Fast and Furious: The Stages of Scandal

The thing people forget about Watergate is that it took over two years — from the actual June 1972 break-in until Nixon’s August 1974 resignation — to come to full fruition. So I’ve been keeping my powder dry with regard to the unfolding Fast & Furious/Gunwalker scandal.

Now, with Friday’s document dump, (h/t: Ace) I think a milestone has been passed.

The scandal erupted late last year, after at least two F&F weapons were found at the southern Arizona scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s murder. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Justice for an explanation.

The response was a Feb. 4 letter from assistant AG Ron Weich, who insisted, “The allegation . . . that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons . . . is false.” The ATF, Weich went on, “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.”

That letter has now been formally withdrawn. “Facts have come to light during the course of this investigation that indicate the Feb. 4 letter contains inaccuracies,” wrote deputy attorney general James Cole on Friday.

The question is, what kind of milestone? Where in this scandal are we? Will this admission that the “letter contains inaccuracies” (because the letter, you see, is at fault) satisfy the mob? Or entice them further?

Hard to say. Back in 2005, Madelaine Drohan published an article at Neiman Reports on that discussed the Stages of a Scandal. According to Drohan, they are as follows:

  1. Anxiety. The scandal in embryo: worries and “concerns.”
  2. Focus. Something happens that incorporates the anxiety, a “crystallizing event.”
  3. Denial and Evasion. Requires no explanation
  4. Validation. That which undoes Stage 3.
  5. Definition. In which we determine who is at fault and who is going down.
  6. Punishment. In which the beast is driven out, laden with our sins.
  7. Aftermath. Moving on.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, as it goes on to ponder how quickly the press jumps off after Stage 6. If you’re into that sort of thing.

By this plan, it would seem that Gunwalker is moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4. The congressional calls for Holder’s head may be a call for early Definition, but the end of the NY Post article indicates that Definition is by no means complete:

So far, three presidential candidates, a couple of senators and more than 50 congressmen have called for Holder to resign. If he can’t answer the one question that matters — why — that number ought to include his boss.

Because otherwise: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

Of course, there are other versions of the stages of scandal. Mickey Kaus scores points for consision:

Stage 1:  That’s ridiculous.  It can’t possibly be true.
Stage 2:  It’s not true.
Stage 3:  You can’t prove it’s true.
Stage 4:  Why are you trying to prove it’s true?
Stage 5:  It’s disgusting that you proved it’s true.
Stage 6:  What’s the big deal anyway?


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