Nicholas Kristof's Ridiculous IRS Spin: 'Every Second Term Has Scandals'

Is the IRS scandal just not that big a deal in New York City? Perhaps for out-of-touch journos like liberal Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and The New Yorker editor David Remnick, who downplayed the controversy on Sunday's Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Kristof predictably spun the scandals into a "so what?" narrative for the White House: "I think it's true that the White House has often been tone-deaf, but every second term has scandals." Meanwhile, Remnick called the IRS scandal the doing of "very low level" employees without acknowledging that higher-ups in Washington could have orchestrated it.

"An IRS scandal in which, clearly, something was clearly being done wrong at a very low level and should be pounced up and taken care of," Remnick gave his incredibly administration-friendly take.

Kristof's spin? Every second-term administration has scandals:

"You know, I think it's true that the White House has often been tone-deaf, but every second term has scandals. And if you compare these with Iran-Contra, with Monica Lewinsky, I mean these just seem pretty minuscule. I agree with David that the issue of going after whistle-blowers, that really does trouble me, but I also think that is one that troubles journalists much more than it does the American public as a whole."

Remnick also said the GOP is "overshooting a lot" in reaction to the scandal:

"I think they are overshooting a lot, rhetorically and politically because of an absence of a core ideology and core issues that the Republicans can really circle around. I think when Bob Dole starting talking about the hole in the 'doughnut of the Republican Party,' he was really getting at something."

And Kristof, talking about his growing up in Oregon, railed against the modern-day GOP for being to the far-right on social issues. "[B]ecause the Oregon Republican Party tended to move very far to the right on social issues, they marginalized themselves. And so Oregon today is essentially a blue state. And I wonder if, to some degree, the same thing isn't at risk of happening to the party as a whole nationally."

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on June 2 on Fareed Zakaria GPS:

FAREED ZAKARIA: It was a tumultuous week in the United States and around the world from White House controversies to GOP problems, from Syria to Russia and more. So, there's lots to talk about with the panel and we will get right to it. Joining me today are Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times; the former coalition spokesman in Iraq, Dan Senor, who also helped Paul Ryan with his vice presidential campaign and is now an author and investor. David Remnick, of course, the editor of the New Yorker; and a Vice President at the American Enterprise Institute, Danielle Pletka, who was a long-time staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All right, rate the scandals, David Remnick.

DAVID REMNICK: editor, The New Yorker: Compared to what and what are they? What are these scandals? An IRS scandal in which, clearly, something was clearly being done wrong at a very low level and should be pounced up and taken care of. The element that concerns me most, and it's not because I am a reporter and editor, I think, but as somebody who cares immensely about the First Amendment, is -- has to do with wire-tapping. It has to do with pressure on and possible prosecution of reports and actions against whistle-blowers. That is extremely serious. I don't think the IRS matter rises to the level, despite the Republican rhetoric and some commentators' rhetoric, of Iran-Contra or Watergate. I mean that's ridiculous.    

ZAKARIA: And we're forgetting about Benghazi. Benghazi, Danielle.

DANIELLE PLETKA, vice president, American Enterprise Institute: You know, it continues to be the case that the president and the Secretary of State could, at any moment, come out and say look, we didn't handle this well. We said a lot of things that involved lack of careful investigation. We're going to go back and we're going to fix this. This shouldn't have happened this way. And the public would sort of go, ha, OK, that kind of things happens.

And yet they've relentlessly refused to example themselves, to examine their own rhetoric and to answer the question of why the American people were lied to for more than a week. So, you know, again, I think for me this is less troubling than the other two issues, but I still think that it is a sign of a White House that is tone-deaf about the concerns that the Congress and American people have about national security questions.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, columnist, New York Times: You know, I think it's true that the White House has often been tone-deaf, but every second term has scandals. And if you compare these with Iran-Contra, with Monica Lewinsky, I mean these just seem pretty minuscule. I agree with David that the issue of going after whistle-blowers, that really does trouble me, but I also think that is one that troubles journalists much more than it does the American public as a whole.

ZAKARIA: Right.

KRISTOF: And --

ZAKARIA: And the intelligence community is hypersensitive on the issue leaks.

KRISTOF: Yes, absolutely. And so I -- and I do think that we tend to write about and pay a lot of attention to issues that concern us. If you look at all the challenges facing America, I guess I have a hard time placing it, you know, very high on the agenda.

ZAKARIA: I'm guessing, Dan Senor, you disagree.

DAN SENIOR, former coalition spokesman in Iraq, Romney/Paul former foreign policy advisor, author, investor: I think the IRS is unique because it touches so many Americans' lives in a really concrete way. It -- people know that the IRS can ruin people's lives, ruin people's businesses, ruin people's nonprofit organizations.

So I think when you hear these stories, it's not just the IRS going after 501(c)(4) organizations of one ideological bent and not the other, it's that donors to those same organizations, somehow those names got out there so the IRS was going after individual donor. And, oh by the way, those donors are also being targeted by the EPA and OSHA and other agencies at the exact time. I don't know if it's some grand conspiracy.

You're absolutely right, the Republicans have to be careful not to overshoot here, but there is something going on here that has multiple layers and I do not believe we are near the end of getting to the bottom.

REMNICK: I think they are overshooting a lot, rhetorically and politically because of an absence of a core ideology and core issues that the Republicans can really circle around. I think when Bob Dole starting talking about the hole in the "doughnut of the Republican Party," he was really getting at something.

ZAKARIA: Let's listen to what Bob Dole said last week on Fox.

(Video Clip)

ROBERT DOLE, former Kansas senator: You ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says "Close for Repairs" until New Year's Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.

(End Video Clip)

ZAKARIA: What did you think about what Dole said?

SENOR: I thought he said something that many Republicans feel, both moderate and conservative. In other words, if -- you know, you mentioned Paul Ryan. So what Paul Ryan did with the Budget Committee over the last couple of years, you can agree with it or you can disagree with it, but he used the Budget Committee to really push an argument about entitlement reform.

Republican leaders on other committees have not done that over the last few years. Republicans have not had an idea-driven agenda about some of these big issues and that's a missed moment. We need that. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't also try to get to the bottom of these scandals like they are --

ZAKARIA: You grew up in Oregon. What was the Oregon Republican Party like when you were growing up?

KRISTOF: You know, I grew up in a very different Oregon. And I grew up in an Oregon that was a Republican state and it was a state of Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, Tom McCall. These were Republicans who were fiscally conservative. They also very much were looking after the environment. Mark Hatfield "Became a Republican," he said, "Because that was the party that cared about civil rights."

You know, nobody would say that kind of thing today and because the Oregon Republican Party tended to move very far to the right on social issues, they marginalized themselves. And so Oregon today is essentially a blue state. And I wonder if, to some degree, the same thing isn't at risk of happening to the party as a whole nationally.

REMNICK: You could say the same about --

ZAKARIA: Danielle, what --

REMNICK: -- Bush 41 in some ways and you could even say the same about Ronald Reagan reaching his hand out to Mikhail Gorbachev. I wonder how that would go.

ZAKARIA: Danielle, what do you think?

PLETKA: I think that these expressions of (inaudible) if I may be so bold.

(Laughter)

PLETKA: About the Republican Party are a little overstated. I think that everybody's right that a party that is not centered around a set of ideas and principles is a party that will lose. On the other hand, the suggestion that the Republican Party has suddenly moved out the mainstream of American life is a little bit silly to me.

You know, the Republican Party represents small government. It represents free enterprise. It represents a set of ideas and I think it represents something more. And they walk a fine line and that is accountability. And it is right that the party that controls the House of Representatives demands accountability from the President of the United States. This is what makes us great. This is what makes us stable. And if you didn't have that --

ZAKARIA: But --

PLETKA: Then we would have a White House going after reporters.

ZAKARIA: But the question in this last week making the charge --

PLETKA: -- yes.

ZAKARIA: That the Republican Party has moved out of the mainstream is the former Republican presidential candidate, Robert Dole --

PLETKA: Sure.

ZAKARIA: -- who's the guy who was leader of the Senate.

PLETKA: Look, we're all always attuned to (Inaudible) within parties. You know, I like to read -- I like to read people disaffected with the president, people who've left his administration and are not happy, people around Washington who haven't gotten jobs in his administration because they're insufficiently ideological, because they care about international policy, because they want smaller government or lower taxes. I understand that. I respect Bob Dole and I respectfully disagree with him.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014