It happens every time there is a legitimate news story that could arguably benefit conservatives in some way: Big Media ignores the story, except to complain about how Republicans “seized” on it. I described this trend on my own blog waaaaaay back in August 2004, more than thirteen years ago, and my comments still hold true today:
[W]henever one candidate criticizes another, there are two ways to characterize what’s happening [if you’re a member of Big Media]. If you think the criticism may be valid, you will refer to the criticism passively, and discuss the “mounting criticism” of the candidate being criticized. But if you don’t like the criticism, then you will refer to the criticism as an “attack.” You will consistently phrase the description of the criticism in the active voice, as in: “Cheney attacked Kerry over the issue of . . .” Rather than saying that the parties voicing the criticism have “pointed out” their opponent’s misstatements, you will say they “seized on” those misstatements.
The same is true, not just of candidate criticism, but of any story Big Media hates. The “Republicans seized on” narrative has become very well known since I first described it so many years ago; by now, it’s something of a running joke among conservatives.
And there’s nothing Big Media hates these days more than a story that distracts attention from how (they believe) guns and guns alone are solely responsible for the Florida school shooting. I give credit to John Sexton on Twitter (in this thread) for observing this phenomenon in full flower at POLITICO yesterday, as they complained about Republicans seizing on the failures of law enforcement — in particular those of the loudmouth Democrat Scott Israel, the Sheriff of
Broward Coward County.
The POLITICO story (cached link; no links for bullies) is titled When the Broward County Sheriff Upstaged the Parkland Kids, with a deck headline: “How Scott Israel became the NRA’s perfect foil.” The theme: those damned Republicans are seizing on his failures!!
Israel, a career cop who has served as an undercover narcotics officer and a SWAT commander, stepped right into a nasty partisan fight: He has become a shiny ball used by Republicans to distract the public and change a politically awkward subject—in this case, the debate over gun restrictions after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. A Fox News headline neatly summarized: “Sheriff Scott Israel Battling Calls to Resign As Blame Shifts in Wake of Florida School Shooting.”
This kind of misdirection has become a familiar pattern under master blame-shifter President Donald Trump: Antifa after Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter after Ferguson, and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama after just about every new development in the Russia investigation. But this time, Israel really does seem to deserve some blame, and really has displayed ineptitude and arrogance in public. He’s the perfect foil—a mouthy, pugnacious Democrat who isn’t known for deep thinking before he starts speaking.
“The Republicans needed a shiny-ball guy to get away from assault weapons, and the sheriff was like: Hey, I’ll be your shiny-ball guy!” an elected Democrat from South Florida told me. “At first, it looked like the kids would be the shiny-ball guy, but everyone loved the kids. Then Scott led with his chin, and here we are.”
Funny how the Very Objective and Non-Partisan Journalist who wrote the piece, Michael Grunwald, uses the exact same metaphor — a “shiny ball” distraction — that the elected Democrat uses. It’s almost as if writer Grunwald is himself just a partisan Democrat hack using his status as a journalist to advance his anti-gun narrative . . . nah. Couldn’t be.
The best part is the acknowledgement, stated briefly and sheepishly: gee, OK, they do have something of a point . . . but never mind that and let’s get back to the narrative of how they are exploiting this! (You see it in the quote above: “But this time, Israel really does seem to deserve some blame” followed by a quick shift back to the “shiny ball” metaphor.) As Sexton puts it in his brilliant thread:
The best part of all of these 'GOP seizes' articles is when the author admits the person being criticized really is a screw up, but then adds 'But they have bad motives for saying he's a screw up!'
It's so predictable and so tiresome.
— John Sexton (@verumserum) March 3, 2018
Yup. Grunwald insists that any description of Israel’s failures is “whataboutism”:
“Scott is the NRA’s Benghazi,” says one official in his department. “The truth doesn’t matter – it’s just something else to talk about. Anything but guns.”
This is the power of whatabout.
Of course, Benghazi was an actual scandal, and so is the behavior of Israel’s department. From failing to share information with the FBI, refusing to share information with social services, and failing to go in and stop the shooter, his department has been a disaster. Again, Sexton has the perfect response:
It's not "whataboutism" to discuss law enforcement failures after a mass shooting. Because, guess what, it's law enforcement's job to prevent and respond to mass shootings.
— John Sexton (@verumserum) March 3, 2018
Grunwald’s piece is a classic bit of leftist bias hackery. It’s good to remind yourself, every so often, precisely how they do this — so you can be on the lookout for it in the future.