Lacking Facts, Woodward Plays The IRS “Scandal” Game

The right-wing scandal-mongering crowd has a potent ally in Bob Woodward. Of late, the Washington Post associate editor has been busily hyping -- or outright manufacturing -- White House “scandals,” inviting observers to draw unfounded comparisons to Watergate. In some cases, Woodward has been directly making that comparison himself. And pundits and journalists are eager to take Woodward at his word, which is unfortunate since he's all too often wrong on the facts. Such was the case when Woodward appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on June 3 and lent credence to the idea that former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman's visits to the White House were somehow linked to the IRS's inappropriate scrutiny of conservative non-profit groups.

After the Fox News host introduced Woodward as one of the men who “drove the Watergate story for the Washington Post,” Woodward told O'Reilly that the IRS controversy “needs to be investigated.” He continued: “But you know who should lead the investigation? President Obama. And the White House put out his version of all of these things. I have found in recent weeks they still respond to questions. You say they aren't answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should. They should get on top of this story.”

Here are a few facts Woodward could have -- and should have -- brought up. The 157 number itself is something of a canard, as it doesn't accurately reflect the number of times Shulman actually visited the president or other top White House officials. The vast majority of the former commissioner's visits were not to the actual White House but to office buildings that are part of the White House complex. Those visits were mostly meetings with administration staffers charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the IRS plays an important role in administering. All of this information was available, and it goes a long way toward deflating O'Reilly's scandal narrative, but Woodward either didn't know or didn't care to bring it up.

Later in the segment, Woodward told O'Reilly: “I agree this is not Watergate at all. But the road to Watergate is concealment, is not coming clean [...] If [the Obama administration does] that they will dig themselves in a hole. And I think they have the moral and intellectual capacity to stop that.” Saying “this is not Watergate” is well and good, since the idea behind O'Reilly's segment was to explicitly link the IRS controversy to Watergate in spite of the evidence. But Woodward should have laid out the reasons why O'Reilly was off base. Instead, he laid out the conditions under which the IRS controversy could become a new Watergate, which is pretty much what O'Reilly wanted in the first place.