Clouded with a chance of meatballs

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan solicits a response to criticisms of the Times’s coverage (or lack thereof) of the IRS scandals from David Joachim, who is the Times’s man on the case. Sullivan links to Joachim’s stories and provides his response in “Is the Times ignoring a scandal at the IRS?” Joachim holds that “we’ve paid copious attention to this story, and we will continue to do so. It’s an important story.” Sullivan passes this judgment:

The Times was somewhat late in beginning to cover the latest development about the lost emails. My office had begun to field several days’ worth of reader protests on the lack of attention when the first story finally went online. Despite that slow start and the quiet display of the subsequent stories (an analytical piece might have been a good choice for the front page), The Times has given its readers insightful coverage of a situation heavily clouded by partisan politics.

Take a look for yourself. I would say that the Times is foremost among the partisans clouding the story.

One of the articles linked in Sullivan’s post (it’s linked from the word “enterprise”) is Jonathan Weisman’s May 2013 story, “IRS scrutiny went beyond the political.” The illustrative cases served up in this article are (1) “a tiny Palestinian-rights group called Minnesota Break the Bonds,” (2) “Chi Eta Phi Sorority, a mainly African-American nurses’ society that advertises its mission as ‘social change,’” and (3) CASH Music, a group that “seeks to help musicians on the Internet.”

Weisman argues that “a closer look at the I.R.S. operation suggests that the problem was less about ideology and more about how a process instructing reviewers to ‘be on the lookout’ for selected terms was applied to any group that mentioned certain words in its application.”

It’s almost funny. Among other things, it appears that each of these groups applied for 501(c)(3) status. Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign — the first of the groups presented in Weisman’s article — is an anti-Israel group that has in fact been recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization. Weisman sheds no light on Lois Lerner’s campaign against conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status. And Joachim identifies Weisman’s article as an example of Times’s “enterprise” reportage on the IRS scandal. “Heavily clouded,” indeed.

The Times has yet to report on the IRS’s settlement of the case brought against it by the National Organization for Marriage for illegal disclosure of the group’s donors to Matthew Meisel, who had a “conduit” inside the agency. Meisel sought the donor list for the express purpose of publicizing the donors’ names for political purposes, which he proceeded to do. It’s a scandal that demonstrates the IRS’s scandal management and the Obama administration’s protection of the partisan operation run by the agency. It therefore illuminates the scandals in which Lois Lerner appears so far as the protagonist.

Referring back to Sullivan’s description of “a situation heavily clouded by partisan politics,” I think “Cloudy” ought to be the theme song for the Times here. It applies both to its coverage and its noncoverage of the IRS scandals.

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