By Mona Charen
Remember the IRS scandal? It's gone. Poof. So flaccid has press interest in the story become that President Barack Obama made bold in an interview with Fox News to say there was not a "smidgen of corruption" in the IRS's conduct.
It requires terrific confidence in the passivity of the press to float the discredited "Cincinnati did it all" dodge since we know that IRS employees in that office were taking direction from Washington. We further know that IRS offices in California, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C. and other places have been identified as singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names.
Obama's confidence in the press is not misplaced. Despite juicy opportunities to delve into the story of government abusing its power, reporters have let the matter drop.
There was no smoking gun showing that Obama personally ordered the harassment of conservatives, some explain. Is that the standard? Because it seems the press applied a different yardstick to Chris Christie. Well, there's a "scandal attention cycle," says the Columbia Journalism Review. To some extent, this is true. But there are different rules for Democrats, and particularly for Obama.
To review: When the behavior of the IRS was first revealed in May of 2013, the press furor was considerable. The president was alarmed enough about the damaging story to hold a press conference. "If ... IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on," he said, " ... then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it." He continued, "I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
Or not. Now it's just "bone-headed decisions out of a local office." This is tamely accepted. If it concerned just a local office, why did Obama fire the director of the IRS? Why did Lois Lerner plead the Fifth and resign? (Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee erred by not granting her use immunity and intensely questioning her about what really happened. They could still do it.)
It was also a non-scandal when the Justice Department appointed an Obama donor to investigate the IRS. Nor did the press follow up on uncontested accounts of IRS employees leaking confidential taxpayer information -- which is a felony.
Last week, Catherine Engelbrecht, a small businesswoman from Texas who founded True the Vote and King Street Patriots, testified about her ordeal at the hands of the federal government. After she became politically active, she was subject to personal and business audits by the IRS going back several years. Then the FBI came knocking to ask about someone who attended one of the meetings of the King Street Patriots. The IRS returned with an armamentarium of questions about True the Vote. Then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration showed up to examine her business with a fine-tooth comb. (They fined her $17,500.) Finally, the Engelbrechts were graced with a visit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Engelbrecht's experience should chill anyone concerned about government intimidation, overreach, arrogance and abuse of power. But most of all, it should alarm the press -- supposedly the fierce guardians of the First Amendment. The press made Sandra Fluke a household name when she testified before a House subcommittee about the terrible injustice she would suffer if taxpayers did not purchase her contraceptives for her. Yet Engelbrecht, an ordinary person merely attempting to join with other Americans in petitioning the government for redress of grievances, was hammered by a succession of powerful government agencies. Not even a bleat from the press about this flagrant assault on free speech.
Government agencies should operate in a strictly neutral and nonpartisan fashion. If they become politicized, we've entered banana republic territory. The press, by failing to beat the drums on this, is complicit in corruption that goes far beyond a "smidgen."