Rule: Contradiction Rule: Double Standard Rule: Mountain Out of Molehill surveillance

The IRS & AP Phone Records ‘Scandals’

Some off-the-cuff observations on the IRS and AP phone records ‘scandals’, the daily updates of which I have only casually taking in…

For the most part, these stories have played out the way many do.  An initial report with few details followed by ‘explosive outrage’ occurs, then a cycle of additional details accompanied by retooled outrage repeats until it has become either completely politicized, and/or a core issue is finally identified and real debate can begin.  In other words, a series of Mountain Out of Molehill (Mischaracterization sub-Rule) moments, in tandem with a gradual news release, then, if we’re lucky, the nub of the matter, and substantive discussion.

IRS ‘Targetting’

In the first case, the initial story- that the IRS ‘targeted’ groups seeking tax exempt status who had ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Patriot’ in their name- lasted several days, along with the accompanying outrage. Then, the IRS response that they had “been flooded” with requests for the status, known as 501(c)(4), and its definition- a designation for groups who “operate primarily … for social improvement” and not for “political” purposes, emerged.  From this, it seemed that the ‘targeting’ might simply be a keyword search to expedite answering the critical question of “political activity”, a threshold definition for 501(c)(4) status.  With additional news (a few days later) that liberal groups were similarly targeted, and the subsequent analysis (days later still) of the difficulty in evaluating the definition, the ‘scandal’ died down.

Now, with the House investigation, sound-byte skirmishes between Rep.’s Issa (R) and Cummings (D) make it onto TV, as each releases ‘partial’ IRS interview transcripts in their efforts to determine the existence, or not, of political wrongdoing from actions that, we now know, began with a ‘conservative Republican’ who said he was the first to flag a ‘Tea Party’, 501(c)(4) application.

Stay tuned, but so far this looks like a MooM.

AP Phone Records

As with many, my assessment of the AP story was: ‘national security vs. protecting sources/freedom of press’ issue.  The AP printed an article that the Justice Department claimed jeopardized national security, spurring the DOJ’s wide phone records sweep to find the security leak. The negative reaction to the ‘press violations by the government’ with its’ AP phone sweep, seemed exactly in proportion to that of the ‘national security lapse’ in the Benghazi embassy attack, and, to me, politically speaking, a case of ‘wanting it both ways’ for political gain.  It boils down to this- at what price national security?  Too little protection for the Libyan Embassy?  But too much sought in the AP case?  Each deserves discussion within it’s own context (which eventually took, or is taking, place), but the initial, politically driven outrage seems a bit of MooM with some Contradiction / Double Standard thrown in.

That said, who exactly is guilty of those Rule breaks?  The press?  Or those expressing the outrage- political entities or otherwise?  The ATD Rules were designed to check the news media.  In my opinion, the media is right to report reactions to stories, including outrage, as long as they continue to probe and report facts, as I think they did.  Had they not done so, and/or remained focused on outrage without applying the Rules, then the MooM and Contradiction/DS charges would apply.  This is admittedly a fine point, but this is a blog about the media.  Though the Rules can, and, in fact, were designed to apply to political entities, in this blog, they can only do so indirectly, through the media, which, as the Fourth Estate, is held to a high standard of truth and, therefore, mandated to serve as a gateway against political abuse.  But that said, since these Rules are nothing more than contructs of logic and common sense, they can apply to any arena of life where debate takes place, including the political.

So this- the AP story- was a borderline call.  Though, initially, MooM and Contradiction/DS seemed to apply, I don’t think they hit the threshold as media violations.

Have a different opinion?  Comment below and tell me about it.  We may not watch the same news shows.