There was something quite fitting about how the Wall Street Journal editorial page yesterday tried, once again, to revive interest in the soggy controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service and its bungled handling of applications for groups seeking tax-exempt status. Written by the National Review's media editor, the Journal piece suggested there were all kinds of unanswered questions about why the IRS used what investigators have termed "inappropriate criteria" in reviewing applications from conservative groups and whether a government cover-up was underway.
Echoing nearly two months worth of constant speculation and scandal hyping on Fox News about the IRS and the White House's allegedly very, very deep involvement, the Journal claimed key answers could be uncovered if Democrats would just stop obstructing House Republicans' ongoing investigation. (Fox had earlier insisted a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate.)
Just hours after that Journal essay appeared in the paper's pages though, came news that in reviewing tax-exempt applications, the IRS had also highlighted for scrutiny groups with liberal-sounding names.
In other words, the same day The Wall Street Journal, an anchor of the conservative media movement, suggested a wide-ranging controversy was still brewing inside the IRS, the entire premise of the would-be scandal was significantly undermined: The tax agency had called for scrutiny for liberal groups, too.
From the Associated Press [emphasis added]:
The Internal Revenue Service's screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including ''Israel,'' ''Progressive'' and ''Occupy'' were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press.
In an understatement, The New York Times noted that the revelations "seem to change the terms" of the IRS controversy.
According to the Times:
The documents appeared to back up contentions by I.R.S. officials and some Democrats that the agency did not intend to single out conservative groups for special scrutiny. Instead, the documents say, officials were trying to use "key word" shortcuts to find overtly political organizations -- both liberal and conservative -- that were after tax favors by saying they were social welfare organizations.
Certainly any claims about White House involvement now seem to be dashed. After all why, for partisan political reasons, would Obama's White House have ordered the IRS to target groups if, as it turned out, the IRS applied additional scrutiny to both conservatives and liberals?
And without the sinister White House connection, the IRS story now becomes the wayward tale of bureaucrats in the agency's Cincinnati office who appear guilty of being overly zealous in performing their jobs. By the way, no conservative groups were ever denied their tax-exempt status during the use of the "improper criteria." However, three Democratic groups had their applications denied by the IRS.
Of course, the Fox-led crusade to tie Obama into a sweeping IRS scandal never made any sense, since no evidence was ever uncovered to connect anyone at the White House to the IRS's allegedly dastardly plot. (None. Zilch. Zero.)
Despite the fact the IRS commissioner at the time of the targeting was appointed by President Bush, and despite the fact the inspector general who investigated the targeting stressed there was no proof the White House or the Obama administration or his re-election campaign in any way urged IRS workers to single out conservative applicants, Fox pushed the phony premise that Democrats were guilty of wrongdoing and that the proof was bound to surface.
Utterly convinced of the White House involvement in the story, the Fox News team at times expressed amazement they even had to produce evidence to confirm the criminal conspiracy. "It really doesn't take a rocket scientist to put all these pieces together," Monica Crowley announced last week. "Of course the direction came from the White House," Rocket scientists or not, establishing facts would have been helpful to the Fox News cause of creating a criminal conspiracy inside the White House. But none was forthcoming.
It's just like Fox's months-long obsession with the terrorist attack at the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi last year, another elaborate attempt by Rupert Murdoch's cable channel to pin blame on the Oval Office.
Recall that Fox pushed the phony tale that the State Department watched the Benghazi attack in real-time via video and refused to send anyone to help Americans. That President Obama had been "absent" the night of the "seven hour" terror attack. That the president's national security advisor was unaccounted for that night. That Obama refused to call the event an act of terror. And that Gen. David Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA director because of Benghazi.
Both the IRS and Benghazi "scandals" have proved to be utterly underwhelming, in part because they were built upon casual, irresponsible lies that couldn't be sustained. It was simply a matter of time before the bottom gave out under the weight of the established facts.
For Fox's failed IRS production, the final expiration date may have come on June 24.