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May 26, 2011


It occurs to me that, since the GOP and right-leaning media have been looking so hard for a scandal that never existed (the whole 'birther' nonsense) they may have overlooked actual scandals. Or, maybe Obama's administration has been remarkably free of corruption?

Scandal as a function of opposition and time? STATISTICIAN FAIL.


"widespread elite perception of wrongdoing"?

It's only a scandal if "elite" people have a perception of wrongdoing?

What a strange definiton... or am I mis-interopreting that?

Well, elites are the key players in what is seen as a scandal and what's not. There are lots of inside-the-Beltway scandals the public doesn't pay attention to. Only the biggest and most significant scandals are well-known by the public (Watergate, Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, etc.). See the paper for more on this.

Wow... does one need to list the nonstop scandals that have been going on virtually since the inauguration?! Pro-Obama or Anti-Obama, you can't be so blind as to really believe there have been no scandals...

Only the biggest and most significant scandals are well-known by the public (Watergate, Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, etc.)

I think this is partly a tautology. Naturally, the biggest scandals are those that are well-known to the public.

IMHO Watergate and Lewinsky were significant and deservedly well-known to the public. However, Iran-Contra was built into a bigger scandal than it objectively deserved IMHO. It's true that Reagan acted without appropriate Congressional approval, but so did Obama in attacking Libya. IMHO Abu Graib and Valerie Plame were two other relatively small events that were turned into big scandals by the liberals and the mainstream media.

I think mainstream media bias is a huge factor that ought to be explicitly included in Brendan's analysis. I have read that some media heads have specific policies not to be overly harsh against our first black President. Their conduct makes these reports plausible.

Here's a list of some things that I think would have been scandals had Bush done them, rather than Obama:

Dismissing charges in the New Black Panthers voting intimidation case AND covering it up by not allowing Justice Dept. officials to testify before Congress

• Evidence of stupidity or mental confusion, such as:
-- Having "visited 57 states"< during the campaign
-- Signing a guest book at Westminster Abbey last month with a date in 2008.
-- Messing up his toast to the Queen
-- Speaking badly when deprived of a teleprompter

Giving partial ownership of GM to the unions who supported him, rather than the senior bond-holders.
Imagine the outcry if Bush had given Halliburton assets that rightfully belonged to some other party!

Giving over a thousand Obamacare waivers to supporters
Imagine George Bush allowing a thousand organizations that supported him to be excused from paying OASDI.

What about Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and countless others associated with this President who are radicals with criminal ties. Or perhaps we could talk about Van Jones and a few others -- some in his administration who are known communists. Actually, the list is endless as this president is so far left he actually tilts when he walks. Unfortunately, for the rest of us Soros has the press in his pocket and not too much is made of all these so-called non-scandals.

Brendan -

Thanks for the explanation of you definition. It makes some sense. but seems to contain one significant flaw - if the "elites" are highly sympathetic to the person they are covering, they are significantly less inclined to view certain activities as "scandalous" or provide them much coverage or validity - your own research documents this cognitive bias effect in other situations.

I am surprised you don't even really address this possibility as you puzzle over how "fortunate" his administration has been and how he is "highly vulnerable to scandal given his standing with Republicans".

When I look for bias in my own thinking, I perform the commonly stated (but in my experience less commonly practiced) thought experiment of how I would view the same information if it was applied to someone on the opposite end of my preferences. (It can be startling how often my this shatters my own perceptions of my "objectivity").

When I apply this process to some of the things the Obama admin has done vs. the Bush admin (or even Clinton), it seems obvious it is held to standard eons removed from other presidential admins.

You may not agree, but it certainly deserves to be treated as a possibility.

Brendan asserts that Obama has a reputation for personal integrity. I don't see it.

I know of nothing Obama has done to demonstrate especial personal integrity. But, look at actions that point in the other direction. There's his political double-talk -- telling each audience what it wants to hear. Recall his exaggerations about his health reform bill, his brazen actions to benefit labor unions and other supporters, and his violation of many campaign promises.

Incidentally, I would quibble with Brendan's point about the media being kind to a black President. It's only because he's a black liberal that they're kind. The media have been quite nasty about our conservative black Supreme Court Justice.

The definition of scandal is far-too strict. While it doesn't rise to the level of national importance, the State Dinner Crashers certainly made the front pages and had an impact, if only on White House personnel. How about the botched public response to the underwear bomber? Stating that if the stimulus passed unemployment wouldn't rise above X%? The date night in NYC? Throwing counsel Greg Craig under the bus when they wouldn't/couldn't close Guantanamo? The photo of AF1 and an F-16 fighter plane flying past the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan?

It's the press that often creates and grows scandals & Obama doesn't have that problem with the sorry press in this country. The guy wasn't vetted and is still little known. The national debt and the extreme waste of tax dollars should be a scandal alone.

The Obama scandal is currently #6 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
I hear the distant thunder coming!

Your definition of scandal as a Presidential or subordinate-appointee's personal malfeasance reported in a front-page WaPo article, such as Clinton's failure to "keep his pants zipped," is insufficient. While apparently and thankfully such behavior has not occurred, the real scandals are the huge increase in our national Debt and where all that money went. We tolerated Clinton not because we approved of his personal behavior, but because he got things accomplished on a bipartisan basis and didn't screw up the economy. The same can't be said of the current incumbent.

Brendan, what's it like up there in outer space? I mean you must be in outer space to have written such a pile Marsian crap! This president has gotten away with the biggest scandal in American history. He has stolen our childrens future, put us on the path to ruining or nation's health care system, appointed two ethically unqualified women to the SCOTUS, given unlawful payoffs to his union buddies, slapped our forigen allies in their collective faces and lied over and over to the American people. This does not mention his unethical pattern of behavior in his personal life as well as his political life. Scandal? He is a scandal but the MSM will never turn on him even if it means the end of the greatest experiment in self rule and personal freedom in history.

“...Obama may be treated less harshly by the press than some of his predecessors.” Seriously? “...may be treated less harshly...”?

As other commenters have already noted, the scandals have been there - the mainstream media have not. Some of the scandals during previous presidencies (if not most) have come to light as a direct result of investigative reporting: Watergate is a good example. Not only will the mainstream media not actively investigate and uncover any scandals about Obama, but they do their best to squelch any that others uncover. There is plenty of evidence that the media was unethically invested in the election of Barack Obama (Journolist, for example), so your own wording reveals the glaring flaw in your article.

If a tree falls in the forest (and it was Obama’s fault), does it still make a sound? Not if the mainstream media doesn’t want it to.

@Marty B: I use the same method, and have come to similar conclusions.

@David in Cal: I agree with your point. He is treated less harshly because he is a liberal man, just as liberal women are treated less harshly than conservative women. Of course, it helps that he is charismatic. It will be interesting to see how Herman Cain, a charismatic black man, is treated, as his campaign progresses. So far, so bad.

@hstowell: Excellent point.

This made me laugh out loud : "As the first black president, Obama may be treated less harshly by the press than some of his predecessors." Ya think?? Or was he being facetious? Or is he that naive??

How about letting hundreds of thousands of acres in Texas burn and refusing to declare a disaster area for political payback? That scandalous enough for you? Oh, wait, you say you haven't read about that in the media? See above.

How about the extreme politicalization of the DOJ? Extreme crony capitalism, union kickbacks, Obamacare waivers to their pals? The list is long.

Are you kidding? Obama's entire administration is a scandal. When have you ever heard of 26 states suing the President against his federal legislation? I am older than you are, and it hasn't happened in my lifetime. When have you ever heard a President diss Israel publicly, and then say he didn't? That's a huge scandal. When has a Prsident ever gone abroad to drink champagne with a queen when his own country is hit by natural devastation? Even Bush didn't do that. Elizabeth Warren is another scandal, because she is not accountable to anyone. How about the scandal of Obama's White House admitting uninvited couple to a formal dinner? Doesn't that qualify as a scandal? And his entire Economic team leaving but for Tim Geithner -- that was a huge scandal, especially when Cynthia Rhomer dissed Obama in the Press. If you are talking about illegal activities, look no further than Eric Holder, who refused to prosecute Black Panthers for voter intimidation -- because they were black. This Administration is filthy dirty, and We the People know it.

Barry is sitting on a few of the biggest scandals in the history of this nation. Educate yourself here:


The press is totally in the tank for Obama. They'll cover up his scandals rather than report them. You mention this as a side note, but it should be the title.

I'm wondering how someone can be a politics and media critic and not see how the left wing media establishment controls the narrative in this country. There are plenty of scandals for this administration, but if you only watch MSM, you're not going to learn about them. The editors and TV producers are going to quickly cover up any story that could be perceived as scandalous on page 22, if they cover it at all. It is allowed to die quickly.

Remember when Obama said Fox was not a real news organization? They are the only ones covering him. What if Bush had said MSNBC was not a real news organization? You are only seeing what you want to see. The MSM is like a giant PR firm. Blech.

What utter GARBAGE!

There HAS been a scandal. Obama broke bankruptcy law by stealing GM from the bondholders and giving assets to the unions. There was no basis in law for this. The missing ingredient that kept it from being understood as a scandal was that the media was complicit. Which is also a scandal.

Handing out Obamacare waivers to political supporters would be a huge scandal. Half of all waivers go to unions when only 12% of the workforce is unionized? Is it really a coincidence that unions are the Democrats most reliable campaign contributors? How is this not a scandal? But again the media are complicit in the coverup.

Extorting $20B from BP was also a breach of law but the victim is politically unpopular, so again no perceived scandal.

His whole being is a scandal. "Kansas values", Nobel Peace prize? "The cops acted stupidly", "...we help our friends and hurt our enemies"
All the oraganizations with which he is associated; his recess appointments, and even "legitimate" appointments.
The mainstream lapdog media.
And now he's Irish!
I know, I know, these don't seem like scandals, but read the first sentence.

I love reading when people are offended; as far as I'm concerned, Obama may end up making mistakes but none of what he's done has bankrupted this country; it was already bankrupted when he was sworn into office. Look, politicians all over are doing what they want and folks act like Obama, single-handedly has the power to make decisions and enact them. Believe me, there's not one thing, including healthcare, this man is going to be allowed to do without a scandal to follow. This inevitable in this racist, elitest society that wants poor ethnic minorities to disappear but doesn't do anything to allow folks to pull themselves out of poverty. Not everyone makes the same dumb ass mistakes as others, because history has taught some that in order to not be tagged in or by someone's research, you have to do things a tad bit extraordinary. Obama has already won an election many believed he could NEVER win. That's a scandal. He's also the President who sat in office during the killing of U.S. Public Enemy Number One; another scandal. Problem is, these aren't scandals by the standards of some. So while they try to go out and put the pieces in motion for the scandals to be revealed, we Independents just wait...eventually there will be something worth calling a scandal by and of the standards of the idiots who actually don't count the condition of the country during 2000-2008 as the period of scandal (sorry, but these are the years that will go down in US History as scandalous). So, just like the slot machines or the roulette wheel in Vegas, check your math because though he certainly may not get out of office unscathed by scandel, some of us believe because he's watched his naysayers try to put their foot in his a**, he just might be a little smarter than that!

Are you stupid? He has been one major scandle since he arrived on the scene. The Saudi owned & operated media that put him in power just covers it up.

Well, goodness. I think you miss the most obvious reason the Obama admin has been "scandal free", if in fact it has. The elites aren't interested in destroying him! It really is that simple. Who amongst the "elite" wants to be seen as taking down the first black president? There have been incredible amounts of scandalous behavior by this administration, as other commenters have noted, but it takes a commitment on the part of the NY Times to turn something like Abu Ghraib into a real scandal, and they just aren't interested in doing that to Obama.
You get paid for this tripe?

Please explain why all of the previous data from past administrations should be considered PREDICTIVE of what might or might not happen in this administration. Has this administration had fewer scandals than previous ones had by this time? Yes. Does this administration, with each scandal free month, become more of a deviant case in the complete set of previous administrations? Yes.

But what is the grounds for using the data to leap to a kind of predictive inevitability? Do you really think you have enough administrations in your set and that you have ruled out enough possible intervening or other variables to confidently predict that a " scandal is coming soon?"

Wouldn't it be accurate to say: assuming the characteristics of this administration, the actions of the major players, and the social and historical context of this administration are roughly similar to the other administrations ( which is, to say the least, far from established) the thus far scandal free Obama administration becomes more of an exceptional and/ or deviant case as time passes.

But to posit a predictive link between this administrations and previous ones - with different characteristics, different actors and different social/historical contexts -- is a leap over a cliff.

With Obama the scandal is his total control of the "Mainstream Media" and the suppression of media that is critical of the President.

Hard to believe the "Valerie Plume Affair" is still caleld a "scandal" by supposedly intelligent people. That was purely a media created "scandal". The Mainstream Media hammered Bush day in and day out and never let something as simple as the facts get in their way. They still don't when it comes to Bush.

Obama's reputation for integrity? Among whom?

In the end it is media control. You control the media - you control the message. Confuse, obfuscate, shuck and jive....

There is an error in statistics in this column. The columnist asserts that the odds of a scandal increase as time progresses without one. That is not so. If you look prospectively at a given time period then, yes, the odds increase over time. But once time is on-going, the odds do not.

Imagine a dice game. At the outset, you can conclude that the odds of rolling "snake-eyes" over a given period of time is "x" and so the odds are high that at the conclusion of that time you will have rolled snake-eyes. But once you start rolling the dice, they have no memory. If you roll them a thousand times without rolling snake-eyes, the odds of rolling snake-eyes on the next roll are exactly the same as on the first roll.

If anything, the absence of a big Obama scandal suggests that the odds of one coming up at any given time are relatively low. That's because the same factors that caused an absence of scandal before will continue to apply, whether they be an ethical administration or, perhaps more likely, a sympathetic press corp.

(As an aside, I'm no Obama fan, and will vote against him (again) but give the guy his due.)

That's because dice are random. If there's a systematic process related to the time since last scandal (as I argue there is), then the probability does not reset each time.

Hmm.  OK, I understand your reasoning.  Not sure there really is a systematic process related to the time since the last scandal, but if so then I get it.  Thanks.  Glenn

Oh my God...the bald assertions as statements of fact in this "scholarly article" and other mis-perceptions continually posited as "facts" by this writer and others are enough to nauseate anyone with one small whit of sense and attention to what the "One" has been up to and exempted from by all you "institutional" collegiate elites. You need to be truly institutionalized. The outright lies you promulgate will result in the complete destruction of this Republic if allowed to continue, which might be alright with YOU, but with the other 98% of Americans, YOU ARE DANGEROUS and this is UNACCEPTABLE. What you do to current historical narrative is akin to taking Shakespeare, and substituting Lady GaGa for any other of his characters. You are a blight on academia. Shame on all of you.

The popular site Real Clear Politics selects the best op-ed articles eech day. Although this is a conservative site, they strive for balance. This Obama Scandal article of Brendan's was selected today. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/?state=nwa

Congratulations, Brendan.

Interesting perspective. Assessing odds, likelihood of scandal, is really predicting human behavior and is a slippery slope.

Let's see: There was Obama's stimulus package that was supposed to keep unemployment from going above 8 percent, but didn't; there was the emphasis on "shovel-ready" jobs, after which Obama admitted there would be no such thing as "shovel-ready" jobs; there was the screwing of the Chrysler bondholders...ETC.

You sure are liking that Kool-Aid, Brendon.

You want a scandal?

Obamacare with the issues of C-Span, Christmas Eve bill signing, Louisiana/Cornhusker kickbacks,
Reconciliation, (I would bet that average citizens do not today even know that the Senate Obamacare bill was passed without debate in the HoR where we place lawmakers every 2 years to represent our most current and pressing interests.), that lawmakers did not read, did not have time to read, the bill that will end up in the Supreme Court due to controversy over personal liberty, double accounting (I won't even go there.), Jammed down our collective throats; citizen opposition and protest throughout.

Scandalous? You be the judge.

Scandal need not be illegal. LewinskyGate is Exhibit 1. Absent lying to the grand jury, oral sex in the Oval Office is a mere scandal.

So it is with Obamacare. Under the guise of law citizens were trampled, even as they were screaming, by governance akin to that in a Banana Republic.



I am so deeply proud of the American's who have stood-up against this author and called his "academic" research out for what it is.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to read the clarity and consistency in the posts above.

When it comes to our way of life, we have Seal Team 6 and then we have basic, decent Americans like those posting above.

May God Continue to Bless America.

As many others have pointed out, Brendan's naivete and/or disingenousness is astonishing. The totally trivial Valerie Plame story would just never have become a "scandal" under Obama. And the 20 year association with Reverend Wright would have made any other presidential candidate unelectable. It is the equivalent of John McCain's having attended Klan rallies for two decades.

“Obama’s reputation for personal integrity”?

Are you kidding?

With respect to the Rezko/Obama real estate deal, is not the so-called “adjacent lot” actually a 9,000 square foot yard essentially donated by Tony Rezko to Comrade Barry? Isn’t this clearly a corrupt political payoff? What other motive is there for Rezko to buy a yard next to Comrade Barry’s house upon which, after deeding a small strip of land to Comrade Barry, nothing can ever be built due to zoning restrictions?

What other value is there for Rezko in this deal? The value for Comrade Barry is clear. He gets a yard that he never has to pay for, doesn’t even have to pay the property tax. But what does Rezko get? Clearly, either Rezko received or expected to receive some value somewhere, sometime from someone. Where could that come from other than Clueless Comrade Barry or his allies?

How is it that Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is indicted for having someone do work on his house for which he paid $160,000 while the government estimates its value at about $410,000 (a benefit of about $250,000) while Comrade Barry receives the benefit of the use of a yard with an estimated value of $925,000 and is not only a free man but is elected President of the United States on a ticket of “Change We Can Believe In” no less?

Could it be that when the basic premise of your political party is to vote for us because we will steal your neighbor’s property and give some of it give to you, there is no incentive for either the voters attracted to such a party, the media that promote it or the politicians that seek power within it to have any real concern with integrity?

Didn’t they all abandon that concept when they decided that it was perfectly acceptable to use the power of the government to steal or, to use the politically correct euphemism, redistribute?

C'mon, guys, cut Brendan some slack. In my eyes, he's Brendan Nyhan, Swami Gunwalker:


I genuflect before the immanent power of his remarkable seerageness. Besides, you so-called "conservatives," if he's right (and I think he is) he's gonna be on every excremental roster in the Academia Borg Collective. Give the man a break. Sheesh.

Balderdash. Charts look fancy, but they are almost completely meaningless based on only 30 years (7 administrations) of data and extraneous (domestic and foreign) events.

"Where are the Obama scandals?"


Can you imagine the outrage with which the Mainstream Media, New York Times etal would have greeted the news that George Bush had chosen a man for Secretary of Treasury who had not paid his Income Tax?

Just one example of many

If George Bush had blatantly violated the War Powers Act, I believe there would have been an attempt to impeach him. That would have been a scandal. However, when Mr. Obama is the culprit it's not considerred newsworthy, except by a few conservatives.

There have been a high number of scandals, it's just that the media is protecting Obama. Many of his past associations have already been perp-walked. The media killed that alleged affair story as soon as it came out, and the media loves those type of stories. I think most of the larger scandals won't come out until the media gets over the constant leg-humping of this man.

Brendan's article was picked up by a UK newspaper, the Daily Mail. See: The math that proves Obama is set to have a scandal SOON

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