Media, tea party coalesce around common enemy

2013-05-15T00:00:00Z Media, tea party coalesce around common enemyKathleen Parker Washington Post Writers Group Arizona Daily Star

Breaking news: Conservative organizations suddenly have found common cause with one of their favorite objects of contempt - the benighted Mainstream Media.

Or as the tea-party queen and former Alaska governor likes to put it, the "lamestream media."

In a twist of irony, the two groups have coalesced around a common enemy: the U.S. government. Revelations the past few days that the Internal Revenue Service has been giving special attention to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status have converged with the news that the Justice Department has been seizing phone records of The Associated Press. Reaction from both camps has been outrage seasoned with constitutional fervor.

Not to overstate, but nothing less than free speech is at stake, about which no one should be confused. Briefly, the IRS singled out specific groups with words such as "tea party," "patriot" or "9/12" in their names for special scrutiny, including asking for donor lists. Needless to say, this would have a chilling effect on donors who prefer anonymity, but it also smacks of intimidation.

The implication: Criticize the government and you will pay. Literally. The targeting, moreover, was not a rogue operation by some random field agents in Cincinnati, as originally claimed, but, according to The Washington Post, involved IRS officials in Washington.

"Outrageous" was the term President Obama used Monday during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama promised to get to the bottom of it even though, as president, he can't directly contact the IRS about a tax matter. This is owing to the legacy of Watergate, when then-President Richard Nixon used the IRS to intimidate his perceived enemies. The unavoidable comparison is, well, unavoidable.

Obama can rattle some cages, though, given his administration's almost daily scandal production, he's going to be a busy zookeeper for the foreseeable future. No sooner had the Benghazi hearing concluded than the IRS story broke, followed by reports of the Justice Department probe. The latter's investigation pertained to reporters' phone records over a two-month period affecting four bureaus.

Americans accustomed to hating the media - a popular pastime of self-proclaimed "new media," often meaning someone with an iPhone and a laptop - should stop hitting "snooze" on their wake-up call right about now. When the choice is between distrusting reporters and distrusting the government, there's no contest, especially when the aggrieved are groups of people (tea partyers and self-proclaimed patriots) whose chief organizing principle is distrust of government.

Reporters, though they are merely human with all the attendant imperfections, are fundamentally on the patriot team. They're sort of like cops: You hate them when their blue lights appear in the rear view, but you love them when something goes bump in the night.

The government can legitimately investigate journalists in the interest of national security, as has been claimed here. Officials say that an AP story last May about a failed al-Qaeda plot raised flags about potentially dangerous leaks.

Out of fairness (or fear of punitive repercussions?), early reaction to these revelations has focused on the incompetence of the Obama administration rather than any sinister intent. Similarly, the administration's incorrect reporting of events in Benghazi are claimed to have been the product of miscommunication and inter-agency turf squabbles rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.

Whatever.

Pending a verdict from investigators investigating investigators, it is abundantly clear that something is awry at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Incompetence may be an explanation, but it is hardly reassuring.

Email Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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