MSNBC’s Halperin: If IRS Scandal Happened Under GOP President, ‘This Story Would Be A National Obsession’

Mark Halperin, a frequent panelist on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, made an intriguing observation on Monday’s show about the IRS scandal. After saying that the recent news regarding the destroyed hard drive belonging to former IRS official Lois Lerner would be “a test for the news media,” Halperin took a stance on the scandal that few on the cable channel would dare take.

“I think with a different administration, one that was a Republican administration, this story would be a national obsession and, instead, it's getting coverage here and a few other places, but it really deserves a lot more questions,” opined Halperin. [MP3 audio here; Video below]

Halperin gave the answer after being asked by Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough to explain what he meant about the story being “a test for the news media,” which was made at the beginning of that segment.

HALPERIN: Because the – when a government -- the government – any government agency particularly one as powerful as the IRS engages in something that even people sympathetic to the admission say looks weird and suspicious, it's incumbent upon on all of the national media to aggressively ask more questions. The Republicans in Congress are asking questions. I think with a different administration, one that was a Republican administration, this story would be a national obsession and, instead, it's getting coverage here and a few other places, but it really deserves a lot more questions. 

Fellow panelist Bobby Ghosh, who is the Managing Editor of Quartz and was the former World Editor of TIME magazine, completely endorsed Halperin’s statement.

“[I]f this had been that they were targeting Democratic groups and had been a Republican president, I think it would be in the front pages of every newspaper for weeks,” Ghosh exclaimed.

Scarborough then asked for the thoughts of Bloomberg View’s Al Hunt on the matter, and Hunt proceeded to argue that the news media had indeed covered the story. He said to Halperin that he would send him articles from The New York Times that would prove that the paper has covered it. He then exonerated the IRS and the Obama administration of any wrongdoing other than a case of “absolutely outrageous behavior by bureaucrats.” 

Halperin shot back with the astute point that, “I just don't think we can assume a presumption of innocence because the White House says the Treasury doesn't involved.”


The relevant portions of the transcript are transcribed below: 

MSNBC

Morning Joe

June 23, 2014

6:37 a.m. Eastern time

 

MIKA BRZEZINKSKI: The missing e-mails involve several top IRS employees, including Lois Lerner, who was in charge of the agency's tax exempt unit. 

[ON-SCREEN: Photos of Lois Lerner]

JOE SCARBOROUGH: You say, really quickly, this is a test for the media. Why do you say that, Mark Halperin? 

MARK HALPERIN: Because the – when a government -- the government – any government agency particularly one as powerful as the IRS engages in something that even people sympathetic to the admission say looks weird and suspicious, it's incumbent upon on all of the national media to aggressively ask more questions. The Republicans in Congress are asking questions. I think with a different administration, one that was a Republican administration, this story would be a national obsession and, instead, it's getting coverage here and a few other places, but it really deserves a lot more questions. 

SCARBOROUGH: Bobby, you're agreeing? 

BOBBY GHOSH: Absolutely. If this – and if this had been that they were targeting Democratic groups and had been a Republican president, I think it would be in the front pages of every newspaper for weeks. 

SCARBOROUGH: Al Hunt, this has smelled from the very beginning. Remember way, a couple of summers ago, Lois Lerner gives this strange press conference and Ron Fournier wrote something about all the misleading statements through the past couple of years and how the administration has been trying to downplay it and so much of what they have said just hasn’t turned out to be true. Based on what you've read, based on what you've seen, based on what you've heard over the past couple of years, what is your best take on what is happening at the IRS and what has happened and where it goes from here? 

AL HUNT: Yeah. I actually think there's been reasonably aggressive coverage, Mark. I'll send you a bunch of New York Times pieces. I don't think it's – it’s covered up by the press. I think it’s confusing, however. There is no evidence yet that there is political interference. There is clear evidence there was absolutely outrageous behavior by bureaucrats. There was clearly some targeting that went on. Some of it grows out of the Citizens United case. There are people who ought to be punished, perhaps even prosecuted. The critical question remains whether there was political interference from the top, either the treasury or the white house, and everything we have seen so far suggests not. But more is  – more is to be investigated. 

HALPERIN: I just don't think we can assume a presumption of innocence because the White House says the Treasury doesn't involved. 

SCARBOROUGH: I do find it – I can look at The New York Times right now and I haven't seen the front page yesterday. 

BRZEZINKSKI: I think yesterday. 

SCARBOROUGH: But I think you have a situation, again, where somebody was, again, where the Chairman of the ways and means -- I find it hard to believe that the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means sent a Republican administration a letter saying we are going to begin an inquiry about you targeting individual Americans and political groups that don't like Republicans. And then a week or so later, e-mails from the top leaders at the IRS disappear? I find that hard to believe that would not be on the front page of this newspaper every day. I just – I just – who knows.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division