The Underbrush of the IRS Scandals


The immediate rush of the IRS scandal has slackened a bit. But the story and the investigations are clearly by no means over. One of the things I’m most interested in, however, is what you might call the underbrush of the scandal cropping up in the right-wing media. We have a relatively narrow case of targeting of right-wing groups by keywords out of the IRS’s Cincinnati office. It’s still sort of mind-blowing how even line-level IRS employees didn’t get that that was a problem. But happen it did.

And yet, that’s now triggered an avalanche of claims of harassment or targeting where there seems little or no evidence any targeting ever happened. Basically any conservative group that ever got audited or scrutinized is now taking it as a given that they were targeted as conservatives. Conservative religious groups are now saying they’re being targeted too.Now, as they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really after you. And given the fact that some IRS agents appear to have targeted right-leaning keywords, I think you have to accept that some people will be very suspicious entirely in good faith. Given the fact that it happened it one instance, it’s also probably reasonable to do a lot of checking around to make sure it’s not happening in other places.

Having said all that, though, there’s an ocean of room for game playing, special pleading and general nonsense. I saw one mainstream media story yesterday pointing to ‘targeting’ being directed from Washington. But when you looked at the actual story, it was ‘targeting’ groups that were clearly violating the tax code, with no connection to their politics or ideology.

So here’s my interest. One of the big ways the conventional media falls down in many cases is not looking at how stories are developing in the right-wing counter-media. Usually, if you look closely, you see entire facts and narratives becoming ‘facts’ absent any clear evidence at all. That’s often why people are so surprised when something like the ‘Benghazi scandal’ has such persistent juice behind it even after it’s not even clear from a reality-based point of view what the pretended ‘scandal’ is even about. You get surprised like that because you’re not listening to the counter-narrative being ginned up in this other conversation you’re not aware of.

So, as usual, I like appealing to our readers. Are you seeing examples of new claims about the IRS scandal which seem untethered from any actual evidence or any connection to the verified targeting that seems to have happened? Send us those emails. We’re making a list.


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of