Amid Scandals, NBC Portrays Obama As 'Victim' of 'Second-Term Curse'
During a report on Monday's NBC Today about the Benghazi and IRS scandals wracking the Obama administration, a headline on screen wondered if they were the result of "Obama's Second Term Curse?" White House correspondent Peter Alexander lamented: "Fewer than four months since his ambitious inaugural address, President Obama is facing significant political obstacles.... Some observers are already asking if Mr. Obama is falling victim to the second term curse."
After Alexander detailed second-term problems for past presidents, "From Watergate to Iran-Contra, even Bill Clinton's impeachment," a sound bite followed of NBC's liberal presidential historian Michael Beschloss offering this bit of advice to Obama: "The presidents who have weathered these crises best have been those who do not let themselves get distracted."
Alexander began the report by declaring: "These days the White House would like the focus to be on immigration reform and improving the economy, but again today, driving the day, the issue of the Benghazi tragedy and misconduct by the IRS....A pair of growing controversies now dominating the discussion in Washington."
On Sunday's Today, co-host Lester Holt used the same talking point: "The White House is under fire this morning in the wake of those leaked e-mails about the Benghazi talking points, the attack in Libya, and the IRS apologizing for inappropriately singling out some conservative groups, like the Tea Party, for extra scrutiny. Is it the dreaded second-term curse?"
Holt was very careful in noting: "Taken together on the surface, you can see how these two instances can be viewed by some as political."
Appearing on the program to discuss the impact of the scandals, Meet the Press moderator David Gregory worried: "I just think it's – part of it is just the atmosphere in Washington at the time when the President's trying to get immigration done. He'd like to get a budget deal."
Gregory expressed surprise at Benghazi suddenly becoming a controversy: "The Benghazi issue is something that has been under the surface for sometime, and then above surface, and now it's really kind of taken the administration by storm. And you know, they're more defensive about it now. And Republicans are keeping up the fight. So there's a lot of questions. There's also a lot of partisanship."
Holt then tried to spin the GOP investigation of the administration's mishandling of the terrorist attack as merely political posturing: "Republicans are keeping up the pressure, especially in the Benghazi attack, and those talking points. Is part of this firing a shot across the bow of Hillary Clinton as she ponders a run for the White House in 2016?"
Gregory replied: "There's no question about it....Republicans want to make Benghazi Hillary Clinton's Achilles Heel as she goes into a potential run. There is no doubt about it. And you saw a lot of that on Capitol Hill in these hearings as well, singling out Hillary Clinton as secretary of state for blame in all of this."
Later on Meet the Press, Gregory pondered: "You look at The Washington Post this morning...about kind of a second term curse. You've got the Benghazi investigation going. Now, questions about the IRS. Does this further poison the well in Washington?"
New York Times columnist David Brooks argued: "I mean, the – second terms are generally hit with scandal. In the Obama administration, you're not going to have a monetary scandal, these people are not financially corrupt. You're not going to have a sexual scandal. But they are very political. And so you could have this meme spread that this is a hyper-politicized group of people who will twist things."
Here is a full transcript of Alexander's May 13 report:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: We've got new details this morning on two controversial issues facing the Obama administration right now. Peter Alexander is NBC's White House correspondent. Peter, good morning to you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Second Term Curse?; New Benghazi & Tea Party Controversies]
PETER ALEXANDER: Savannah, good morning to you. These days the White House would like the focus to be on immigration reform and improving the economy, but again today, driving the day, the issue of the Benghazi tragedy and misconduct – and misconduct by the IRS, with the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee saying that today he will request sworn depositions from the two men who oversaw that report on U.S. security failures in Libya.
A pair of growing controversies now dominating the discussion in Washington. First, the administration's handling of the deadly tragedy in Benghazi, with Republicans complaining of a coverup, demanding more hearings, and accusing the Obama administration of manipulating the facts.
DARRELL ISSA [REP. R-CA]: The American people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month.
ALEXANDER: The White House says it's been forthcoming and says Republicans are trying to politicize the issue. Also raising red flags, news that IRS agents targeted conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny, with an Inspector General's report due out this week expected to reveal that IRS officials were aware of the targeting as early as 2011, contradicting public denials by the former IRS commissioner.
MIKE ROGERS [REP. R-MI]: This should send a chill up your spine. This is something that we cannot let stand.
ALEXANDER: The White House called the IRS's actions inappropriate and said it supports the investigation. Fewer than four months since his ambitious inaugural address, President Obama is facing significant political obstacles.
BARACK OBAMA: As Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.
ALEXANDER: Some observers are already asking if Mr. Obama is falling victim to the second term curse. The 44th president, he wouldn't be the first. From Watergate to Iran-Contra, even Bill Clinton's impeachment, second terms have been notoriously difficult.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS [NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN]: The presidents who have weathered these crises best have been those who do not let themselves get distracted.
ALEXANDER: And this morning the President is hosting here at the White House British Prime Minister David Cameron for a series of meetings. And then it will be followed up, Savannah, by a press conference in the Rose Garden, where it is all but certain that the President will be asked about those talking points regarding Benghazi and misconduct within the IRS.
GUTHRIE: Peter Alexander at the White House for us. Peter, thank you.