How to tell a “Real” Scandal from a “Fake” Scandal | Media Training

I define a “real” scandal as one that will dramatically change public opinion, cause political/career harm to someone and end in career loss or destruction. A “fake” scandal may or may not involve serious issues, and it may involve hundreds or even thousands of hours of cable TV news debate, but ultimately, public opinion polls aren’t changed, and the individual(s) involved suffer no career harm/punishment.

One of the tricky things about media scandals is that nobody can be 100% accurate in predicting the final impact. Not many people predicted that the story about Congressman Aaron Schock having an office that looked like Downton Abbey would lead to his resignation.

Most people take the attitude that if there is a scandal against someone they don’t like, then it is, by definition, a big scandal and should destroy that person’s career. But if you take that attitude, you will be wrong most of the time. Because scandals happen almost daily in public life and we don’t see mass resignations on a daily basis.

I’ve developed my own criteria for judging whether a scandal is “real” in the sense that it will have lasting political impact or career ending possibilities. I will share them with you below. (and by the way, I don’t claim to be perfect, I missed in my prediction that Brian Williams would be able to stay on at NBC News)

  1. Is the underlying crime something that would genuinely offend the individual’s core supporters, or is it just something for that individual’s political enemies to harp on because they would harp on anything? Is this something that merely makes people who already hate the person involved in the scandal hate them twice as much, thereby having no political impact?
  2. Does the scandal have a substantive issue involved that would make the average independent minded (someone who really doesn’t have a strong opinion about the person involved with the scandal) angry? Or does it leave this independent minded person confused as to what the big problem is?
  3. Is the person involved in the scandal doing something that political enemies do all the time and therefore the hue and cry from the opposition looks phony and political in nature?
  4. Is this something that a fair-minded, non-ideological, non-partisan judge would truly think of as a crime worthy of extraordinary punishment? Or was this some insignificant infraction that may be worthy of a parking ticket-sized fine, but it’s not a molehill worthy of being turned into a mountain?
  5. Am I capable of realizing that I have a bias and that when someone I don’t like is caught up in a scandal, it still can mean they will receive no punishment, and the whole thing will end up a “fake” scandal, even though I wish it to be a “real” scandal?

I hate to sound elitist, and I am certainly no smarter than most. But most people, in my experience, are simply not capable of answering question number 5 honestly. Most people follow the sports fan mentality of “if the guy on the other team is accused of a penalty then it must be true” and they deserve to be thrown out of the game.

So I will apply my reasoning process to four current scandals in the media to show you how I reach my conclusions (Warning, if you are a highly partisan Democrat or Republican, you will soon hate me):

Scandal A: Hillary’s email Scandal. Verdict (based on answering 5 questions above) “Fake” Scandal (If you have doubts, check out CNN’s latest poll showing Hillary is more popular than ever within the Democratic Party and with independent voters when compared to every single major Republican candidate)

Scandal B: 47 Republican Senators who wrote letter to leaders of Iran, possible violating the Logan Act and committing treason. Verdict: “Fake” Scandal.

Scandal C: Conclusive evidence that Bill O’Reilly has systemically lied about his past, even more so than Brian Williams and should be fired. Verdict “Fake” Scandal.

Scandal D: Jeb Bush waited 7.5 years to turn over his email records to state of Florida, even though Florida law says all emails must be turned over immediately. Verdict: “Fake” Scandal.

As you can see, there are a lot more “Fake” scandals than “Real” ones because the news media likes to cover scandals and political opponents like to gin up attacks.  The trick is to see through the nonsense in order to discern what is real if you want to have a good grasp of reality.

As mentioned above, I’m not always right. But I am able to see how scandals that affect people I don’t like aren’t necessarily real scandals that are career ending–and that is an ability that many people don’t have.

Intelligent, reasonable people can disagree with me on some or all of my analysis on the above 4 scandals. But if you always agree with me only when I have concluded that a scandal isn’t hurting someone you like and you always disagree with me when I conclude a scandal isn’t hurting someone you hate, this means you aren’t really trying to analyze the news. It means you are just a sports fan.



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