Media largely ignored Rep. Istook's inconsistency on tax provision

Many major media outlets merely reported Representative Ernest Istook's (R-OK) November 22 revelation that he “didn't write,” “didn't approve,” and “wasn't even consulted” about a controversial provision inserted into a $388 billion omnibus spending bill that would have allowed lawmakers to examine the tax returns of private citizens -- failing to note that just the day before, Istook had defended the provision and made no attempt to deny responsibility for it.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) called the provision the “Istook Amendment” on November 20, and on November 21 the Associated Press reported that “congressional aides said it had been inserted at the request of Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr.” Also on November 21, reported that Istook -- “the Oklahoma Republican whose subcommittee was responsible for the provision” -- defended the provision, saying that it had been misrepresented, that "[n]obody's privacy was ever jeopardized," and that the language was meant to “include visiting and inspecting the huge IRS processing centers, but not inspecting tax returns.”

It wasn't until November 22 that Istook took steps to distance himself from the provision, releasing a statement in which he claimed to have “had nothing to do with inserting this language. ... My name shouldn't be associated with it, because I had nothing to do with it, and didn't even know about it until after the bill was done and was filed.”

Yet despite this inconsistency, most subsequent media reports accepted at face value Istook's denial of responsibility for the provision. A November 23 article in The Washington Post presented Istook's most recent assertions that he was “bypassed” and knew nothing about the provision without any mention of his defense of the provision the day before:

Micah Leydorf, Istook's spokeswoman, said she understood the language was added by the full Appropriations Committee staff or by Istook's subcommittee staff at the direction of staffers for the full committee. “We have a problem with how bills like this are put together,” Istook acknowledged. “The subcommittee chairman should never be bypassed like I was in this case.”

The Post's report was reprinted in several media outlets on November 23, including The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, and

Similarly, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today simply reported Istook's November 22 denial without noting his inconsistency.

The New York Times -- in a November 23 article criticized by Media Matters for America for other reasons -- was an exception in this regard. Reporter David E. Rosenbaum noted Istook's change in position.