WASHINGTON — Revelations that the Department of Justice secretly obtained the phone records of Associated Press reporters has progressives — who have been pushing hard against outrage over Benghazi and IRS scrutiny of conservative groups — finally using the "s" word: scandal.
When one progressive activist heard the news Monday, he just shook his head and said, "Ugh."
"People looking for an Obama scandal, this one spying on the AP is the first legit one," tweeted Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas. He expanded on the point in an email to BuzzFeed.
"Spying on the media is always a scandal, no matter who is in the White House," he said. "Beyond that, I'll wait to see how the investigations play out, and how the administration responds."
Activists reached by BuzzFeed in the hours after the DOJ story broke had similar reactions, though they kept their opinions anonymous. The consensus: The White House has some explaining to do.
Progressives have been critical of the White House throughout President Obama's term in office, publicly taking on the administration over the environment and budget issues. But for the most part, the left stands with the president against Republican assault.
That may change as the phone record story unfolds. The administration shouldn't expect the left's support just because Republicans jump on the story, the activists said.
"To the extent that progressives unite around a foundational principle, it's that government should be a source for justice and equality," a former leader at an influential progressive group said. "Interfering with the Fourth Estate is a big no-no for progressives, and there will be many willing to put aside their partisan fealty in favor of a principled argument for principled government."
As Republicans point to Benghazi, the IRS scrutiny story, and now the phone record seizure as mounting evidence that the Obama administration is a scandal-prone mess, some on the left are starting to see a White House, in the words of one activist, "out of control" in the second term.
"It's the drip-drop, drip-drop over the last few days," the activist said. "What's hard about it is, all of these stories cling to this same thing. That's the problem here: We know Benghazi is a false controversy, and the IRS is the result of some folks at a lower-level making some wrong choices, but at the end of the day all three of these together paint the picture of an executive branch that needs to be dialed back."
The swirling stories are an example of Republicans in Congress failing to do their job as checks on the White House, the activist said.
"What we see at the end of the day is a failure of those who do have the chance to [dial it back] to actually focus on the things that matter," he said.