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The Campaign to Wish Away the IRS Scandal

1:05 PM, Aug 2, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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So again, the evidence suggests that Tea Party groups were disproportionately targeted. Now it's important to acknolwedge that facts could still emerge that might reshape our understanding of the scandal, but the preponderance of available evidence suggests the IRS was targeting conservative groups. Further, the reason why we don't know more is that the IRS itself is stonewalling. Prominent IRS officials have taken the Fifth, and the IRS has released to Congress just 13,000 of 65 million pages of documents that the IRS says it has related to the scandal. If there were documents or facts exonerating the IRS, it seems like they'd be more forthcoming.

Nyhan's curious framing of the facts here is also troubling because he has a not undeserved reputation as a sober academic. Others with a more obvious political agenda are now using his flawed analysis for their own ends. Yesterday, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein essentially regurgitated Nyhan's analysis on his own blog, right down to reproducing his same graphs. The piece is titled "The media loves covering scandal. We don’t love telling you when the scandal falls apart." Here are the two penultimate graphs:

Wonkblog, I’m sorry to say, was part of the problem here. Early on, we covered the IRS scandal aggressively. Looking back, I think that coverage holds up well, including my initial report on the explosion of 501(c)(4)s and a piece I subsequently wrote arguing that “the scandals are falling apart.”

But as the scandals actually did fall apart, we didn’t really return to the subject. I remember, in particular, a couple of days where I meant to write about revelations that the targeting lists included the word “progressive” and the testimony that Rep. Elijah Cummings had released from a conservative IRS supervisor. The new information pretty much shut the door on the idea that there was a politically motivated, high-reaching effort to hassle right-leaning groups. But more pressing news kept intervening, and I never ended up writing the article.

Kind of odd that Klein would say the media doesn't like saying "the scandals are falling apart," when he, in fact, credits himself for writing a piece headlined "The Scandals Are Falling Apart."  This makes his adoption of the royal "We" in discussing the media's failures on the scandal pretty disingenous. The subtext here is obvious. In May, when Klein prematurely declared that the "scandals were falling apart" -- a title that also referenced the unresolved Benghazi and the spying on journalists scandals -- he was roundly mocked for doing so. A week later, Klein was summoned to the White House with a few other left-leaning bloggers, apparently to help coordinate their response to the IRS scandal, and suddenly he was taking the IRS scandal more seriously. If Wonkblog hasn't returned to the coverage since then, that's likely because, despite a few minor revelations, no substantial evidence has emerged to change the basic political narrative of the IRS scandal that he's been trying and failing to dismiss from the beginning. But Klein is now under the impression that the weak case Nyhan's marshalled gives him license to revisit the topic. Far from "we" in the media being reticent to say the scandals are falling apart, it seems Klein's trying to take credit for doing just that because he thinks he has a rare politically advantageous opportunity to say it again.

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