Fox News has promoted the false claim that the Inflation Reduction Act adds 87,000 employees to the Internal Revenue Service at least 203 times since Senate Democrats announced the bill’s framework on August 5, according to a Media Matters review of the network’s programming. That false talking point fuels Fox’s incendiary smear that President Joe Biden is turning the IRS into a “new Gestapo” that will “hunt down and kill middle-class taxpayers.”
The IRA, which Biden signed into law on August 16, includes $80 billion over the next decade in additional funding for the IRS. A portion of those funds would support tougher tax enforcement targeted at Americans making more than $400,000, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would raise $204 billion. The net gain of $124 billion, along with prescription drug pricing reform and tax increases on billion-dollar corporations, helps the bill fund investments in clean energy and health care while also reducing the deficit by over $300 billion over 10 years.
Republicans and their right-wing media supporters oppose increased funding for the IRS; they prefer to hobble tax enforcement so that wealthy people can continue to cheat on their taxes with impunity. GOP politicians spent years defunding the tax police and have focused their IRA criticism on this provision, deceptively warning that the bill creates a “new army of 87,000 IRS agents” who “will be coming for you,” in the words of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
Fox has played a key role in stoking right-wing ire against the IRS, including by spreading the false claim that the bill would lead to the hiring of 87,000 employees at least 203 times. The talking point has been commonplace both on “news side” programs like The Faulkner Focus (20 instances), America’s Newsroom (15), and America Reports (12), and on “opinion side” shows like Fox & Friends First (23 instances), Fox & Friends (16), The Ingraham Angle (15), Tucker Carlson Tonight (12), and Hannity (10). The purported 87,000 new hires were specifically described as “agents” at least 169 times.
But it is false to claim that the IRA provides for 87,000 IRS hires, agents or not. The IRS has not announced any hiring plans in response to the IRA — the figure comes from a separate Treasury Department proposal from 2021 detailing what the IRS could do with additional funding, which predates that bill. That proposal includes 87,000 new hires across all positions, including secretarial and IT staff, not strictly auditors or “agents.” GOP-driven budget cuts in recent years have reduced the IRS headcount to near-1974 levels, and the hiring plan is meant to address a major loss of employees to retirement and “simply maintain current levels,” according to PolitiFact.
Fox has also regularly promoted the wildly inflammatory and false claim that the new IRS hires would all be armed, doing so at least 40 times over the same period, 9 of which came on Fox star Tucker Carlson’s program. That’s a conflation of a separate talking point the right has used to fearmonger about the IRS. In fact, as the network’s White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich has noted on Twitter, only a tiny fraction of the service’s employees belong to the Criminal Investigation division, a century-old unit whose special agents carry firearms because they handle dangerous cases involving crimes like public corruption, narcotics, and money laundering.
These Fox falsehoods are part of a wave of right-wing demagoguery targeting the IRS. As I noted last week after Carlson alleged that the Biden administration is hiring “87,000 armed IRS agents to make sure you obey”:
Carlson’s falsehood follows a week of unhinged demagoguery from Fox and others in the right-wing media that links the new IRS funding with the Mar-a-Lago search as dark signs that the Biden administration has weaponized the government against Americans. Fox pundits have described the potential wave of IRS hiring as an “economic, financial militia against regular people” deployed by those who “want to control you”; a “new army” that will “hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers”; a “new Gestapo” Biden will use in an “abusive, corrupt manner”; “a Praetorian Guard that will be unleashed again” to “grab all the cash they can by any means necessary”; and “part of an orchestrated campaign to target Americans and have the federal government be at war with those Americans.”
The virulence of the right-wing attacks on the IRS has triggered concerns that its employees may be subject to violence. On Tuesday, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig announced “a full security review of its facilities nationwide” in light of staff safety concerns, The Washington Post reported. Rettig, a Trump appointee, suggested that Republican criticisms of the service are fueling far-right extremism and threats.
That isn’t giving Fox hosts a reason for pause. On Tuesday, Laura Ingraham once again falsely claimed that the IRA funds “87,000 IRS agents,” and described Rettig’s statement as “preemptive action against its critics” by the Biden administration.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Internal Revenue Service,” “IRS,” “Inflation Reduction Act,” or “IRA” or any variation of the phrase “tax enforcement” within close proximity of any of the terms “hire,” “employee,” “personnel,” “agent,” “armed,” “87,000,” “87000,” “87 thousand,” “eighty-seven thousand,” “80 billion,” or “eighty billion” from August 5, 2022, through August 23, 2022.
We counted segments, which we defined as instances when the Internal Revenue Service funding provision of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) was the stated topic of discussion or instances when we found significant discussion of the provision. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in the multitopic segment discussed the provision with one another. We also included passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a speaker mentioned the provision in a segment about another topic without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the provision scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed all segments, mentions, and teasers for any claims suggesting that the IRA funding for the IRS would result in the hiring of 87,000 new employees. Within those claims, we also noted when speakers described the employees as “agents” or “armed.”
We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Martha MacCallum, at the helm, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham. We used the designations from each anchor or host’s author page on FoxNews.com. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as opinion programs.