Another False Media-Generated IRS "Scandal"

by Linda Beale

Another False Media-Generated IRS “Scandal”

Fox News and similar outlets (and even some of our esteemed Congresspeople, like Jim Jordan) have been fuming that Doug Shulman, the former IRS Commissioner, had more visits to the White House than any other cabinet officer. See, e.g., Evan McMurray, Bill O’Reilly Rails: IRS Commish’s 157 White House Visits “A Smoking Gun”, Mediaite (May 30, 2013).

“The President of the United States should explain tomorrow what Mr. Shulman was doing at the White House so many times,” O’Reilly added. “There’s no way on earth this Shulman should not have to explain in detail what he did inside of the IRS. So again we call upon President Obama to clarify the situation. Make Shulman testify as soon as possible.” Id. (quoting O’Reilly on Fox program).

The right-wing blogosphere went ballistic with this, as one would expect. See, e.g., Coglianes, IRS’s Shulman had More Public White House Meetings Than Any Cabinet Member, Daily Caller (May 29, 2013) (apparently one of the frequently quoted sources for the misleading statistic); For God’s Glory Alone Ministries, May 30, 2013 (repeating information generated by the Daily Caller); Michael Patrick Leahy, Former IRS Head Shulman Visited White House 118 Times in Two Years, (May 28, 2013) (same); Rick Moran, IRS chief visited White House more than any other cabinet officer, AmericanThinker (May 30, 2013). The Moran article is about as bad as the O’Reilly junkfomation. In the typical way that these rightwingers have of presupposing corruption in government, Moran confides

If you were the head of an agency that was doing something you know your boss would approve of – if only in private – wouldn’t you brag about it to him and get a good chuckle about the discomfort visited upon your boss’s political enemies? Id.

This is the kind of conspiracy craziness that abounds in Washington these days. It makes for blogposts going viral and conjures up donations for tea party politicking.

But the first response of most reasonable people was NOT to see a report of visits by the IRS commissioner to the White House complex as a scandal but rather as something perfectly expected and, in fact, mandated by the job. Anyone who is aware of the broad range of responsibilities that have been heaped on the (underfunded, understaffed, and outmgunned) IRS’s shoulders by Congress knows that there would be plenty of reasons for an IRS commissioner to visit the White House complex, since the IRS Is the critical agency central to the implementation of Obamacare and dozens of other federal government programs. Banking secrecy –FATCA, the effort to get Switzerland to open up its bank records–could also require consultation with White House executives.

The second response of responsible journalists was to doublecheck the records to see if there was other information to shed light on this purportedly “unique” access of the IRS commissioner to the White House. Something important to recognize–these are the first public records we’ve had of such visits–Obama made them public; other presidents before him did not. That means that you can’t compare how often a Bush or Clinton IRS commissioner had clearance to visit the White House complex, because the records for that aren’t public. Those who checked the records found some very interesting facts–very very very very many of those visits approved for Shulman to the White House complex were for routine meetings of the group putting together the implementation of Obamacare. Very very very few were face-to-face meetings with Obama, and those were not the kind of secretive sessions where the right-wing conspiracy theorists orders for “targeting” conservative groups could take place.

For a good discussion of this issue and the junky media coverage of these routine opportunities for Shulman to visit the White House, see Franke-Ruta, The Fake Story about the IRS Commissioner and the White House: White House records show Douglas Shulman signed in for 11 visits, not 157, between 2009 and 2012, The Atlantic (May 31, 2013).

In a prior posting on “The real IRS scandal”, I noted that right wing commentators have spewed a lot of hot air to make a scandal out of something that really isn’t one. Even the TIGTA report seems to fall into that line–it may have been politically insensitive to use “Tea Party” as one of the search terms for likely politicking groups, but it probably was a quite efficient choice and not clearly “inappropriate” as the TIGTA report dubbed it.

At any rate, for anyone truly interested in how accurate right-wing pundits like Bill O’Reilly actually are, you might want to read the Atlantic story fairly closely. It is a detailed, fact-based study of the actual and potential visits that Doug Shulman was cleared for attending.

Here’s what Franke-Ruta says about Bill O’Reilly and that group.

[F]ew of those pushing this line have bothered to read more than the topline of that public information. Bill O’Reilly on Thursday called them the “smoking gun” and demanded of Shulman, “You must explain under oath what you were doing at the White House on 157 separate occasions.” His statement built on a Daily Caller story, “IRS’s Shulman had more public White House visits than any Cabinet member.” An Investors Business Daily story and [a] slew of blog items repeated the charges.
“The alibi the White House has wedded itself to is that it had to work closely with the IRS to implement ObamaCare,” the Investor’s Business Daily has written — as if that were not true.”

The Atlantic story proves the weakness of journalistic investigation by O’Reilly, the Daily Caller, and the Investor’s Business Daily, since the public record clearly shows that the vast majority of the Shulman cleared visits to the White House complex were to work on the ongoing health-care implementation.

Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That’s 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.

But the cleared visits and attended visits are two different things. And there is public information that shows that Shulman actually signed in to attend very few visits.

According to the White House records, Shulman signed in twice in 2009, five times in 2010, twice in 2011, and twice in 2012.

Folks, if anybody talks to you about the “evidence” that Shulman met with Obama more than a hundred times, make sure you set the facts straight. This kind of misleading punditry appears to have no purpose other than the arousal of anti-Obama partisanship and furthering the anti-tax/”starve the beast” mentality.

Related articles:

The real IRS scandal

Records show Former IRS Commissioner signed in for 11 visits, not 157 as the right wing media claims

The ‘smoking gun’ fires blanks

Wingnuts go bonkers over phony story about IRS commissioner’s

cross posted with ataxingmatter