Here we go again.
Within hours of House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) selectively leaking emails from one of his investigations, the right-wing media is dutifully claiming that he had offered evidence of a cover-up in the controversy over IRS scrutiny of nonprofit groups.
The question now is whether legitimate media outlets will again let Issa and Fox manipulate them with selective leaks.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed on July 9 that the emails that Issa released were “hard evidence” that embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner was engaged in a cover up.
In reality, the email shows nothing more than a manager issuing guidance that email communication could be subpoenaed by Congress, underscoring the “need to be cautious about what we say in emails,” and confirming that instant messages were not archived but should be treated with the same caution as email.
Absent any additional information about the context of Lerner's initial guidance, it's impossible to draw any conclusions whatsoever, let alone O'Reilly's sweeping claim of a cover-up.
O'Reilly's interpretation of Lerner's email is perfectly in line with Darrell Issa's spin, which he floated in a July 9 Twitter post arguing that Lerner was engaged in a conspiracy to hide information from Congress.
And the media is already adopting Issa's spin, a troubling development given the media's lengthy history of being manipulated by Issa's deceptive leaks.
In June 2013, Issa selectively leaked partial transcripts of interviews with IRS employees to insinuate that IRS officials in Washington, D.C. coordinated inappropriate targeting of conservative groups. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal ran with Issa's selective leak. Even after Issa's claims were refuted as inconsistent with the full evidentiary record, Fox continued to parrot the dishonest attack.
In November 2013, Issa selectively leaked testimony he claimed showed that a project manager overseeing construction of the Obamacare exchange website was “kept in the dark” about security issues related to the site's launch. Media outlets including CBS, Fox News, and The New York Times, ran with the story, only to get burned when it became clear that the security issue Issa was pointing to was unrelated to the site's launch but instead connected to part of the site that wasn't scheduled to be online for months.
In March 2014, Issa leaked evidence to Fox News, claiming it implicated the White House in the “political targeting” of nonprofit groups. A full reading of the email chain, which was obtained by Media Matters, actually showed that IRS officials specifically made clear that their intention was “not to look for political activity.”
During a Fox & Friends interview Thursday, Issa called the email a “smoking gun.” Will the media fall for Issa's tactics again?
Media Matters for America researchers Zachary Pleat and Chance Seales contibuted to this post.