How the IRS, Benghazi, and AP scandals might converge

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In recent days, the Obama Administration has been rocked by scandal. And in some ways, those scandals may overlap.

On Friday, ABC News’ Jon Karl reported the Benghazi talking points underwent 12 revisions in an apparent attempt to downplay the terrorism angle. Later that same day, the IRS apologized for targeting conservative groups. And on Monday, it was revealed that the Justice Department had seized phone records of Associated Press reporters.

Not a great couple of days.

During a press conference on Monday, the president sought to downplay Benghazi, while rhetorically, at least, talking tough about the IRS scandal. But talk is cheap. This calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to independently investigate this wrongdoing.

At this point, merely firing some IRS employees won’t be enough. The fact that this was politically motivated is especially alarming, and I think, warrants extra scrutiny. Political speech ought to be the most protected speech. And this sort of thing has a chilling effect on political participation. As ABC News reported, “When Jennifer Stefano of suburban Philadelphia tried to start a tea party group, the IRS sent her so many questions that she figured it was easier to quit.”

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But will we see a special prosecutor? It depends. To some degree, the outcome of the IRS scandal will be contingent on whether (or how) the media covers the scandal.

About one year ago, I reported that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) alleged that someone at the IRS leaked confidential information regarding Mitt Romney’s $10,000 donation to the group. I certainly wasn’t the only one writing about IRS abuses, but until the IRS apologized last Friday, the mainstream media wasn’t particularly interested.

Here is where I think the Benghazi scandal and the IRS scandal may converge. In both cases, there is at least the appearance the Obama Administration might have used the levers of power to help guarantee the president’s re-election.

In the case of Benghazi, downplaying the terror angle had obvious political benefits. The IRS scandal is less obvious, but it is possible it also played into the re-election (remember, this goes back to at least 2010.). Yesterday, ProPublica announced that the IRS had leaked confidential documents about conservative groups to them. Question: Was it a coincidence that Mitt Romney’s confidential donation to NOM ended up in the hands of a liberal group? And what about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s allegations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for a decade?

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In any event, let’s get back to the media’s role in this. After mostly giving Obama a pass during his first term, in recent days, a sort of feeding frenzy has begun. If the Administration thought dumping the Benghazi and IRS news on a Friday would bury the stories, they were wrong.

In the intervening days, more and more information trickled out. For example, the initial spin was that a low-level IRS employee in Cincinnati was responsible. But as the Washington Post has since reported, “IRS officials in Washington were involved in the targeting of conservative groups.” They seem to be cutting the puppy dog’s tail off one inch at a time, rather than in one fell swoop.

A primary role of the press is to hold powerful people accountable. When they do so (as in Watergate), things usually change. But when they give the powerful a pass, the public is not well served, and bad things tend to happen.

And that’s where recent events once again converge.

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When political opponents are targeted, and when the press (the very people who ought to bravely call the administration out for it) feel threatened, themselves, they are less likely to hold the politicians accountable. The same rule applies to whistleblowers who might tell the press information that could embarrass the Administration. So how do you expect the press — and the whistleblowers — to feel after it was revealed that the Obama Administration had seized phone records of Associated Press reporters?

Nobody is saying this rises to the level of an authoritarian regime. But freedom requires eternal vigilance, so we should have zero tolerance for this behavior. We’re treading on very dangerous territory here. If oppressing your enemies and silencing your critics doesn’t constitute tyranny, I don’t know what does.

Matt K. Lewis