The Director of the IRS’s tax-exempt enforcement division, Lois Lerner, has been placed on “administrative leave” after her publicly derided appearance in front of Congress the other day. Reality forces the BBC to report on a story they were quietly avoiding until the story got too big to ignore.
There are some glaring omissions here, as well as the usual partisan bias we’ve come to expect from the BBC’s coverage of US issues. Instead of my usual lengthy and tedious essays parsing every little word, I’m going to try something different. This time I’m simply going to rewrite the piece as if I were an editor, taking the bulk of what’s already been written and adding important things I believe they left out, and making a few changes to remove the partisan bias.
Read the BBC article above, and then read my version. Please compare and contrast, and let me know which version better informs you.
The US tax official who supervised the bureau that targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny ahead of the 2012 election has been placed on leave, officials have said.
Lois Lerner’s suspension came the day after she refused to testify at a congressional hearing on the matter, and refused a request from the new acting IRS commissioner for her to resign.
Groups applying for tax-exempt status were singled out for extra screening if words like “Tea Party” and “patriot” appeared in their applications, while other groups with “Progress” or “Progressive” in their names sailed through the process and received no such scrutiny.
The practice has been widely condemned.
The Associated Press reported Ms Lerner had been replaced as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) director of exempt organisations.
Two top officials at the IRS have already said they would resign over the matter. One was on the job for just eight days before being forced out, while the other was already scheduled to step down within weeks.
Several congressional hearings have already been held as the Oversight Committee searches for evidence the practice was directed or condoned by the administration of President Barack Obama.
Order to cease
On Wednesday, Ms Lerner told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee she had not broken any laws or given false information to Congress.
But Ms Lerner said she would not answer the congressmen’s questions, citing her right under the US Constitution not to incriminate herself. Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chair of the committee, has since said that Ms Lerner’s profession of innocence was itself testimony, thus pre-emptively waiving her Fifth Amendment rights. Opinions differ on the legal basis for Rep. Issa’s decision. He intends to bring Ms Lerner back for further questioning at a later date.
She learned of the targeting in 2011 and ordered staff to cease, though lower-level staff apparently resumed until May 2012, according to a treasury department report. Ms Lerner brought the affair to the public’s attention on 10 May, when she disclosed the practice at a legal conference by planting a question about it with a friend on the panel.
In 2010-12, the IRS says it was inundated with new applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status, after the US Supreme Court loosened restrictions on political spending by organisations unaffiliated with candidates’ campaigns. According to a report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, however, the data don’t back up that claim, and instead show that the extra scrutiny began before the uptick in filings.
Under US tax law, “social welfare” groups may apply for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status but cannot engage primarily in political activity, although they are in some cases permitted to endorse candidates. Groups granted 501(c)(3) status may not endorse candidates or policies. The bulk of groups receiving special scrutiny were applying for 501(c)(4) status.
Staff members at an IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio are understood to have compiled a list that included keywords such as “Tea Party” and “patriot” to select organisations for extra scrutiny from the large number of applications. The Washington Post has quoted staff members there as stating that they didn’t have such authority on their own and that the orders to do so came “from the top”.
IRS officials have denied any political motivation behind the practice, describing it as a way to handle the heavy workload. An inquiry by the US treasury department has found no evidence of any political influence from the Obama administration.
President Barack Obama has denounced the practice as unacceptable, and the FBI has launched a criminal inquiry.
PS: I make no comment on the photo the BBC used. It’s the one making all the rounds for obvious reasons, but I might have chosen the one where she’s consulting her lawyer instead.
UPDATE: News Sniffer shows that a BBC News Online editor actually redacted a few words in one sentence, making it appear more partisan.