The IRS Email Double Standard

Think those “missing” IRS emails aren’t a big deal? Then consider the hullaballoo when Palin’s were released.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In observing the Obama administration's antics, it has become commonplace for incredulous conservatives to throw their hands up and declare: "If Bush had done this, the media would be crucifying him right now!"

This has become so common as to have become a trope. But in recent days, I've found Sarah Palin an even more apt comparison.

For example, after SNL ran an amusing parody of Schoolhouse Rock to satirize Obama's order on immigration reform, the Washington Post took it upon themselves to fact check a comedy show. As far as I can tell, this service was not provided after Tina Fey's line "I can see Russia from my house" helped destroy Palin's image. And that's too bad, since Palin never said those words (despite what most Americans might think).

A similar example occurred the other day, when a Friday news dump indicated a trove of 30,000 "lost" emails of former IRS official Lois Lerner's had been discovered by the Inspector General. This was from the time when the IRS was targeting conservative groups. The media mostly reported the news with a yawn, only sometimes noting Lerner's refusal to testify, or to recall just how amazingly coincidental it was that her hard drive just happened to crash in the first place, or previous statements that the emails could not be retrieved and were lost forever, or the absurd notion that a government agency couldn't logistically retrieve two years worth of “lost” emails.

Now compare that to what happened when Sarah Palin's emails were released. As Politico reported at the time, "Reporters lined up in Juneau and in front of computers across the country spent the afternoon poring over 24,000 newly released emails from Sarah Palin’s first year and a half as governor, hoping for a bombshell."

In case you've forgotten, it was a huge event. Media outlets “crowd sourced” the project, asking readers to help wade through the 24,000 pages of Palin emails. ABC News live blogged it. You can still go to the Washington Post and "Browse through Sarah Palin's e-mails from her time as governor of Alaska from 2006-2008, or search by keyword to locate a specific topic.” Ditto NBC News (and I'm guessing a lot of other outlets).

But, you say, the difference is that the Palin emails were more likely to be fun and embarrassing—and IRS emails are more likely to be boring? Au contraire. Based on emails already disclosed, Lerner referred to the “assholes” and the “whacko wing of the GOP.” Even if you assume the press is only in it for salacious reasons, they should be salivating over the chance to get a look at this trove. The real difference is that by 2011, Palin was no longer relevant as a political leader, while the potential of IRS malfeasance is still incredibly relevant.

Of course, there is a huge problem with all of this, and that is that the analogy isn't at all fair. Congressional investigators haven't had a chance to look at these 30,000 emails to see whom she was talking to—nor have they been released to the press. There are no emails for us to wade through—even if we were champing at the bits.

But let's suppose for a second that these emails had been released to the press. There is no doubt that some unfortunate reporter, tasked with working the weekend shift, would have looked into them. But do you think the same amount of media resources would have been dedicated to combing through Lerner's emails as Palins?

Me neither. The truth is, there was football to watch, and 30,000 emails is a heavy lift.

Why, I'd have to be Superman to do that, Lois.