Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America

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Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America
Front cover art for Scandal.
AuthorLanny Davis
CountryUnited States
SubjectPolitics of the United States
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date
12 September 2006
Media typePrint (hardcover), e-book
Followed byCrisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics and Life 

Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America is a 2006 book by Lanny Davis, a lawyer who was special counsel to Bill Clinton, an appointee under George W. Bush, and advisor to Hillary Clinton during her then-upcoming 2008 campaign (and later her 2016 campaign).[1] The theme of the book is "that both [major political] parties [in the United States] have to learn to have civil debate, the[n] solve people's problem[s],"[2] by working together in a bipartisan fashion. Moreover, Davis predicts that centrist 'purple' politicians could build a winning bipartisan coalition in that manner, in particular by winning over 'angry' independent voters[3] fed up with scandal-mongering and incivility.


Davis decries partisan-driven scandal-oriented politics specifically, and political polarization generally.

Partisan scandal-mongering was not a new phenomenon in 2007. Davis mentions various historical scandals, such as:

Davis believes it to be a particularly important phenomena in the 1990s and beyond, however, saying that "over two centuries, there is a pattern of politicians using the media, and vice versa, in attempts to bring down political adversaries... Today's version of the post-Watergate scandal culture is different, however, in one significant and unprecedented way: its far greater destructive power." [emphasis in original]

In particular, the book contends several post-Watergate trends occurred in the journalism profession, the legal profession, and amongst elected politicians (to include the staffers and the major political parties and the partisan voter-base which helps get those politicians elected and re-elected), as well as the wider cultural moires of the general public:

  • changes in the unwritten rules of investigative journalism which made publishing vague unproven allegations permissible, including especially no-holds-barred scandals related to purported corruption or alleged sexual behavior
  • increasing competitive pressures of the 24-hour news cycle (and the internet), especially on fact-checking procedures
  • the relatively new use and misuse of independent counsels by politicians in Congress, in addition to Congressional hearings
  • increasing overuse of anonymous sources by the news media
  • the intentional leaking of damaging material for partisan reasons by politicians and their staffers
  • increasing willingness of the news media to publish material which implies guilt when all the facts are not yet known
  • Davis writes that "perhaps most damning, Watergate showed reporters that bringing down a high-profile politician might lead to financial and professional gain, even if at the end of the day it results in no final determination or conviction of wrongdoing"
  • increasingly non-competitive, gerrymandered, effectively one-party Congressional districts (which Davis calls "a major reason for the hyper-partisanship in Congress by both parties")
  • increasing willingness of the voting public (especially the portion that participates in major-party political primaries and caucuses) to reward negativity
  • increasing appetite among the partisan public for corruption scandals, sex scandals, and similar, plus decreasing demand such scandals actually be true
  • increasing cynicism about the general public on the motives of politicians, journalists, and lawyers

The outcome of these broad trends is a type of never-ending arms race between the partisan subgroups found within both of the two major parties, with both sides using the media and the legal system to further their aims, whilst the news media and the lawyers used the scandals of both parties to make massive profits:

In addition to listing specific incidents where the scandal-culture has been prominent, Davis wrote that the scandal-culture is harmful even when no high-profile incident is ongoing: "Meanwhile, the rantings on both the left and right of the shouters, food fighters, and hate-mongers on talk radio, cable television shows, and, in recent years, countless blogs go on, seemingly caring little about actual facts and truth before broadcasting and blogging accusations -- all of which add more reckless negative energy and fuel to the scandal machine and gotcha politics."

Davis believed that the key to breaking the back-and-forth cycle of 'gotcha' politics between the two major parties was a return to civility amongst politicians, as the first step on a path towards the return of respect for due process, and also for truth.

Davis backed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, shortly after the book was published. Davis published a column for several years called Purple Nation which expounded on aspects of his thesis that there was a winning coalition of centrists and independents to be found, in between the extremes of partisan politics.


According to the author, the book received praise from Democratic Senator Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman, Democratic Leadership Council CEO Al From, law professor Alan M. Dershowitz, and conservative commentator Michael Medved.[4]

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