Guess how the press reacted to IRS’s commissioner’s implausible testimony
posted at 10:41 am on June 24, 2014 by Noah Rothman
Guess how the press reacting to IRS’s commissioner’s implausible testimony
At a marathon hearing on Monday night, congressional investigators grilled IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the nature of the targeting scandal and the agency’s recent revelations that it lost two years’ worth of email communications from former executive Lois Lerner.
The hearing was contentious with Republicans accusing Koskinen of charges ranging from ignorance of the law to the active misleading of Congress. Democrats, meanwhile, played defense by shielding the agency and the White House from criticism while accusing their GOP colleagues of playing politics.
The hearing was a significant event in the course of the investigation into the IRS’s alleged targeting of conservative groups. Today, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero and White House attorney Jennifer O’Connor, a former IRS counselor to the commissioner, will testify before the congressional investigators. The revelations regarding what could most charitably be described as the tax collection agency’s incompetence (malfeasance, at worst) keeps coming.
So how did the nation’s most visible media outlets react to the latest news out of the IRS?
Let’s check out the Paper of Record as of 9 a.m. ET:
Above what is the web equivalent of “the fold,” The New York Times printed nothing about the IRS commissioner’s testimony. The story barely registered on the site’s U.S. news section. It was the Times’ politics section where it was determined the IRS story should lead.
That is striking because, in one post on the Times site billed as a Q&A style explainer for the IRS scandal, many questions are asked and admittedly not satisfactorily answered. The content of the Times betrays the apolitical nature of this scandal, even if The Grey Lady’s editors hope to convey the political nature of the investigation to their readers.
Well, maybe it was just the website. Let’s check the print version of the Times:
What about this morning’s Washington Post? Surely news consumers in the nation’s capital would not stand to see this story buried:
There it is! Above “the fold” even. Oh, no. That’s not a report, it is an op-ed by the conservative editorialist Michael Gerson. Again, the impression being conveyed is clear: the IRS scandal is a political event and not a general interest news story.
In the Post‘s limited coverage of last night’s testimony is one article which focuses on Koskinen’s claim that the White House was not informed of the missing emails. The majority of the article, however, was a roundup of Republicans spouting off indignantly about the IRS commissioner’s flippancy.
Even The Wall Street Journal, a paper with a large circulation and a relatively conservative editorial board, neglected to update their readers on the IRS scandal and last night’s hearings. Two perfunctory posts on Koskinen’s testimony and today’s scheduled hearings were buried in the Journal’s Capital Journal section, the equivalent of the paper’s politics page.
The network newscasts, which uttered not a single word about the scandal on Monday evening, are playing catchup on Tuesday. While ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast only a one-sentence summary of last night’s events, CBS’s This Morning broadcast a detailed recap of the night’s hearings, Republicans’ concerns about the IRS’s conduct, and Democrats’ defense of the IRS and the White House.
NBC’s Today broadcast a similarly detailed package in which reporter Peter Alexander reported on the expanding scale of the allegations about the IRS’s misconduct, but focused extensively on the partisan nature of the investigation.
While the press still seems inclined to dismiss the IRS scandal, those who opine on politics for a living have a different take.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the hosts had a difficult time explaining away the apparent misconduct of the IRS based on Koskinen’s testimony. In a revelatory moment, the crew turned to MSNBC host Alex Wagner to absolve the IRS of blame. Her attempt at exculpation was not particularly compelling.
“It’s a gross, big bureaucracy,” Wagner said of the IRS. “They’re using really old machines.”
She added that, unlike server-based public email, the IRS keeps their electronic mail records on tape. “And then that tape is destroyed every 60 days, because the IRS is like 1960s Soviet-style bureaucracy,” Wagner opined.
Accepting Wagner’s premise, the rest of the group then wondered why Americans should empower this tax collection agency with more power like what was done after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Finally, former McCain campaign veteran Steve Schmidt suggested that partisan Democrats efforts to pardon the IRS for its behavior have the potential to backfire on them if more damning revelations about the tax collection agency’s conduct are uncovered.
Sure, the IRS scandal has the potential to backfire on dismissive Democrats in the same way all matter has potential energy. Not everything reaches a kinetic stage, however, and the forces that could focus the nation’s attention on the scandal are determined to treat it as yet another partisan exercise by Republicans.
Given the outstanding questions surrounding this controversy, the gravity of the charges, and the disinterest of the press, the IRS’s defenders better hope nothing more egregious is uncovered. If there are more revelations to come, many more than just the bureaucrats at the IRS will have been complicit.