Apparently running into the buzzsaw of annoyed constituents with too much time on their hands to call their Represenatative, House Republicans have shelved their plans for declawing the House Ethics Office for now. For some reason, everyone assumes Trump caused this, because he invented oxygen or something. Simon Maloy:
The House GOP kicked off the new session of Congress in politically baffling fashion by holding a closed-door vote to approve a rules change that will hollow out the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). That office was formed in 2008 as a response to the congressional ethics scandals that helped precipitate the 2006 Democratic midterm wave, and it functions as an independent, non-partisan ethics watchdog for the House of Representatives. Republicans in the House moved to strip OCE of some of its powers and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.
As far as political own-goals go, this was a fairly inexplicable one. Republicans met in the dead of night to cast a secret vote to hollow out an agency charged with maintaining ethical behavior in Congress. They were handing every Democrat in every congressional district across the country a pre-fabricated talking point to use against them — after all, who doesn’t like ethics in Congress? And they did so in the immediate aftermath of an election cycle that was shot through with allegations of corruption of promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Speaking of “drain the swamp,” the candidate who popularized that phrase, the fantastically corrupt president-elect Donald Trump, weighed in on the House GOP’s planned attack on OCE this morning via his medium of choice: Twitter.
Trump’s position on this was clear. He didn’t have a problem with Republicans going after the “unfair” OCE, he just mildly suggested that maybe it shouldn’t have been the first thing on the agenda. (That critique doesn’t actually make much sense, given that it was part of the rules package that the House typically passes as its first order of business.) One of Trump’s senior advisers went on television to defend the House GOP’s proposed change as part of its electoral “mandate.”
But once this Twitter statement was sent, the political media tripped all over themselves to be the first to inaccurately report that Trump and the House GOP were at odds over ethics.
Everyone from the AP to CNN to FOX decided Trump was personally responsible for stopping the GOP on this. Greg Sargent is even more blunt on this media collusion:
Last week, I hectored you with my idea for a proposed rule of thumb for headline writing, one that would allow us to avoid the pitfall of allowing Trump to claim credit for things without alerting readers that his claim is open to doubt or dubious.
Today, I’d like to ask for your indulgence as I propose another rule of thumb: If a casual reader would come away from your headline persuaded that Trump has adopted a clear stand that he hasn’t really adopted, then the headline is misleading and something is wrong. The threshold question here should be what impression a headline would leave with a reader who is skimming it. If it risks leaving a misleading impression, then it risks misinforming people. Trump often takes extremely slippery positions, making it more important to exercise care to avoid this.
In this particular case, this is not a narrow, nitpicky criticism. It’s central to understanding the situation. Trump did not criticize the act of weakening ethics oversight, so for that reason alone, the implication that he struck a blow for the cause of good government is itself deeply misleading, particularly at a time when Trump is under intense fire for failing to take his own conflicts of interest seriously. What’s more, it would have been a lot harder for Trump to take the tough stand that these headlines ascribe to him, because if he did, he would be seemingly criticizing Republicans for trying to weaken ethics oversight on themselves. That’s a much more serious charge — and one much more unflattering to Republicans — than what Trump actually did say.
But that's the difference between how Trump is treated and how, say, Obama is treated.