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How the Republican fake scandal machine works

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Remember the IRS targeting scandal? The one in which President Obama ordered the IRS to target Tea Party and other conservative non-profits for extra scrutiny, to determine if they were violating restrictions on partisan political activity by such groups? When news of this egregious abuse of the federal bureaucracy for partisan ends first broke, Even Many Liberals(tm) fell over themselves apologizing for the policy, and promising that it wouldn’t happen again.

You will be shocked to learn that it hasn’t happened again, because it never happened in the first place. The whole scandal was completely made up.

First, one branch of the IRS did create search terms designed to allow the branch to give extra scrutiny to political groups that might be falling askance of limitations on political activity by non-profits. Yet a series of several year-long, multi-million dollar investigation have concluded, over and over again, that these search terms were not designed to give extra scrutiny to right-wing organizations. Many liberal and left-leaning groups were subjected to scrutiny as well. In short, despite extensive (and costly) efforts to find it, no evidence has ever been found that conservative groups were in any way “targeted” because they were conservative.

Second, not a shred of evidence has ever been found for the proposition that the (again, what was actually a non-partisan) IRS investigative policy was itself a brainchild of the Obama administration in the first place. The worst that could be said of the policy was that it was an inefficient use of agency resources — no group, conservative or liberal, actually had its non-profit status revoked — and that it was vulnerable to being mischaracterized by ideologues wanting to undermine the agency (who of course did and continue to do exactly that).

The whole “scandal,” in other words, has always been an utter fabrication from beginning to end. You will also be shocked to hear that these facts have had zero impact on the smooth functioning of the Republican propaganda machine:

Will this stop the Republicans? Of course not. A New York Times story quotes the chair of the House’s tax-writing committee: “This report reinforces what government watchdogs and congressional investigators have confirmed time and time again: Bureaucrats at the I.R.S. … arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology.”

No, the report says exactly the opposite. The IRS covered the political spectrum, meaning that regardless of a group’s apparent political ideology, they might receive added scrutiny in applying for status as a not-excessively-political organization.

And what of the press? A Washington Post news article stated that the new TIGTA report “could undermine claims that conservatives were unfairly targeted under President Barack Obama.”

Normally, I would love to make a sarcastic comment about that kind of bizarre understatement, but there is no improving on Steven Benen’s take on The Post ‘s “quite generous” choice of words: “If ‘could undermine’ is synonymous with ‘completely discredits,’ then sure.”

ETA: Commenter Brewmn makes an important point:

Honestly, the bizarre understatement by the Washington Post is the most troubling aspect of this piece. I understand why partisans are partisan, and I understand that Republican operatives have no scruples and no regard for reality or the truth.

What I don’t understand is why the MSM frames every political debate, and I do mean EVERY political debate, in the manner most beneficial to Republicans/conservatives and most damaging to Democrats/liberals. The working of the refs by the right has been the most successful propaganda effort in modern American history, and in many ways the most destructive.

ETA: Commenter cpinva:

the “scandal” was that the IRS was inundated with 1,000’s of applications for non-profit status, from rightwing grifters eager to get in on the Tea Party grift. in an effort to do its job of separating out the obvious political entities from the rest, in a timely fashion, Exempt Orgs. came up with a methodology they believed would help them do so, and applied it to all of the applications, in order to approve those qualifying as quickly as possible.

in other words, IRS Exempt Orgs. was doing its job, just as it’s always done, only this time without the manpower necessary to process the unusually high number of applications, in a relatively short period of time. it took the people in my office about a day to realize this, once we had enough information to figure out what had actually happened. the difference was, all the rightwing grifters screaming, because they couldn’t get in on the grift, until they got their non-profit status approved.

Now it’s hardly a surprise that GOP congresscreatures, Fox News, and the endlessly mendacious editorial page of the Wall Street Journal are all completely undeterred by the fact that the scandal they continue to flog does not exist and has never existed.

But here’s a more interesting, to me anyway, example of how and why the right wing propaganda machine is so successful. Paul Caron is a law professor who operates Taxprof, a highly trafficked — by legal academic standards — blog. Caron has, as of a couple of days ago, put up 1699 (one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine) posts about the IRS “scandal,” continuing to do so for years after it was evident to any disinterested observer that the only scandal was the meta-scandal of treating an imaginary scandal as a real scandal, aka, Republican politics as usual. (If you’re inclined to get out of the boat, read the outbursts of right wing paranoia that festoon the comment threads to Caron’s posts on this subject, illustrating how fake scandals invented by the GOP scream machine are the zombies of contemporary American politics).

A few months ago, Caron was elevated to the deanship of Pepperdine’s law school. From 2004 to 2010, that same position was held by Ken Starr, which suggests the position is one of those sinecures reserved for those who have done great service for the Party.

One reason the GOP propaganda machine works so well is that lots of “respectable” people — law school deans, university presidents, thoughtful(tm) conservatives, and the like — remain part of it, sometimes no doubt without even realizing it themselves. At this juncture, these people are actually no more respectable or believable than Fox News, which in turn is no more respectable or believable than the Breitbart cesspool. They are all merely different faces of the same toxic, post-factual political propaganda machine. Yet lots of go along to get along liberals still refuse to face up to this politically and — even more so — socially uncomfortable fact.

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