There’s something sad and quaint about the massive coverage the Washington Post is giving to the revelation that an FBI official named Mark Felt was the legendary Deep Throat: the primary source for the Post’s own Woodward-Bernstein revelations about the Watergate scandal. It’s kind of sad because WaPo is having to acknowledge being scooped on this story by Vanity Fair, which must really hurt. The Post’s coverage of Watergate, after all, is what basically established it as a national Newspaper of Record right up there with the New York Times.The coverage is quaint because it serves as a reminder of a very different era of political journalism, and of journalism generally. Unless you are old enough to really remember Watergate, you might have trouble understanding the extent to which this one story dominated newspapers and network news for months and months on end. Nowdays the only story that can approach this kind of media obsession is a celebrity trial (or, following the American Idol template, a trial of “ordinary” people who play culturally stereotypical roles). The only political story out there now with the potential to morph into something vaguely approaching Watergate is the Casino Shakedown Scandal, which for sheer drama, irony, and symbolic resonance is actually a lot more interesting than Watergate itself. And again, it’s the Post (with recent assists from the Boston Globe and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that’s putting the story together, apparently without any assistance from a Deep Throat. Maybe lightning will strike twice for the Post, but more likely, the Deep Throat revelation is the last news from the last truly dominant political story of our times.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.