With IRS Scandal, Conservative Bloggers Feel Vindicated

Friday, May 17, 2013


IRS Headquarters in Washington, DC (Flickr user Cliff)

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.


Music: Bonobo - Cirrus


Michael Calderone

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [10]


'Nuf said.

Jun. 27 2013 12:25 PM
John Hamilton from Madison, Wisconsin

A couple of notes of clarification. One is that you mentioned the Cleveland IRS office as the center of the "scandal." Everything I have heard refers to the Cincinnati office.

You mentioned that one of the "right wing" or "conservative" pundits or know-it-alls is a retired lieutenant colonel. In order to be considered "retired," a person would have to spend at least twenty years on active duty in the military. Promotions are awarded bureaucratically up to the grade of lieutenant colonel. One would tend to be run out of the service if he or she couldn't rise above the rank of major, but ANYONE who stays in makes it to lieutenant colonel. They are a dime a dozen.

So the idea that someone would have great standing or credibility on the basis of being a retired lieutenant colonel is only meaningful among fellow "right wingers" or the unaware. "Full bird" colonel has a little more meaning, as do the various grades of general.

Still, Colin Powell, four star general and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to cover up the My Lai Massacre early in his career. In 2003 he appeared before the United Nations displaying a little vial, which he claimed was evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Many thousands of deaths later, we should know that regardless of rank, the idea that anyone has automatic authority and secret knowledge based on present or former military rank is silly and dangerous.

May. 26 2013 06:06 PM
Larry Morris from Severna Park, Md

I listened to this segment with great interest.

I am one your loyal conservative listeners and was curious how you were going to handle this story.

I heard a many references to mainstream media. Please tell me you don't consider huffpo mainstream! That certainly was the impression I had from your interview with Michael Calderone, who I didn't know until this story. It would have been much better coverage of this story to choose a different subject to interview or challenge his and his employers view of this story. To let it go unchallenged is disappointing.

May. 21 2013 08:47 PM


May. 20 2013 11:59 PM

TIME magazine's 2012 Person of the Year should have been the Low Information Voter.

All of these scandals were common knowledge among consumers of conservative media for a long time.
Our brilliant President and his credulous, fawning and lazy friends in the media supposedly only caught wise about these things well after the 2012 election. Conceited sneering seems to be the preferred response from some professional journalists.

Those citizens who voted for the President and are only now learning of these scandals should take their paid subscription money elsewhere in the future.

May. 19 2013 06:41 PM

PS: As Obama has thrown the IRS team under the bus and declared their activity to be immoral, it enables the right wing to go on the witch hunt against Obama himself, with the Nixonian, "What did he know and when did he know it?" inquisition. It will happen that someone in the administration knew of this; it's inevitable, and Obama will become the victim of his own positioning. Obama has given the story legs. He didn't have to.

May. 19 2013 12:25 PM
Roland from San Mateo, CA

I count on you guys to see through the positioning and spinning in the news and to tell us what is really going on. I was disappointed in your report on the IRS ‘scandal’ this last week, in that you appear to buy the story line that this is an example of corruption and bias.

I’d like you to put yourselves in the position of overworked IRS employees who are chartered to make sure that people claiming to be educational non-profits are just that, and not primarily political operations. How do you decide which applicants to give extra scrutiny to? You have to use some heuristics to decide where to put your limited resource, and the heuristics you use have high face validity and some empirical justification. That’s what heuristics do; save you some time sorting through the pile. It’s the same as mating socks: you pull a black sock and are looking for a mate in the pile; you ignore whites and reds and have a search for very dark colored socks. It saves time.

These analysts notice a surge of new applicants after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of political campaign donations, which would naturally raise an eyebrow. They look at the flood of applications, and they are heavily biased toward right wing groups with overtly political labels on them. You set a flag on these to scrutinize because they are screaming that they are political, not educational, organizations. They are putting it in their names that they are political. The bias at this point is in the number of right wing political groups applying for non-profit status as non-political groups.

When you set the flag, you have to set it to search for things that are in the application. Hence, you look at the surge and see a lot of ‘tea party’ mentions, and put that in the descriptor field. You can’t search for ‘political organization’ because that’s not in their descriptions, but you can search for the exact political terms they are using.

This is all rational and non-partisan. If there were a surge of applicants brazenly naming themselves after lefty political ideologies, they’d get snagged in the same way. It’s just that the lefties weren’t surging into using this non-profit status as the right wing was. The analysts’ suspicions were justifiably raised. There was a lot of money laundering going on through these non-profits. They had reason to investigate things that smelled off.
Their crime was being tone deaf, not being corrupt. They were being purely rational, but not being mindful that when their search terms were taken out of context, it would look like something it wasn’t, a political hit squad. I actually don’t think they overreached when asking for donor names, as we do have cases of these organizations being used as money laundering schemes. http://goo.gl/ZsKZD

The scandal is that this rational bureaucratic operation is being taken out of context, turned into a manufactured scandal, and will likely lead to less scrutiny of abuse schemes.

May. 19 2013 12:12 PM

Conservative bloggers have assigned every conspiratorial misdeed imaginable to "liberals," the government, and President Obama.
No matter what ever happens, some conservative blogger or other will already have laid blame for it... one "hit" among thousands of unfounded delusions doesn't make these guys geniuses.

The real crime here, however, is that the media has legitimized yet another Rabid Right non-story.

The IRS was perfectly justified in their attempt to ascertain, as best they could, whether the thousands of groups applying for 501c status truly qualified for the privilege of being granted tax-exempt status.
This protects not only legitimate 501c groups, but also average citizens who might be duped into donating to fraudulent "organizations."

Remember, so called "tea party" conservative groups were applying for 501c status at a rate of 5 to 1 to progressive groups, so it is PERFECTLY REASONABLE that these groups were experiencing a higher level of scrutiny at the "weed out the masses" level of scrutiny within the limited resources of the IRS... after all, it's conservatives who assure that government entities like the IRS operate with "limited resources."

The media should have done better by the facts, and called out conservatives immediately on yet more of their desperate baloney, looking for the most pointy peice of straw in every haystack with which to poke at Obama... they've not yet found an actual needle.

May. 19 2013 10:03 AM

So Michael Calderone mentioned the mainstream media picking up stories from people like Robert Costa at the National Review.

I am wondering; when was the last time that public radio picked up on a story that was being led by the National Review? When I look at the home pages of NRO and NPR, it appears that they are not reporting on the same world. When I look at the NPR.org homepage, I not only see advertisements for MSNBC; the content all seems like much the same organization.

May. 18 2013 12:36 AM

Perhaps a justified feeling of vindication since the "right-wing bloggershere" seems to be doing the job the (left-wing) "mainstream press" deliberately won't do. Nevertheless it's always a treat when public radio calls other peoples' work "politically inflected".
The arrogant and imperious tone has lost it's withering bite since it is clear that the "reporters by training" cannot be trusted either due to fecklessness, rank partisanship or both.
They are learning nothing from their errors while sneering at the scoops of others and then wonder why their industry is on an economic decline.

May. 17 2013 10:03 PM

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