How about that Internal Revenue Service?
For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been hearing how the IRS over-scrutinized and delayed approving tax-exempt status to conservative groups while rubber-stamping similar requests from liberal groups.
On the heels of this we find out that, simultaneously, the IRS was squandering millions of tax dollars on conventions where IRS staffers were learning about customer service.
They were learning about customer service by, in part, watching a guy from New Zealand on a stage painting a picture Bono. (That little seminar was a bargain. The artist only got $27,000 for his trouble.)
And it seems the “event planners” the IRS hired to plan these shindigs didn’t bother to look for any bargains. They made themselves a cool $133K booking rooms for up to $3,500 a night. No convention rates for the IRS, apparently.
Those fun-loving IRS agents just love to ham it up in luxury accommodations, don’t they?
All in all, the IRS blew about $50 million on such shenanigans, but hey, what’s a few million tax dollars among friends?
And when Congressional investigators asked the IRS for receipts from these conferences, guess what?
IRS officials reported they lost the receipts. That’s right. You heard right. The IRS lost its receipts. If this wasn’t so tragic it would be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
Seriously, you can imagine what would happen to you if you were being audited and you told the IRS agent: “Ah, sorry, but I lost my receipts.”
That’s something that has always bothered me about the IRS anyway.
It’s like those guys are judge, jury and executioner all wrapped into one.
There’s really no fighting them. They turn the whole notion of jurisprudence completely on its head.
With the IRS, you are guilty until proven innocent. and they have an army of people charged with the task of making sure you can never prove yourself innocent. It’s you against the government.
But I digress.
I thought the government was broke? I thought we were going to have to lay off air traffic controllers and meat inspectors and all manner of essential government workers because times are so tight.
Guess not, because the IRS sure isn’t cutting any corners.
I just have a really hard time with stuff like this. I mean, it’s just so wrong.
Taken by itself, the IRS stuff is pretty unsettling, but when you link it with all the other scandals in Washington, it starts getting a little ridiculous.
The administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting Americans’ business communications records from Verizon.
The Justice Department is seizing phone records of Associated Press reporters.
And there’s the whole botched Benghazi mess where a U.S. ambassador wound up dead and the administration misled the American people about how and why.
And as troubling as all of this stuff is, there’s something else that troubles me even more.
See, I’ve come to almost expect government to be corrupt and inefficient so scandals in government aren’t all that jarring to me.
But the press is different. The press is supposed to be the Fourth Estate. The press is supposed to be a watchdog.
The press isn’t any of those things anymore and that really bothers me.
Of all the scandals I just wrote about, how many of them do you suppose were uncovered by a relentlessly investigative U.S. media outlet?
That would be zero.
Benghazi? No way. It was the Republican Congress that finally forced the media – albeit kicking and screaming – to cover the story. Before that, the media was too busy telling us there was no story to tell. (There were a couple exceptions like Sharyl Attkisson and Jake Tapper, but the vast majority of reporters ignored the story.)
IRS? Nope. The IRS  planted a question at an American Bar Association conference to reveal that it had inappropriately targeted conservative groups prior to the 2012 elections.
That question, which prompted Lois Lerner, IRS director of tax exempt organizations, to apologize for the agency’s actions came from Celia Roady, a prominent Washington lawyer in private practice. Roady told reporters Lerner called her the day before the conference, prompting her to ask the question about tax-exempt groups.
Now we got us a story, eh?
AP? Nah. The seizure of Associated Press phone records came to light because the Justice Department sent the AP a letter spelling out what it had done. How’d AP not see that one coming?
How about Verizon? Not a chance. That story was broken by The Guardian, a British newspaper.
Sadder still is the fact that all of these stories were easily accessible with just a little bit of investigative work by journalists.
With regard to Verizon, in a Senate floor speech Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden talked about classified information made available to him that he couldn’t share because of  Senate rules.
He said an attack “on Americans’ privacy has been real, and it is not hypothetical.” That was last December.
Then, in January, he said this to the Huffington Post: “When the public finds out that these secret interpretations are so dramatically different than what the public law says, I think there’s going to be extraordinary anger in the country.”
The silence from the U.S. press was deafening until now, after The Guardian broke the story.
And that’s the way it has been pretty much the whole time President Barack Obama has been in office. I think the press as a whole likes President Obama. I think the press as a whole tries not to make the president look bad.
Compare and contrast that to when President George W. Bush was in office. The press stumbled all over itself to make him look bad – to the point where sometimes it was an overreach and some stuff published was patently false.
But even if some of the Bush coverage was unfair, I prefer that approach to what we have today.
The press is supposed to speak truth to power – to hold power accountable.
I think members of the Bush administration felt like they were being watched and held accountable. That’s the way it ought to be.
I think members of the Obama administration mostly feel like the press is their ally.