Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 12:54 PM
The bigger media story today is, of course, the Department of Justice's assertion that James Rosen was a "co-conspirator" in a national security leak. Most people would call Rosen a "reporter," not a conspirator; anyway, the vile charge was published by the Washington Post but never acted upon.
But Jane Mayer's long study of how David Koch reacted to a documentary that didn't flatter him is worth reading, too. Generally speaking, the state is a greater threat to press freedom than the hyper-wealthy. The state can put you in prison; the wealthy person can't. What the wealthy person can do, as Mayer reports, is wield outsized influence in a media organization (WNET, public television), get a documentary off the air, then fib about the process. The article tells two stories; the first one offers the most vivid picture of how Kochworld handles PR. The dispute centered on the airing of an Alex Gibney documentary that featured David Koch (and his family) as one of several wealthy subjects who shared an address in New York.
Shortly before “Park Avenue” aired, Melissa Cohlmia, the chief spokesperson for Koch Industries, sent WNET a two-paragraph statement criticizing the film as “disappointing and divisive.” Cohlmia acknowledges, however, that neither she nor Koch had watched it. WNET aired the statement, unedited, immediately after the film. Cohlmia said that she based the critique on the trailer.
The Kochworld media strategy is simple: Annihilation through snark. Ask Kochworld for comment, and you either get nothing or you get crumbs. Publish the story, and Kochworld hits you for whatever reason might be handy. In February, for example, Politico's Ken Vogel published a careful story about the Koch's post-election "reboot." In it, he mentioned that a California watchdog was "trying to unmask the original source of a mysterious $11 million donation that was funneled through a key Koch conduit in the weeks before Election Day to a California political committee boosting a 2012 ballot measure to restrict union political activity and opposing a separate ballot proposition to raise taxes."
Two days later, Cohlmia and KochFacts (the organization's PR catchall site) published a condemnation of Vogel -- labeled "a former employee of the left-leaning and George Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity" -- that included e-mails Vogel had sent to Koch spox and e-mails he'd sent to other people who'd apparently forwarded them to the mothership. The main beef: Vogel's story was unethical and incorrect, and didn't include this statement from Koch PR:
We have been on the record, since November 5th 2012, as definitively not involved in the Prop 32 issue in California. We did not support, either directly or indirectly, this ballot initiative which would have restricted public and private sector employees’ rights to contribute to candidates.
Vogel, in an e-mail KochFacts included in its trove, politely pointed out that "we did not make an 'incorrect assertion' – or any kind of assertion – that the Kochs or Koch Industries took a stance on Proposition 32, nor did we make any assertion that the Kochs or Koch Industries 'contribute[d] to any group with the intent of passing or defeating Proposition 32 in California.'" Koch PR could make its ask, but Politico wouldn't comply.
That looked bad enough at the time. Kochworld's correction was lawyerly, not an outright lie.
Mayer caught the flack in a lie.
Gibney noted that he had asked to interview the Kochs while making “Park Avenue,” but they had refused. Cohlmia initially denied this, but after Gibney’s office provided me with the relevant e-mails she acknowledged that she had been contacted.
Now: Given that Cohlmia's job is to push back against "inaccurate" Koch stories, wouldn't a move like this damage her credibility? Apparently it would. On February 18 (a Saturday!), KochFacts ran a pre-buttal to Mayer's story accusing her of "left-leaning bias, baseless accusations, and numerous inaccuracies" in reporting, of writing "screeds," of publishing "based on research by a ThinkProgress blogger."
Her latest submission, soon to be published, will be another attempt to smear us while advancing her partisan agenda. We don’t precisely know the content of her story. However, based on her questions to us, we believe it will be an attempt to promote a fleeting PBS show that aired six months ago – one on which she collaborated and in which she appeared. The show attacked David Koch and Charles Koch, with Mayer making an appearance as an interviewee.
We also believe Mayer will work hard to make the case that should Koch purchase the Tribune newspapers, as is rumored, we would use those papers to advance a particular agenda. This assertion, of course, is made with no basis in fact or history to support such a claim.
Right, if only there were some basis for that wild assertion! If you're trying to establish your credibility as a possible media owner, it would be good to prove you can differentiate between the truth and a lie.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 10:25 AM
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Rand Paul appeared on CNN's State of the Union yesterday, and the way the network's spun that interview, you'd think he said something crazy. Here's the end of the segment, with relevant sections in bold, as Candy Crowley asked Paul whether the IRS had political motivations behind its grilling of Tea Party groups.
CROWLEY: Well, they say it's a mistake. The question is whether it's political.
PAUL: Well, I think we're going to have to see the memorandum. Apparently, there is a policy, and I think we're going to find that there's a written policy that says that we were targeting people who were opposed to the president. And when that comes forward, we need to know who wrote the policy and who approved the policy. I can't believe that one agent sort of started this, one rogue agent started this, because it seems to be too widespread. And, we do need to get to the bottom of this, but I think what the American people want is just like on Benghazi.
Why does Benghazi go on? No one was ever fired? So, people made tragic errors. No one's accepting responsibility and no one was fired. Same with the IRS, they're having some commissioners resign who were going to resign already, and people still saying what was their policy? Who wrote the policy, and now, there's rumors that who wrote the policy is the person running Obamacare, which doesn't give us a lot of confidence about Obamacare?
CROWLEY: Senator, I have to run. I'm way over on this, but I have to just go back to something you said. Are you telling me you think there's a memo somewhere in which someone said in the memo we're targeting people who are going after the president? Is that what I heard you say?
PAUL: Well, we keep hearing the reports and we have several specifically worded items saying who was being targeted. In fact, one of the bullet points says those who are critical of the president. So, I don't know if that comes from a policy, but that's what's being reported in the press.
PAUL: And reported orally. I haven't seen a policy statement, but I think we need to see that.
CNN's online wrap of the interview makes it sound like Paul had journeyed to Cloudcookooland. "Pressed for more precise details about the memo he was referring to," writes Ashley Killough, "Paul said he hasn't seen such a policy statement but has heard about it."
You know who else has "heard about" this statement? Anyone who actually read the IG report. On Page 6, investigators re-create the events of May 2010, when the Determinations Unit for the tax-exempt office "began developing a spreadsheet that would become known as the 'Be On the Look Out' listing." The report didn't supply the memo itself, but it included this cheat sheet.
In his CNN interview, Paul deviates only a little bit from the IG report; the groups that "criticize how the country is being run" become "groups who are critical of the president." But that's a pretty minor detail, and the people suggesting that Paul spun some wild conspiracy theory need to check themselves.
(Side note: Paul goes too far when he says "there's rumors that who wrote the policy is the person running Obamacare." The IG report credits BOLO to the Determinations Unit, not to the tax-exempt organizations commissioner at the time, Sarah Hall Ingram. In 2012 Ingram was moved over to run the burgeoning Affordable Care Act program. But nobody, up to now, has suggested that she wrote the key memo.)
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 9:56 AM
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
At the lower, grittier levels of politics, it's an established fact: Barack Obama is responsible for the IRS hassling Tea Party groups. Republican campaign organizations have drawn a straight line from Obama's complaints about giant 501(c)(4)s and (c)(3)s to the IRS' follow-up questions to tiny applicants. At this weekend's Virginia GOP convention, the party's nominee for attorney general accused the president of masterminding the whole shebang. "Mr. President," said state Sen. Mark Obenshain, "the next time you have the IRS target the Virginia Tea Party, you're gonna have to deal with me."
But when you get away from the news cycle and the Narrative Factory, it's harder to find ties between Obama and the IRS. Score one for Republicans: The White House's insistence that Obama learned of every scandal "by reading the news" has become a punchline. But, frustratingly, they haven't proved the smug guys wrong. There are, basically, two potential scandals about when the White House should have known about "Tea Party targeting."
They knew before the election! That's the most damaging possible scandal—the White House knew about the IRS' slow-walking of Tea Party applications and failed to act out before the election. If the administration knew, maybe it covered up the story! But the sad, stupid truth is that the targeting was being reported on as long as 15 months ago, when Roll Call's Janie Lorber picked up the story. Republicans discussed it from time to time. "I’ve been talking about this since June of 2012," said Mitch McConnell last week in an interview with Hugh Hewitt. "There were Tea Party groups in my state complaining about this back then."
Why didn't anything come from this? Reporters (myself included) didn't follow up. Republicans didn't make a great fuss about it—and one of the frequent failures of the political press is that it doesn't see the heat on a story until one party complains.
They knew before last week! That's the scandal birthed by this story by Peter Nicholas, who reports that the White House counsel was informed of the basics of the IRS investigation on April 22. Nailing a White House on when it learned of a scandal is a time-tested tradition. In May 2011, Eric Holder said he'd "probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." He'd gotten memos about the scandal for months.
The White House has adapted and learned. Here's how Jay Carney handled a "timing" question last week.
Q: I want to follow up on the IRS. I still don't quite understand the timeline. We had members of Congress complaining about this for two years. Did it just never reach you guys here at the White House that there was these complaints that conservative groups felt that they were being singled out and targeted at any point in time?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure that people -- I'm sure people were aware of and knew some of the stories that had been reported about the complaints, but we were not aware of any activity or of any review conducted by the Inspector General until several weeks ago.
Several weeks? April 22? Close enough, probably. That leaves us with the theoretical scandal—maybe Obama's rhetoric convinced the IRS to go buck wild on the Tea Party!—as the best kindling for Republican activists.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 8:43 AM
Ann Marimow tells the disturbing tale of how the DOJ tracked James Rosen's reporting.
They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.
A New York Times reporting team dives into the recent secret history of the Cincinnati IRS office.
The Exempt Organizations Division — concentrated in Cincinnati with fewer than 200 workers, according to I.R.S. officials — is staffed mostly with accountants, clerks and civil servants. Working for one of only three I.R.S. divisions not charged with collecting tax revenue, specialists in the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati primarily review and process roughly 70,000 applications for exemptions each year, relatively few from groups engaged in election activity.
Inside the agency, the unit was considered particularly unglamorous. “Nobody wants to be a determination agent,” said Jack Reilly, a former lawyer in the Washington office that oversaw exempt organizations. “It’s a job that just about everybody would be anxious to get out of it.”
Paul Waldman plays out the Obamascandals and assumes that the administration will repeat the Clinton lessons and victories.
There will be more hearings, each one hyped by Republicans as the one that will "blow the lid off" this whole thing. They will fail to deliver much that's actually revelatory. Nevertheless, the volume of discussion and speculation will rise inexorably. Republicans will begin calling for President Obama's impeachment; first it'll be a few nutbar Tea Partiers, then it will spread to some of the seemingly more sane ones, and finally the desire for impeachment will be nearly universal on the right. John Boehner will know in his heart that it's a terrible idea, but he may be confronted with a rebellion: schedule an impeachment vote, or face a leadership vote. Boehner's choice could be between impeachment and seeing Eric Cantor take his job (whereupon there'd be an impeachment vote anyway).
Ana Marie Cox sees the same future: Republicans getting all excited by the modest hand they've been dealt, and blowing it.
Ken Cuccinelli has found an out from the the state's public records law.
And Mother Jones gets to know one of its most diligent Internet trolls, who turns out to be a mild-mannered prostate cancer survivor.
The IRS Asked a Pro-Life Group to Explain its Prayers Outside Planned Parenthood, Which Is Now a Scandal
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 6:09 PM
Chris Moody followed up on one of the next-wave conservative outrages over the IRS in the Obama years. It sounds incredible: In 2009, when the Coalition for Life of Iowa asked for tax exemption, the IRS' follow-up letter asked it about members' prayers.
Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organizations spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.
Like I said, incredible—which, when you think about it, tells you how quickly the Overton window has shifted. If you read the document trove, CFLI ended up handing the feds documentation on stem cells, on the viability of life in the womb, etc. The IRS accepted this; the group got tax-exempt status. The scandal, obviously, is that there's something inherently evil about inquiring into the "content of prayers." But the agency was easily satisfied. The point of the story isn't that Christianity is being oppressed in America. The point is similar to that of "Pulpit Freedom Day," an annual nationwide campaign to get churches to allow political sermons, and publicize them, and dare the IRS to step in and experience blowback.
The blowback is here. We will hear more stories like this, as long as people are primed for outrage.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 3:52 PM
When we left Phelim McAleer, the pro-fracking filmmaker who keeps critiquing Josh Fox's Gasland and winning conservative fans, he was promoting his own film and earning an exasperated diss. "They're the birthers of fracking," Fox told me. Since then, McAleer filmed as a few fracking supporters tried, and failed, to gain (ticketed!) entry into a Gasland 2 screening.
McAleer had long wondered whether Gasland 2 would ever be released, speculating that HBO had cooled on it. But no: HBO will run Fox's sequel on July 8. In response, Mark Cuban's AXS has scheduled a July 9 showing of McAleer's FrackNation, in the hops of setting up a media battle about the Fracking Truth. (I think I'm engaging or enabling in the battle by pointing this out.) The natural gas industry was spooked and surprised by Gasland, which defined public opinion of fracking before they'd figured out a way to popularize it. This time, they want to updgrade from PR disaster to debate about the real facts, with both sides represented on panels.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 2:48 PM
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
By general acclamation, the greatest Moment from today's battering of the IRS (with an assist from the bored, doomed outgoing acting commissioner) came when Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly went buck wild. After pressuring the witness a few times and getting non-answers, Kelly finally just went on a tirade about the IRS, the "monster under the bed," the force that terrifies hard-working Americans. When he finished, Kelly earned spontaneous applause from the public seats. (Some Tea Party activists had lined up to get those seats.)
Kelly was an emblematic member of the 2010 Tea Party freshman class. Aged 62 when he won—the oldest of the freshmen—Kelly ran because he ran a Chevy dealership and got intimate with the hand of government. In a fine 2010 profile, Phil Rucker tailed Kelly around D.C. and around his district, and asked him who in the Capitol impressed him. His answer was "nobody."
I hope I don't sound arrogant about this, but at 62 years old, I've pretty much seen what I need to see. There've been times when I didn't even take a paycheck out of here for six months. There've been times I cashed in my pension to put money back in the shop. There've been times I mortgaged my home to keep this business alive. I've been to the edge of the abyss and looked in and there's nobody there to help you - nobody there.
Once in Congress, Kelly became a pretty reliable team player. In one of the dark stretches of the 2011 debt limit fight, it was Kelly who brought Notre Dame slogans to a House Republican meeting and urged colleagues to vote for the leadership's preferred compromise—to, in his words, "knock the shit out of 'em."
He may play that role again during the next tussle over whether to hold fast on spending or pass a compromise. For now, his extremely telegenic outrage demonstrates how Republicans have been brought together by this scandal.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 1:36 PM
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
On Tuesday I made the not-entirely-daring assertion that a stream of White House Scandals would nudge along one of the White House's legislative priorities. Republicans who wanted an immigration compromise wanted it for some reasons of self-preservation. To be really secure, they needed to work without their base accusing them of selling out. Their jobs would be much easier if, while they worked, there was a simultaneous scandal that they could blast the Obama administration over.
I saw this firsthand in Arizona recently, when an audience at a McCain town hall alternated between angry immigration questions and angry Benghazi questions. “What has helped me back home is that people remember the Lindsey from impeachment, they remember the guy who was leading the charge on conservative caucuses,” Graham told Politico last week. “[Benghazi] and the second amendment stuff, that’s where I can throw a punch.”
And here we are. Eight House Republicans had been hashing out their own version of an omnibus immigration bill. Its health was looking poor. But yesterday, while the rest of us were distracted, they "agreed to disagree" on some details about E-Verify and health care and move ahead on a plan. Could that have been possible if they'd been driving the week? Without the Obama scandals, the story of Thursday would have been that of a Bipartisan Group Handing Barack Obama a Possible Victory.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 11:23 AM
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The special election for Senate in Massachusetts has become a petri dish of Soccer Injury Politics—the calculated fakery of pain, meant to get the refs to stop the game and stop anybody attacking you. Here's the pattern:
1) Republicans attack Ed Markey, the Democrat who's been in Congress since the 1970s, for something he did or didn't do.
2) Markey attacks Gabriel Gomez, the GOP novice with the golden resume (Navy SEAL-businessman-father-patriot), for something he did, in fact, do.
3) Gomez calls for the ref, accusing Markey of a fiendish smear on his character and patriotism.
This week, for example, began with the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacking Markey for nixing a Confederate Flag defender from a campaign event. On May 14, the Boston Globe reported that Markey was fundraising in D.C. but had asked Dukes of Hazzard star Ben "Cooter" Jones (a former congressman) not to come "after learning of Jones’s ringing defense of the Confederate flag." The NRSC blasted the story out to reporters with the headline Democrat Ed Markey caught in Confederate flag problem back home at his DC fundraiser—which was one way of putting it, I guess, but didn't really get across that Markey's problem was that he'd told Jones to skip the event. When I hear "Confederate flag problem," I think of someone defending the flag and pissing off his voters. Don't you?
Anyway: On May 16, the NRSC tried another tack and attempted to tie Markey to scandals. All of the scandals. An NRSC missive to the press (which not many people picked up on) was titled: "ScandalizED Markey’s Washington: A Boozy Affair Chalk Full of Scandals, Fueled by Special Interest Money, Where the Party Never Ends." Boozy! Scandals! And yet the release was just a list of scandals not related to Markey, but that had happened while Markey was in Congress, like the Anthony Weiner scandal. (I mention that because the NRSC missed a chance to knock Markey on his proud credit-taking for smartphone innovation—he paved the way for Weiner's destruction!)
That takes us to today. Markey releases a contrast ad: He's for lots of gun restrictions that play well in Massachussetts, and Gomez isn't.
Within minutes, Gomez called for the ref:
Really, reader: Did you see that ad and think, "they're blaming this guy Gomez for the Newtown shootings?" The ad didn't even use footage from Newtown, opting for some stock photos of bullets. Yet Gomez was joined on the field by NRSC communications director Brad Dayspring. Read this in your best Nancy Grace impersonation:
Ed Markey first compared Gabriel Gomez, former navy SEAL and father of four children, to Osama Bin Laden and now Markey is blaming him for horrific murders in Newtown. It’s disgusting, deplorable and desperate, but that’s par for the course for Ed Markey who will do just about anything to avoid talking about the issues that voters care about.
Who's the audience for this? I cover politics, and I don't believe for a second that Gomez is constantly offended by everything Markey's ads say about him. Republicans are obviously trying to build the narrative that Gomez is a stolid public servant who's above all those Washington games that people in Washington play. But it's a little on the nose. You can't call out your opponent as often as Gomez calls out Markey, then do this when he mentions your actual issue stances.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 9:43 AM
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
My new story on this Time of Scandal delves into the history of politics and tax-exempt groups. Until very recently—by which I mean "until last week"—both parties seethed at the outrage of obviously political groups getting tax exemption and then playing in the public sphere with secret donor cash.
“Once they force you into this funnel to have that legal status,” said Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, “then you're hassled and abused.”
But a lot of activists want or need to jump into that funnel. For that reason, said Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, “The IRS needs to be nonpartisan.”
Be nonpartisan, sure—but how?
“They need to look at any group that qualifies for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status and give it to him.”
There's also an irony running through the last two days of Tea Party complaints about the hassling from the IRS. You hear that the scrutiny, by slowing down the groups' activities, affected the 2012 election. It's just assumed that these social welfare groups were going to have a political impact, and that's normal.