Improper IRS Spending Was Statistically Insignificant, But Scandal-Starved Fox Couldn't Resist Hyping It

Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

With their prior efforts to generate a scandal regarding the Internal Revenue Service collapsing, Fox News spent 17 minutes and 41 seconds on a federal report that found less than $20,000 of improper use of credit cards by agency employees out of more than $100 million in charges.

The report from the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration's office, released on Monday, noted that purchases made with IRS-issued credit card accounts were reviewed over a two year period ending in September of 2011. During that period, IRS had 5,241 purchase card accounts and made approximately 234,000 purchases totaling $103.2 million with the cards. In a press release, Inspector General J. Russell George said "the majority of IRS cardholders appear to use their purchase cards properly" but pointed out that the audit "identified some troubling instances of inappropriate usage."

The IG identified, based on a non-scientific sample of purchase card transactions,  $3,939 in card transactions the IG considered "improper decorative and give-away items" (the IRS responded that those purchases were in fact proper under federal laws supporting purchases for training and decorative items). The IG also identified a single cardholder who "made 38 transactions totaling $2,655 for what appeared to be personal purchases."

Finally, the IG criticized $12,474 in credit card expenditures during a five-day conference that cost the government "more than 50,000"; the IRS had been authorized to spend more than double that on the week's meals, receptions, and meetings, but the IG still termed "the cost of the expenses related to this conference to be high."

Even if all of this spending was improper, which the IRS denies, it would still constitute a mere $19,068 in spending over two years.

But on Fox, this spending was treated as a major story.

Between 3:30 pm on Monday and11:30 am Tuesday, the network highlighted the improper purchases in 17 minutes and 41 seconds of coverage over seven segments - on Studio BSpecial ReportOn The RecordFox & Friends FirstFox & FriendsAmerica's Newsroom, and Happening Now.

On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy described the spending as evidence of a "culture of corruption" at the agency.

The hyping of the Inspector General's report comes as new revelations continue to deflate the Fox-hyped narrative that the IRS was being used by the Obama administration to punish conservative groups that applied for tax exempt status.

Newly-released IRS documents show that terms like "progressive" and "occupy" were used by the agency in addition to conservative terms to single out groups for examination, while no conservative groups were actually denied during the application process. 

At the same time it was revealed that the Inspector General report that sparked that investigation probed only conservative complaints at the direction of Rep. Darrell Issa (R), while ignoring problems with applications from progressive groups.

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