This week saw the resignation of two prominent IRS officials after it was confirmed that the agency targeted conservative nonprofit political groups during the 2012 election. The departures were at least a partial victory for conservative bloggers. They’ve been covering the story for over a year, and they’ve been mostly alone. The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone tells Bob about the story’s winding path, starting with its origin in the right-wing blogosphere.
BOB GARFIELD: This week saw the resignation of two prominent IRS officials after it was confirmed that the agency targeted conservative nonprofit political groups during the 2012 election.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It should not matter what political stripe you’re from. The fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity.
BOB GARFIELD: IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was fired on Wednesday and Joseph Grant, the commissioner of the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, announced his resignation on Thursday. The departures were at least a partial victory for conservative bloggers. They’ve been covering the story for more than a year, and they've been mostly alone. The IRS scandal didn't really break onto the mainstream front pages until last week, after an admission of wrongdoing from the IRS itself. The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone wrote about the story’s winding path, starting with its origin in the right-wing blogosphere.
MICHAEL CALDERONE: Some conservative sites, like The Blaze and like Right Side News, they started saying, okay, you know, this is a group in Virginia, this is a group in Hawaii saying this. And, and the letters seemed remarkably similar and were coming from the same office in Cincinnati that is supposed to be investigating whether a organization should get nonprofit status.
BOB GARFIELD: And if the stories were there, and there were reasonably well-documented, why do you suppose the mainstream press didn’t pick up on these blog posts in the right-wing media?
MICHAEL CALDERONE: I think there is a hesitancy because there have been a number of cases where conservative sites will post stories that are later amplified by the Drudge Report and get on Fox News. And these stories suggest a conspiracy at the hands of Democrats or the Obama administration, and oftentimes when you look into these stories, there's – there’s not nearly as much there as the headlines would imply there was.
At the same time, if reporters had looked at posts like the one that Colleen Owens wrote on Right Side News, she’s a Tea Party activist. She’s not a reporter by training at all. She’s actually a stay-at-home mom based in Virginia. She uploaded PDFs of the actual letters that these groups were receiving. So it wasn’t just hyperbolic or bombastic language about how the government is trying to crack down on the rights of Tea Party people. Reporters could have found the actual primary documents, and that could have led to a lot more coverage.
BOB GARFIELD: Well actually, though, there was exactly that kind of language in her pieces, in addition to the primary sources. And, you know, it's easy to understand, when you go to the Right Side News and see crazy “Gold Bug” kinds of stories and vast conspiracies reported about Obama Care. It – it’s not hard for me to see why this stuff would be dismissed with a wave of a hand. If the boy is always crying wolf, how do you know that this time it’s a real wolf?
MICHAEL CALDERONE: Right. I think the best thing to do is to kind of look at some of the primary sources, if there are any, and then, you know, make a judgment from there whether this is something to pursue. And a – and a couple mainstream outlets the following month, after some of these stories on TheBlaze and Right Side News, did put some questions to the IRS, and the IRS basically, at the time, said they’re not looking into Tea Parties specifically, that, you know, they’re doing their diligence and following the criteria that they do when organizations want to apply to be nonprofit. So some reporters did look into it but most of the coverage back in 2012 from mainstream sites was more along the lines of Tea Parties are claiming X, IRS is saying Y, and then the story sort of dissolved.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you suppose that the mainstream press now has the responsibility [LAUGHS] to spend more time combing through these more politically inflected blogs, in case they are, in fact, detecting scandals that have not caught the attention of the outside world?
MICHAEL CALDERONE: I think it’s smart for reporters to be aware of what partisan sites whether on the right or left, might be putting out there. At the same time, you don't want reporters that go down the rabbit hole spending all their day combing through conservative or liberal blogs to try to figure out whether there might be a story there. There are some very good conservative reporters, like Bob Costa at National Review, and he’s one who frequently is breaking news out of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, and those stories then get pickup very frequently by reporters at what would be considered, you know, more mainstream news outlets. And I think it's because the stories aren’t overblown or overhyped and there’s no suggestions of malicious or nefarious intent at the hands of Democrats or the Obama administration.
BOB GARFIELD: How about you, Michael? Is Glenn Becks’ TheBlaze now on your newsfeed?
MICHAEL CALDERONE: Well, I try to pay attention to what Glenn Beck does because he has a large following and things he says will get picked up. At the same time, for any viewer of his previous show on Fox News, Glenn would wield together all these various conspiracy theories, so when you see his site talking about whether Obama is at the heart of some possible scandal, there’s going to be a likelihood that reporters might still tune that out, thinking, well, there's no “there” there.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Michael, thank you very much.
MICHAEL CALDERONE: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Huffington Post reporter Michael Calderone.
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And here’s Megyn Kelly and Dana Perino on Fox News.
MEGYN KELLY: …and I think of the t-shirt that I’ve seen online which reads, “What if Glenn Beck is Right?” And he’s, he’s been worried about this.
DANA PERINO: Yeah, hey look, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
[MEGYN KELLY LAUGHS]
And now the conservatives have been proven right.
I want to have confidence in government but this shatters you.