On Monday, the majority of a panel on MSNBC’s Morning Joe attempted to convince themselves of a flawed premise: that the public largely is not convinced that the scandal involving the IRS targeting conservative groups, misleading investigators, and then failing to produce evidence relating to that investigation because they had destroyed it, is that big of a deal. The panel went on to explore an equally flawed premise regarding why the public is not incandescent with rage over this evolving controversy.
“People separate the IRS from big government,” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson hoped in the form of an assertion.
In reaction to Robinson’s claim, The Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis offered an interesting thought experiment. He asked if the Watergate scandal would have been as thoroughly investigated as it was if it had broken in today’s fractured and partisan media environment. “This should be outrageous to people,” he said. “The possibility that a president is using the power of the IRS…”
Here he was cut off as a chorus of insulted MSNBC panel guests erupted with indignation over Lewis’ unthinkable and vulgar assertion that the president could possibly have been involved in a “Nixonian” abuse of power like what occurred at the IRS.
“Nixonian was Nixonian because Nixon had his hand on the button,” Donny Deutsch insisted with unassailable accuracy. “I don’t think anybody, even the most wacked out people, are thinking President Obama is sitting in his office picking up the hotline.”
Robinson agreed, noting there is no equivalent of E. Howard Hunt in the IRS scandal. Neither seemed aware that they had unwittingly proven Lewis’ point. Their rush to extend the White House the benefit of the doubt suggests that there would not have been a modern Watergate if columnists and commentators like Deutsch and Robinson were on the case.
A potential link to the White House could only be uncovered after exhaustive investigation on the part of reporters. Those reporters today would have to endure a withering campaign of shaming from their most powerful colleagues for chasing ghosts and displaying a disturbing lack of zeal for The Cause.
But the most shocking admission came from the program’s co-host and anchor Willie Geist who noted that the IRS targeting scandal “should be an outrageous story.” His assumption seems to betray the fact that, in his circles, it is not an “outrageous story.” That is not a widely shared opinion.
A Fox News poll released last week showed that 74 percent support a congressional investigation into the targeting scandal, including 86 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of surveyed independents, and 66 percent of Democratic respondents. That poll also revealed that 76 percent believe the IRS intentionally destroyed hardware in order to hide evidence relating to the targeting scandal from investigators.
A Quinnipiac University survey released last week showed that 76 percent want a special counsel appointed in order to investigate the scandal. Again, there is no partisan, age, gender, or race gap in the findings. “The idea has strong support across all parties, with 88 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents calling for a special prosecutor,” The Hill reported.
The IRS investigation may not be as pressing an issue for the American people as, say, unemployment or health care, nor should it be. Broadly supported new background checks for firearms purchases in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre was also low on voters’ list of priorities, but this did not stop members of the press – and Morning Joe’s regulars in particular – from declaring it the single most important issue of our time.
Robinson concluded by laughing off the IRS scandal, noting inaccurately that the liberal groups were also targeted by the IRS with equal fervor. They weren’t. Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher came up with the most charitable means of exculpating the press for their lack of interest in the IRS scandal by suggesting that the public has chalked up the IRS scandal to rampant and unsurprising incompetence displayed by a federal bureaucracy. They haven’t.
This panel segment was a perfect window into the mentality that dominates the press today. The press is subject to a form of peer pressure which often takes the form of derision heaped upon those who are investigating stories inconvenient for the White House. It is a mechanism for enforcing consensus and it has worked spectacularly well.
The public cares a great deal about the revelations coming out of the IRS. This morning’s panel represented the minority of those who do not.