Actual NYT headline: "IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On"

Ed flagged this earlier in an update but I want to make sure people see it. You know this routine by now: If it’s a scandal involving Republicans, the story is the scandal. If it’s a scandal involving Democrats, the story — or at least a significant part of it — is whether and how Republicans will “politicize” the scandal for their advantage. (Aren’t Democrats interested in “seizing on” this malfeasance to root out IRS corruption too?) That LA Times headline that I screencapped last week is a textbook example of the genre: “Partisan politics dominates House Benghazi hearing,” as if the big takeaway from Greg Hicks’s testimony was nothing-to-see-here politics-as-usual squabbling between Republicans and Democrats. What makes the NYT’s angle this morning noteworthy is that they’ve been downplaying tea partiers’ accusations against the IRS since the beginning, starting with this now-infamous editorial last year and continuing right on through this weekend. Joe Scarborough marveled on Saturday morning that the IRS story somehow didn’t make the Times’s front page; I didn’t see a hard copy of the paper but Michael Goldfarb claims an article ended up running on … page A11. Via DaTechGuy, here’s where it landed on the Times’s home page. Click the image to enlarge, squint hard, and look way, way down:

The lead editorial in yesterday’s Times, by the way, was titled, “Who Can Take Republicans Seriously?” It wasn’t about the IRS scandal, but draw your own conclusions as to how a paper whose leadership harbors that attitude might find a “politicization” angle more interesting than a story about the IRS persecuting conservative nonprofits.

There are, incidentally, two angles closely related to the “politicization” angle that some media types may find useful in deflecting from the underlying scandal. First, naturally, the idea that the scandal is bad mainly because it undermines liberal priorities:

The political firestorm over the Internal Revenue Service’s admission that it targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny during the 2012 election could jeopardize separate efforts underway in Congress to force the agency to crack down on non-profit political organizations, observers say…

Campaign-finance watchdogs, along with a handful of mostly Democratic lawmakers, have put increasing pressure on the IRS to more closely monitor the actions of self-described “social welfare” organizations — arguing these groups have abused the tax code to mask their funders.

Second, the inevitable concern-trolling that the GOP will “overplay its hand” in going after the IRS and the White House:

Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama isn’t handing ammunition to Republicans in the form of self-created personal scandals. And yet he is presiding over a conflict-ridden era that is, if anything, even more wearying and exasperating than the Clinton era. The GOP is blocking his judges and Cabinet secretaries, attacking his budget proposals as both too austere and not austere enough, trying to withhold money for a smooth transition to the new health care law, and threatening again to ignore the debt limit and the perils of default. Now add multiple investigations of the IRS and Benghazi, some warranted and some excessive. Where will it all lead?

Shortly after the September 1998 release of the Starr report (with its graphic sexual references and 11 proposed articles of impeachment), and before they went on to impeach and try Clinton, Republicans contradicted historical patterns by losing House seats. The public, it turned out, was tired of scandal, investigations, and conflict. Obama can only hope the same dynamic plays out in 2014.

So there you go. The GOP now has an issue to seize on which might well destroy the left’s dream of tighter campaign-finance scrutiny of nonprofits, unless Republicans “overreach” and end up destroying their political advantage in the process. Those are the “important” storylines worth keeping an eye on as we learn more about … senior IRS officials signing off on harassment of the administration’s ideological opponents.

Parting thoughts from our favorite liberal: