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Media Malpractice and the IRS Scandal, Part II

3:53 PM, Aug 5, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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What he leaves out, however, is that this sort of “irresponsible speculation” was widespread, including within his own publication. (What some call “a lid” others might describe as “editing.”) For instance, here’s one of his colleagues, Jeffrey H. Anderson, writing in The Weekly Standard in late May:

The Washington Examiner reports that the IRS chief visited the White House more than once a week under President Obama, after having visited less than once a year under President Bush…

Aside from perhaps being there to discuss targeting efforts, the only plausible reason for the IRS chief to have visited the Obama White House so regularly was to discuss the IRS’s significant expansion in power and scope under Obamacare.

(The misleading storyline about the IRS commissioner’s visits to the White House was also played up by The Daily Caller and Bill O’Reilly, among others. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Rute took it apart here.)

In my initial critique of Nyhan, I was upfront about the fact there had been irresponsible speculation in the scandal. Where we differ is in how much impact any bad reporting had on public opinion. For his part, Nyhan cites a CNN poll in June saying that 50 percent of those asked thought there was White House involvement in the scandal. Bad reporting surely plays a role in this result, but accusing presidents of using the IRS against their enemies has been a common political trope since Nixon. I suspect that number would be alarmingly high, regardless of the actual evidence of White House malfeasance or quality of reporting.

Though the error was not ours, perhaps THE WEEKLY STANDARD should have gone back and clarified Anderson's blog post once evidence emerged later that the Washington Examiner's report was misleading.

At the end of the day, we'd all like higher journalistic standards in the face of breaking news, scandals and twenty-four hour news cycles. Nyhan's not wrong to lament that, but regardless of any bad reporting the basic thrust of the IRS scandal remains unchanged. Unintentionally or not, Nyhan's piece last week seemed to intimate that subsequent evidence in the IRS scandal suggests that there weren't partisan motivations and that IRS officials' wrongdoing was less serious.

In any event, I still regard Nyhan as doing quality work on media and political issues. With luck, we're all a little more careful and better informed as a result of this exchange and I expect to be praising, as opposed to critiquing, Nyhan's work again soon.

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