The Good News Democrats

The town was pretty empty except for tourists Friday afternoon, but the Press Club bar was packed and loud. Even with my hearing aids tucked away in my purse, I hardly missed a word.

Jack the bartender turned away from the tap and pointed me to an empty booth as a sweaty fellow who had just quickly downed his vodka on the rocks lamented that Americans now had little confidence in the news media. Twenty-two percent expressed some confidence in the newspapers; 18% in TV news, and 19% in the internet. “I remember when we used to make fun of those Internet posters, the guys in pajamas we called them,” he moaned, slamming his glass on the zinc and motioning for a refill.

“What do they want anyway?” the gal who writes for one of the Style Sections seated next to him asked. “Ever since Obama was elected, we’ve been handing them sugar-coated news. I mean if they wanted us to act like the fourth estate and root out government corruption, they should have elected Romney,” she added. “But, no, we figured a little dash of Kardashian doings, some candid shots of cinema beauties without makeup or designer clothes, an occasional story of make-believe right-wing mad shooters and  the phantasmagoric “war on women” would be enough to satisfy their thirst for seedy tales.”

“Remember how great it was during Watergate?” one of the older Washington Post editors mused. “ We were Gods. People couldn’t wait for the morning edition’s latest scandal droppings. And now…” his voice trailed off wistfully.

“Now,“ I thought, “you guys are sitting on an enormous story that in comparison makes Watergate seem microscopic. In retrospect -- considering all the scandals of this administration, which you have consistently underreported -- today Watergate seems to be a vestige of a far more innocent era. Kind of like people once being scandalized by women wearing bloomers at the beach and bobbing their hair”

Lois Lerner directed the IRS targeting of the president’s opponents in order to cut off their funds and limit their free speech and political organization -- constitutional rights -- then pleaded the Fifth Amendment when questioned about it by Congress. Now, late in the game, the IRS claims that she lost her emails covering the critical period of time and that it is impossible to retrieve this significant evidence. The big three evening newscasts ignored the story. Most of the nation’s newspapers have reported little of it and then late.

As it unfolds, the IRS explanation only gets more and more implausible. The claim is that 10 days after House ways and Means Chair Dave Camp inquired into claims that Lerner had targeted conservative groups, her hard drive was accidentally wiped out, and all efforts to retrieve them were unavailing.

Even the timing of the disclosure of the erasures was suspect:

 *A WSJ editorial this morning points out the remarkable timing of the IRS’s begrudging disclosure last Friday that evidence central to the case has been destroyed: more than a year after the investigation began and only when a deadline was impending in which the IRS commissioner would have to certify personally that the agency had produced to Congress all relevant communications. Were responsible agency officials determined to treat this as a high-priority investigation, to be carried on in good faith and with all deliberate speed? (There was no doubt about the seriousness of the scandal, as President Obama himself admitted -- or seemed to be admitting -- at the time.) Or did they instead stall and deflect until the very last moment? So un-forthcoming was the agency that, according to today’s Journal editorial, IRS staffers met with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) Monday and did not tell him that the external emails of six other IRS employees had gone missing too -- he found that out only later in the week when he read a press release from the House side. 

By week’s end, perhaps recognizing that the story was not finding willing buyers, IRS Commissioner Koskinen, tried another tack, claiming that the emails were not “records’” and therefore could be destroyed without consequence. John Hinderaker, the ace litigation lawyer who is one of the authors of Powerline found this argument unpersuasive, citing federal law and the agency’s own operating manual and concluding:

As the IRS investigation continues, Koskinen and others at the Agency should not be allowed to get away with the facile suggestion that Lerner’s emails -- all of them! -- were not “records” and therefore could be destroyed with impunity. It would be interesting to know what documents the IRS did preserve as “records” during the relevant time period. Unless the IRS was simply thumbing its nose at its statutory duty to maintain records of its actions and deliberations, a large number of emails should have been preserved in some fashion.

A final point: the IRS whines that it has 90,000 employees and that managing its internal documents is therefore difficult. But take a look at the IRS’s budget. In fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the IRS’s budget for “Information Services” was in excess of $1.8 billion annually! Nearly two billion dollars in “information services,” and the agency can’t keep track of emails? And that doesn’t count another $330 million, annually, for “Business Systems Modernization.”

If the IRS can’t preserve its senior managers’ email accounts on an information systems budget of $1.8 billion a year, the federal government is even more inefficient and incompetent than we thought.

As the week wore down, Reason came up with some information the IRS fabulists must have overlooked.

The agency said that emails stored on dead drives were lost forever because its email backup tapes were recycled every six months, and employees were responsible for keeping their own long-term archives.

The IRS had a contract with email backup service vendor Sonasoft starting in 2005, according to, which lists the contract as being for "automatic data processing services." Sonasoft's motto is "email archiving done right," and the company lists the IRS as a customer.

In 2009, Sonasoft even sent out a Tweet advertising its work for the IRS.

Perhaps the agency contract doesn’t cover the emails of its top officials. If so, let’s hear them say that and explain why, since federal record keeping laws surely were designed to require maintenance of the correspondence of those with the power to direct and manage corrupt acts.

As this plays out, I remembered how differently the subject of emails by public officials was treated when a conservative was involved. Remember how the NYT and Washington Post were so eager to scour Sarah Palin’s emails (which she had retained and which she promptly made available) the Post even published them all and  asked people to crowd source them looking for dirt that they never found?

The first reporter at the press club bar was by now completely sloshed and shouted out to apparent agreement of the other patrons, “If they want us to work at uncovering political corruption, then they should damned well just elect Republicans.That’s when we really get to work!”

I could hardly disagree, having just read headlines repeating the prosecutions’ accusations of corruption against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, allegations which as Professor Jacobsen notes were as nonsensical, and they were propagandistic smears against a man who surely should be considered a key contender for the presidential nomination:

What is not being reported, is that multiple judges have found that the alleged criminal conduct was not in fact criminal even if the factual allegations were true. [Ed: The nature of the summary proceeding in which this arose requires that for the motion to dismiss, the court will treat the factual allegations as true as he is to determine only if we assumed what the prosecution claimed is true, was there a crime committed, and the judge making that assumption, held there wasn’t.] Here is part of Federal Judge Randa’s opinion, which remains in effect halting the John Doe investigation, in a case brought by two of the targets:

“The standard to apply in these cases was recently made clear by the Supreme Court in McCutcheon. Any campaign finance regulation, and any criminal prosecution resulting from the violation thereof, must target activity that results in or has the potential to result in quid pro quo corruption….

It is undisputed that O‘Keefe and the Club engage in issue advocacy, not express advocacy or its functional equivalent. Since § 11.01(16)‘s definition of political purposes must be confined to express advocacy, the plaintiffs cannot be and are not subject to Wisconsin‘s campaign finance laws by virtue of their expenditures on issue advocacy….

While the defendants deny that their investigation is motivated by animus towards the plaintiffs‘ conservative viewpoints, it is still unlawful to target the plaintiffs for engaging in vigorous advocacy that is beyond the state‘s regulatory reach….

The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians. This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.”

A state court judge similarly found the accusations frivolous in refusing to issue subpoenas, Big defeat for anti-conservative Wisconsin “John Doe” probe.

So the media headlines are all about the accusations -- accusations which have been rejected multiple times by judges.

This is what the opposition to Walker wanted, headlines making criminal accusations.[/quote]

I guess it was time for some comic relief, because one of the science writers announced to laughter that the Hubble Space Telescope reveals that Pluto has at least five moons and that it may well be reclassified as a planet after all.

I started gathering up my stuff, preparing to head out into the heat again when it occurred to me that everything old seems to be new again this week. The leftist press which vilified Ahmed Chalabi and those in the Bush Administration who wanted to work with him to try to stabilize Iraq, now seem to have lost their tongues as the administration comes knocking at his door to try to rescue them from the disaster Obama’s policies have caused there.