Politics & Policy

The Six Stages of Scandal

Hillary Clinton while secretary of state in 2010 (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Emailgate just moved into Stage 4.

The facts concerning Hillary Clinton’s most recent scandal — “E-mailgate” — may be unique, but the media coverage in our 24/7-news age follows the same predictable story arc every time something like this happens.

Up until now, this arc has never been formally recognized or officially named. Therefore, drawing on the familiar and widely accepted “Five Stages of Loss and Grief,” I would like to introduce the “Six Stages of Scandal.”

The stages are:

1. Revelation

2. Feeding Frenzy

3. Explanation or Denial

4. Overexposure

5. Old News

6. Partisan Demonization

These stages are engineered to maximize and capitalize on three key elements of modern media reality: short attention spans, hyper-partisanship, and ratings/traffic generation. 

First, let’s acknowledge that the Obama administration spinmeisters are masters at managing the entire arc. In fact, application of this expertise led to Obama’s reelection in 2012 and has sustained his surprisingly high job approval rating, currently at 45 percent.

Second, since E-mailgate is already in progress, it affords us the opportunity to examine the flow of an active scandal through the six stages.

E-mailgate took two long weeks to work through Stages 1–3. Stage 4, “Overexposure,” is nearly complete, so one can expect the scandal to be called “Old News” in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Tip-offs that the media has entered the “Old News” stage include when one repeatedly hears aggressive Democrats, Team Clinton defenders, and their subservient media allies peppering their punditry with phrases like “Republican overreach,” “out to get Hillary,” “public has lost interest,” “story has run its course,” “it’s now a Fox News scandal” (usually spelled Faux News), and “E-mailgate is just a new way to spell Benghazi.”

Shortly thereafter, the “Old News” stage quickly becomes old news itself, giving way to the final and most important stage of all modern scandals, “Partisan Demonization.” Stage 6 acts as both a scandal hospice and a cemetery. It’s is where scandals go to die — are buried — but then in some cases are resuscitated. (Benghazi, due to the tragic deaths of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans, is an example of the latter, as is the IRS scandal.)

Predictably, Stage 6 always needs a bad girl or guy. A recent example is Lois Lerner of IRS scandal fame.

In E-mailgate, Democrats have the perfect Republican bogeyman, South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy. To the eyes and ears of the Washington/New York media elite, Gowdy — a brilliant former federal prosecutor — looks and sounds like Forrest Gump. And like Gump, Gowdy is right in the middle of all the historic action as chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Politico has nicely teed up Stage 6 with a piece titled “Hillary Clinton’s Enemy No.1” and subtitled “Meet Trey Gowdy, the would-be president’s reluctant nemesis,” reporting:

Short and whippet thin, with close-cropped graying hair that looks as if it’s hand-combed, Gowdy has a sharp-angled, crudely handsome face; at times he resembles the quick-silver Terminator II guy who beat up on Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Politico continues (with a Forrest Gump–like innocence): “But Gowdy doesn’t see a similarly relentless pursuit of Hillary as his mission.”

Politico’s piece heralds the upcoming Libyan head-banger death match between Gowdy and Clinton that will feature at least two potentially explosive Hillary appearances before Gowdy’s committee. An emotional peak will be when Gowdy asks Clinton something like, “What difference, at this point, could your e-mails have made in saving the lives of four Americans?”

Leading up to, during, and after Clinton’s expected testimony, we can expect Stage 6 of E-mailgate to be even more vicious and partisan than the Benghazi scandal itself (which has come roaring back to life and is no longer thought of as E-mailgate’s boring and washed-up older brother).

Through past experience, Clinton Inc. and all its media allies have earned doctorates in the six stages of scandal. Heck, they birthed them back in the 1990s during their first reign of scandal terror. Soon, we can expect, they will have systems in place to work the extended final stage of E-mailgate to their maximum advantage. However, at this writing, Team Clinton’s and Hillary’s nascent 2016 presidential campaign has muddled through E-mailgate’s Stages 1–3, proving that she and her team are not yet up to speed.

But just wait, because by this time next year, Stage 6 will be old and moldy, and Trey Gowdy will have been completely demonized. Then Hillary will be free to play the “first woman president” gender card targeted at low-hanging-fruit groups like young single women in blue and swing states who never even heard of Trey Gowdy, think Benghazi is a dance club, and have forgotten about E-mailgate (if they ever cared about it at all.)

— Myra Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign’s creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign’s ad council. Her writing credits include PJ Media, the Daily Beast, RedState, and the Daily Caller

Myra Adams — Myra Adams is a media producer and writer who served on the McCain Ad Council during the 2008 McCain campaign and on the 2004 Bush campaign creative team. Her writing ...

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