Fisking the New York Times' Attempt to Fisk Obama Scandals

Today's lead editorial in the New York Times, "The Republicans' Scandal Machine," attempts to dismiss two out of the three major scandals that have hit the Obama administration over the past week. Never has the so-called "paper of record" even been as uninterested in the record of what actually happened. The Times' attempted "fisking" of the scandals is so shameful and inaccurate that it deserves a fisking of its own.

The Internal Revenue Service, according to an inspector general’s report, was not reacting to political pressure or ideology when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemptions. It acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines. 

The Inspector General's report made no such conclusions. It reported (page 8) that IRS officials claimed  "that the IRS was not politically biased," but did not say whether that claim was credible, merely noting in response that "all cases with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were forwarded to the team of specialists." That would seem to be strong evidence of "political pressure or ideology"--but the Inspector General could not draw conclusions. 

Likewise, the Inspector General's report indicates that IRS officials claimed that "the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS" (page 13), but there was no way to prove whether that was correct--and as Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George noted in testimony before the House Ways and Means committee Friday, the IRS officials were not interviewed under oath. So the Times' claim is false--and there is much evidence to the contrary.

It is true that "employees couldn't understand inadequate guidelines." That does not explain why the only errors were committed against Tea Party or conservative groups--and none against left-wing groups.

The tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, never a scandal to begin with, has devolved into a turf-protection spat between government agencies, and the e-mail messages Republicans long demanded made clear that there was no White House cover-up.

The tragedy in Benghazi was a scandal from the first moment. It is a scandal that requests for additional security were denied. It is a scandal that President Barack Obama did little to monitor or direct military efforts to assist Americans under attack. It is a scandal that requests for help were denied. And it is a scandal that the White House made up a false story about a YouTube video--then pretended not to have done so. (The media's coverage of Benghazi was equally scandalous, covering up for Obama at every opportunity.)

While some of the back-and-forth in the "talking points" emails may be attributable to a "turf-protection spat," it is undeniable that the talking points were edited to remove references to terror and Al Qaeda. And though the misleading story about a "spontaneous" demonstration does appear to have been introduced into the talking points by the CIA, it is unclear why they did so or whether they did so at the direction of others. We do know, from congressional testimony, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the entire Obama administration knew from the outset that Benghazi was a terror attack. What happened next is still hidden. 

The only example of true government overreach was the seizure of The Associated Press’s telephone records, the latest episode in the Obama administration’s Javert-like obsession with leakers in its midst.

It is typical of the Times to focus myopically on the one scandal that touches media freedom. But there are numerous similar scandals afoot involving similar improper seizures of information--notably the seizure of 60 million health records by the IRS, an abuse that came up at Friday's hearing and which is partly a warning of government overreach in Obamacare, large parts of which are to be administered by the agency.

Many of the Republicans who have added this action to their metaphor blender were also the ones clamoring the loudest for vigorous investigations of national security leaks. 

The Times doesn't mention a single example. The problem isn't that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice investigated a national security leak. The problem is that it apparently did so in violation of existing laws and procedures regarding such investigations. An additional dimension of the scandal is that President Obama claims not to have known of the investigation--hardly likely, or excusable.

But reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. 

Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted.

It is not only Republicans recoiling at the abuses of government power on display. There has been considerable alarm across the aisle as well. To their credit, many Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee openly condemned the IRS for its conduct. The public is also alarmed, in general, about the expanding power of big government. In January, a poll revealed that 53% of Americans believe that the government "threatens their own personal rights and freedoms"--up from 47% in March 2010.

“This is runaway government at its worst,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said at a Tea Party news conference on Thursday about the I.R.S. scandal. “Who knows who they’ll target next.” Representative Michele Bachmann knew. Standing next to Mr. McConnell, she said the I.R.S.’s next target would obviously be the religious beliefs of people seeking health insurance.

It's enough for the Times and its readers to drop Bachmann's name to provoke scoffing and head-shaking. Yet the Obama administration has already targeted religious institutions in the battle over contraceptive and abortifacient mandates in Obamacare, and Friday's hearings on the IRS scandal revealed that the IRS asked applicants for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status about their personal religious prayers.

For Senator Mike Lee of Utah, these incidents proved that the federal budget has to be cut even more deeply. “We need to return it to a simpler, more manageable government,” he said, “because that’s the only way that we’re ever going to prevent things like this from happening.”

Clearly the more power the government has, the more power it has to abuse--and, it appears, the less it is able to handle core functions such as protecting Americans from terror, in Benghazi and in Boston as well. 

There are no “things like this,” beyond a coincidence of bad timing. But they do have one thing in common: when bound together and loudly denounced on cable television and in hearings, they serve to obscure the real damage that Republicans continue to do to the economy and the workings of government.

This is mere partisan nonsense. As I argued earlier Friday, one of the best ways to explain the divergent performance of the U.S. economy (slow recovery) and the Euro zone (return to recession) is the ascent of the Tea Party and the firming of GOP opposition to damaging tax hikes, spending increases and regulations.

While Washington was arguing about e-mail messages about Benghazi, it wasn’t paying attention to the hundreds of thousands of defense furloughs announced this week because of the Republican-imposed sequester, which will become a significant drag on economic growth. 

The Times recycles an old lie--that Republicans are to blame for the sequester. In fact, as has been proven countless times, the sequester was a proposal from the Obama White House--originally conceived as a way of pressuring Republicans to agree to higher tax cuts. It has yet to prove the calamity that Obama predicted. 

It wasn’t focusing on the huge drop in the deficit, which has yet to silence the party’s demands for more austerity. And apparently it’s considered old news that Republicans are blocking several of the president’s cabinet nominees.

The drop in the deficit is at least partly due to the aformentioned sequester, plus Republican opposition to the expansive spending that Obama and the Democrats racked up in the first two years of his presidency.

As for the cabinet nominees, Republicans have had no problem passing those whose qualifications were clear and whose ideological attitudes were not fundamentally unsuited to the job. It's rich for the Times to object when Democrats filibustered Bush appointees--often with considerably more sympathy from the Times. (It reversed its position on judicial filibusters, conveniently, once Bush was long gone from the White House.)

For those who are wondering whether this week’s political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, here’s a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)

Republicans have slowed down only one of these--Guns. They have been, in general, quite supportive of some of the president's education reforms, including the Race to the Top initiative. 

As for the president's jobs bills, Democrats often joined Republicans in opposition to what amounted to little more than renewed stimulus programs aimed significantly at government employees. 

The top priority for Americans remains the economy, and yet Obama has constructed an agenda that largely avoids these in favor of divisive wedge issues that are of interest to small slices of the American electorate. Instead of building bridges--even to Republicans who have shown a willingness to work with him, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)--he burns them at every opportunity. The only person Obama has to blame for his failures is himself. 

As for the Times, it is clear why it wants to minimize Benghazi and the IRS scandal. In both cases, it had a hand in the cover-up. It cheered on the IRS when reports emerged in 2012 that Tea Party groups were being targeted. It refuses to see the AP scandal as what it is: part of a pattern of thuggery.


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