WASHINGTON — Breaking news: Conservative organizations suddenly have found common cause with one of their favorite objects of contempt — the benighted Mainstream Media.
In a twist of irony, the two groups have coalesced around a common enemy: the U.S. government.
Revelations the past few days that the Internal Revenue Service has been giving special attention to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status have converged with the news that the Justice Department has been seizing phone records of The Associated Press. Reaction from both camps has been outrage seasoned with constitutional fervor.
Not to overstate, but nothing less than free speech is at stake, about which no one should be confused.
Briefly, the IRS singled out specific groups with words such as “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names for special scrutiny, including asking for donor lists. Needless to say, this would have a chilling effect on donors who prefer anonymity, but it also smacks of intimidation. The implication: Criticize the government and you will pay. Literally. The targeting, moreover, was not a rogue operation by some random field agents in Cincinnati, as originally claimed, but, according to The Washington Post, involved IRS officials in Washington.
President Obama promised to get to the bottom of it even though, as president, he can't directly contact the IRS about a tax matter. This is owing to the legacy of Watergate, when then-President Richard Nixon used the IRS to intimidate his perceived enemies. The unavoidable comparison is, well, unavoidable.
Obama can rattle some cages, though, given his administration's almost daily scandal production, he's going to be a busy zookeeper for the foreseeable future. No sooner had the Benghazi hearing concluded than the IRS story broke, followed by reports of the Justice Department probe.
Americans accustomed to hating the media should stop hitting “snooze” on their wake-up call right about now. When the choice is between distrusting reporters and distrusting the government, there's no contest, especially when the aggrieved are groups of people (tea partyers and self-proclaimed patriots) whose chief organizing principle is distrust of government.