Politics & Policy

Poof: A Scandal Disappears

The press has decided that the IRS’s targeting of conservatives is not newsworthy.

Remember the IRS scandal? It’s gone. Poof. So flaccid has press interest in the story become that President Obama made bold in an interview with Fox News to say that there was not a “smidgen of corruption” in the IRS’s conduct, and that the matter concerned only some “bone-headed decisions out of a local office.”

It requires terrific confidence in the passivity of the press to float the discredited “Cincinnati did it all” dodge since we know that IRS employees in that office were taking direction from Washington. We further know that IRS offices in California, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and other places have been identified as singling out groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names.

Obama’s confidence in the press is not misplaced. Despite juicy opportunities to delve into the story of government abusing its power, reporters have let the matter drop.

There was no “smoking gun” showing that Obama personally ordered the harassment of conservatives, some explain. Is that the standard? Because it seems that the press applied a different yardstick to Chris Christie. Well, there’s a “scandal attention cycle,” says the Columbia Journalism Review. To some extent that’s true. But there are different rules for Democrats, and particularly for Obama.

To review: When the behavior of the IRS was first revealed in May of 2013, the press furor was considerable. For a week or so, it was almost as if the press remembered how to cover the administration aggressively. The president was alarmed enough about the damaging story to hold a press conference. “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups,” he said, “then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable. . . . You should feel that way regardless of party.” He continued, “I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”

Or not. Now it’s just “bone-headed decisions out of a local office.” This is tamely accepted. If it concerned just a local office, why did Obama fire the director of the IRS? Why did Lois Lerner plead the Fifth and resign? (Republicans on the House oversight committee erred by not granting her use immunity and questioning her intensely on what really happened. They could still do it.)

It was also a non-scandal when the Justice Department appointed an Obama donor to investigate the IRS. Nor did the press follow up on uncontested accounts of IRS employees leaking confidential taxpayer information — which is a felony. The donor list of the National Organization for Marriage was leaked by someone at the IRS to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that supports same-sex marriage.

Last week, Catherine Englebrecht, a small businesswoman from Texas who founded True the Vote and King Street Patriots, testified about her ordeal at the hands of the federal government. Though she had never been audited in her life before exercising her First Amendment rights, after she became politically active she was subject to personal and business audits by the IRS going back several years. Then the FBI came knocking to ask about someone who attended one of the meetings of the King Street Patriots. The IRS returned with an armamentarium of questions about True the Vote. Then OSHA showed up to examine her business with a fine-tooth comb. (They fined her $17,500.) Finally, the Englebrechts were graced with a visit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Englebrecht’s experience should chill anyone concerned about government intimidation, overreach, arrogance, and abuse of power. But most of all it should alarm the press — supposedly the fierce guardians of the First Amendment. The press made Sandra Fluke a household name when she testified before a House subcommittee about the terrible injustice she would suffer if taxpayers did not purchase her contraceptives for her. Yet Catherine Englebrecht, an ordinary person merely attempting to join with other Americans in petitioning the government for redress of grievances, was hammered by a succession of powerful government agencies. Not even a bleat from the press about this flagrant assault on free speech.

It is an article of faith that agencies will operate in a strictly neutral and nonpartisan fashion when enforcing the law. If they become politicized, we’ve entered banana-republic territory. The press, by failing to beat the drums on this, is complicit in corruption that goes far beyond a “smidgen.”

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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