James Comey, who is President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the FBI, is causing frissons of excitement in the mainstream media. His admirable reputation as a whistleblower in the George W. Bush administration is also being greeted as a welcome antidote to the stories of Obama administration whistleblowers on Benghazi and other scandals, and is being celebrated with enthusiasm by several major mainstream media outlets.
National Public Radio’s Morning Edition featured a very positive report by Carrie Johnson, who recounted how Comey stood up against the Bush administration’s efforts to re-authorize a wiretapping program to which the Department of Justice objected. At the time, Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital. When Comey, acting in his stead, refused to sign off, the White House tried to urge Ashcroft to overrule him.
Comey later testified about the experience in what Paul Kane of the Washington Post described breathlessly Thursday as “the most riveting 20 minutes of congressional testimony. Maybe ever.” His testimony came in 2007, as Democrats pursued the Bush administration’s second Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, who eventually resigned over his role in terrorist surveillance and the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys.
It takes courage to stand up to any president, and Comey’s actions at the time demonstrate a strong sense of integrity. A committed Republican, Comey seems well-qualified for the job–though whether President Obama’s continues appointing Republicans to national security posts because no Democrats can do the job, because he wants to share blame for failures, or because of sincere bipartisanship is a matter for debate.
The Senate will likely confirm Comey easily, after questions about his views on surveillance and about his past involvement in gun control initiatives. The media, however, are casting an early vote in his favor–in some part, apparently, because he helps them put Obama’s scandals in a helpful, if illusory, context: every president has trouble with whistleblowers; and after all, every Attorney General gets into trouble. Right?