Because the Obama administration is experiencing what appears to be its own Eighteen-and-a-Half Minute moment. In a truly stunning development in the Internal Revenue Service scandal, the agency last week informed Congress that more than two years’ of Lois Lerner’s email communications with those outside that agency—from 2009 to 2011, meaning the key years at the heart of the targeting-of-conservatives scandal—have gone missing. Quite strangely. The IRS says it cannot locate them. The reason is that Lerner’s computer crashed.
What are the implications of this claim? It means no one can see any emails Lerner sent to or received from other agencies and individuals, including the White House and members of Congress.
And what is amazing—not surprising, but amazing—is that if my experience of normal human conversation the past few days is any guide, very few people are talking about it and almost no one cares.
The IRS scandal as a news story carries a stigma, and the stigma is in part due to the fact that when it broke, when Lois Lerner last year made her admission, with a planted question at an American Bar Association gathering, that the IRS had made some mistakes with conservative groups, and disingenuously suggested the blame lay with incompetents in a field office far from the Beltway, conservatives and partisans jumped. The mainstream press was inclined to believe Lerner, or believe at least that a series of mistakes had produced a small if embarrassing so-called scandal. Some conservatives, activists and partisans, not all of them sincere and not all of them serious, viewed the story primarily as another cudgel to use against the president and his party. Some no doubt viewed it as a fundraising opportunity.
The press viewed it not as a story but as a partisan political drama. And in partisan political dramas they are very rarely on the Republican side.
I haven’t ever met a reporter or producer who wasn’t a conservative who didn’t believe the IRS scandal was the result of the bureaucratic confusion and incompetence of some office workers in Cincinnati who made a mistake.
But the IRS scandal is a scandal, and if you can’t see the relation between a strangely destroyed key piece of evidence in an ongoing scandal and what happened 41 years ago with a strangely destroyed key piece of evidence in an ongoing scandal, something is wrong not with the story but with your news judgment. (We won’t even go into the second story last week, that the IRS sent a big database full of confidential taxpayer information to the FBI.)
It would be very good to see the mainstream press call for a special prosecutor, fully armed with the powers to get to the bottom of the case.