How to know when a Trump story becomes a scandal

Jack Shafer writes: What are the chances the larva of the Russia scandal now growing on the Trump presidency will mature into pupa form and ultimately emerge, wings flapping, as a spitting, snarling adult scandal?

The elements of a rip-roaring scandal already exist. The president has cultivated — there is no other word for it — a screwy relationship with Russia’s maximum leader, Vladimir Putin. His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, exposed the administration to scrutiny in a phone discussion with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration and, according to news reports, talked about the sanctions President Obama had leveled on Russia in retaliation for its political hacking. Then Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence — why would he do that? And why did Trump, who knew about the call, leave Pence out of the loop, and let him go on TV without the facts?

Then there’s the sensational Steele dossier that portrayed Trump as sordidly compromised by the Russians, parts of which have been corroborated by U.S. officials. Want more? Paul Manafort, former Trump’s campaign chairman, and other members of his team reportedly had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials at the same time Russians were engaged in the now infamous political hacking. Did Team Trump collude with the Russian meddlers? Then there’s the suspicious sale of Russian oil giant Rosneft, which some have reported benefited individuals in the Trump circle. This week, Politico reported that Manafort might have been blackmailed by Russia-friendly forces, further entangling Trump.

Swirling like a murmuration of starlings, the Russia-Trump stories have captured the attention of journalists, politicians, FBI investigators and members of the public. To reach true scandal status, however, it must do more than excite the few. As it turns out, the press isn’t the most important moving part in making a scandal grow. In his 2009 paper, “A Generalized Stage Model of International Political Scandals,” sociologist Stan C. Weeber plots the steps a story must complete before rising to full-on scandal status. [Continue reading…]

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