In order to properly analyze the media’s treatment of the revelation that hundreds or perhaps thousands of emails sent or received by Lois Lerner, the key figure in the IRS scandal, along with apparently six other IRS employees, have been mysteriously lost and cannot be recovered in response to a subpoena, it is necessary and instructive to recall the media’s treatment of similar revelations in the Watergate scandal, which brought down a sitting President.
Recall that in Watergate, the subject of the scandal essentially boiled down to dirty (and, as it turned out, completely unnecessary) political tricks. That is not to suggest that the hotel break-in was not illegal but rather that it wasn’t an abuse of government power of any sort. Nor was there any credible suggestion that Nixon himself was either involved in the break-in, ordered it, or had knowledge of it at the time it occurred. The sole question upon which the entirety of the Watergate scandal hinged (and upon which the media fixated for the better part of two years) was whether Nixon participated in a cover up of the events after the fact.
One of the key revelations in the Watergate case was that Nixon had installed a secret audiotaping system which recorded virtually everything that occurred in the White House. When this fact was discovered, the tapes were promptly subpoenaed by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. After a lengthy legal battle which the Administration ultimately lost, hundreds of hours of tapes were turned over and the review process began. It was discovered in November 1973 that one of these tapes contained a gap of approximately 18 1/2 minutes.
The feeding frenzy created by this unexplained gap in what would ultimately become over 5000 hours of recorded material is difficult to explain or even credit in light of the media’s relative incuriosity over what now appears to be a staggeringly large gap in emails kept by employees at the center of a scandal that directly implicates abuse of power of the most pernicious kind. Keep in mind that Nixon was under no obligation to create or keep the White House Tapes in the first place; by way of contrast the Lerner emails were required to be kept and maintained by the Federal Records Act. In light of the immediate political furor over the actions of the IRS with respect to its actions in reviewing the 1024 applications of Tea Party groups, there can be no innocent explanation for such a systematic failure to maintain records explaining the IRS’s decision and policy making processes. If the current President were a Republican, the media would have already drawn an inescapable conclusion based on this evidence alone: a cover up is occurring here and it’s the media’s job to leave no stone unturned until the President can prove his lack of involvement in it.
Since the President is a Democrat, however, the story is pushed back to page B7 and treated as a matter of Congressional Republicans’ politically motivated witch hunt (an especially ironic charge since the exact nature of the scandal is the IRS’s political witch hunting of tax exempt groups). This astounding series of events continues two long-recognized patterns of media behavior:
- All evidence uncovered against Republicans is reported as truth, and any disputation of that evidence is reported as “denials.” All evidence uncovered against Democrats, even uncontroverted evidence, is reported as “Republicans allege.”
- The slightest hint of wrongdoing by Republican office holders is pursued to the ends of the earth; all evidence of wrongdoing against Democrats is ignored until it becomes so overwhelming that ignoring it further becomes literally embarrassing.
It is too much to ask, at this point, for the media to change their behavior and find their valiant truth-searching spirit while a Democrat is in office. All we can do is hope to help their silence become embarrassing for them quicker.