In March 2012, as conservative Groups complained of harassment by the IRS, the New York Times was ready with a judgment of the agency and its activity: “Taxpayers should be encouraged.”
Under the headline, “The IRS Does Its Job,” the editorial board of what is supposedly the nation’s most important practitioner of journalism – and by extension a leading symbol of free speech – decided to tell everyone to move along, that there was nothing to see here, and that the IRS “properly contends that it must ensure that these groups are ‘primarily’ engaged in social welfare, not political campaigning, to merit tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.”
It has now emerged, of course, that the IRS was not properly doing its job, and that conservatives, as they claimed at the time, were indeed being targeted. Even the White House is not offering a defense.
The New York Times is correct that the IRS must ensure that rules are being followed. But the outrage here is that the newspaper chose to completely ignore something far more important than whether someone is complying with 501(c)(4) regulations: that is, whether the government is targeting private individuals because of their political views.
Sure, the Times in its editorial was careful to add that all groups – including those backing Obama – should be scrutinized by the IRS. But what the paper cooly ignored was that the GOP-leaning groups were far more numerous, well funded and consequential than those that favored the Democrats, and the organizations complaining of IRS heavy-handedness were viewed as perhaps the most important Republican counterweight to the Obama campaign’s fundraising behemoth.
Questions about whether such groups deserve the tax exempt status they maintain are legitimate. But to ignore a potentially Nixonian abuse of power in which the tax man is choosing to come down on those with a particular point of view is a supreme dereliction of duty by the Grey Lady.
And, it turns out, a Nixonian abuse of power appears to be exactly what occurred. We’ll see how high up the chain of command the abuse went.
H/T to James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal.