP think that  'acts of terrorism' should have been used instead of 'act of terror'. You and the GOP think that these weasel wordings will get you back in power. NO they will not. And stop calling Obama a liar when he says acts of terror instead of terrorism.. it's a stupid ploy.

And that's why Romney lost.

Mr.Gleason, Since you chose to ignore the facts presented in the Washington Post I leave this conversation with a few words of advice. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In my opinion, E.J. Dionne's analysis of the narrative on these issues is correct.  Everything and anything that happens anywhere in the world now is politicized and becomes a partisan issue---either the Democrats were at fault, or the Republicans were at fault.  Whatever happend to the old adage that, "Politics stops at the water's edge"?  Since the Democrats control the Executive Branch, they are mostly being blamed for anything bad that happens anywhere.   Our elected representatives are behaving like a bunch of juvenile delinquents.  Shame on them, and us.  We all should stop playing the blame game, be true patriots and put our national interest ahead of partisan politics. 

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