For two years now, the anti-gay National Organization For Marriage had been making all kinds of claims about the Internal Revenue Service and that body's supposed hostility toward the special interest gorup. On June 3, 2014, US District Judge James Cacheris smacked down those claims—and hard.
Whereas NOM had been insisting that someone at the IRS intentionally and maliciously gave NOM's unredacted tax documents to an LGBT activist who then proceeded to distribute those same documents to the Human Rights Campaign and the Huffington Post for politically-motivated distribution, the US District judge said, clearly and pointedly, that the whole thing was nothing more than an error on the part of one IRS employee. Here are some pertinent snippets from Judge Cacheris' ruling:
(FULL DECISION HERE)
The judge's ruling came after a lengthy investigation. I should say here, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was actually interviewed by investigators from the treasury department, and NOM's lawyers also subpoenaed me for documents in this case, since I was, at the time, a contract worker with the Human Rights Campaign's NOM Exposed project. So I know firsthand that there was, in fact, a very thorough investigation that went on. And in the course of this lengthy investigation, it became exceedingly apparent, through all supporting documentation, that this was simply caused by a clerical error. "Inadvertently as part of a single employee's mistake," as the judge says.
The judge denied NOM of any chance at punitive damages (i.e. damages meant to punish the offender), which is what NOM had always hoped would be the outcome. NOM wanted to send a message that the IRS was unfairly targeting groups like theirs; the court said no to that.
Judge Cacheris did, however, allow NOM to obtain compensatory damages from the government. And you know what? I actually agree with this! These compensatory damages are meant to pay back any actual damages received as a result of the error, and all involved admit there was, in fact, an error here. NOM has the right to receive limited compensation from the government for the time and resources it had to waste in order to deal with this extremely limited error, which is something we would all want if involved in a similar situation. In this case, the court determined $50,000 to be a fair amount. Okay, that sounds fair enough to me.
But this is NOM we're talking about, so fair enough is of course not good enough. The organization is now on a bit of a media tour attempting to turn this into something it's not. NOM issued a screaming press release insisting that the IRS "admitted wrongdoing," and several other conservative media outlets have blasted out similar headlines using that same "wrongdoing" framework. They can get away with using that loaded word because a clerical error is, technically, an instance of doing wrong. But let's be clear: the idea is to leap from "did wrong" as in "whoops, we messed up!" to "wrongdoing" as in "we are sinister and we hate you so we're going to destory you—bwa ha ha ha ha!!!!" NOM and friendly outlets are all suggesting that there was untoward conduct and some sort of shocking admission on the part of the IRS because all involved are insistent on connecting these to the other supposed IRS "scandals" that the conservative media loves to obsess over. It's so obvious.
But most oddly, none of these outlets, nor NOM itself, seems to find it necessary to mention what the judge actually said in his ruling. It's as if the judge's smack down of NOM's two years of claims never even happened.
This morning, it all came to a head in a really disingenuous way. Fox News' morning show, Fox & Friends, hosted NOM president Brian Brown for an interview. From the very first few seconds, when host Steve Doocy begins by talking about conservative media villainess Lois Lerner, it is clear that there's an agenda going on. But then, when Doocy flat-out lies—literally, lies on air—and insists, despite the court's findings, that the IRS "intentionally leaked" NOM's documents, there is little doubt that this interview is guided far more by advocacy that it is accuracy. Take a look:
No mention of what Judge Cacheris actually said in his decision. Not even a footnote. Don't you think a cable news interviewer would find it pertinent to acknowledge that this same judge who awarded NOM limited compensatory damages also said, as plain as day in the real meat of his ruling, this the leak was inadvertent and that NOM was not entitled to the punitive damages it was seeking? I would think so. And yet Doocy doesn't even give it a minor mention. He actually congratulates Brian on what he just set up as a victory, as if his good buddy here from the anti-gay organization just "proved" something about the IRS and the supposed agenda that Fox News seems to want it to have.
This is truly egregious journalism. Fox News is joining arm in arm with NOM's deceptions, taking the most basic fact of a clerk making a mistake and attempting to make that mistake sound targeted. Yes, the IRS owned up to the fact that this error happened—but that is not at all the same thing as a leak. It's certainly not the "intentional leak" that Doocy claims in his lead-in. That idea of an intentional leak went to court, and that idea lost in court. Just because Doocy and the degment producers don't see it pertinent to mention the actual ruling doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
It's clear that NOM and its allies in the conservative media are trying to blast out a new set of "facts" so that they can shape the narrative in their favor. It's so obvious—and so, so wrong.
*Fox News also did this on the 6/25 edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Both the host and anti-gay activist Erick Erickson wholly overlooked the ruling, painted the errant IRS clerk as a "weasal," and insisted that it was "proof" that the IRS is targeting groups. And in this case, O'Reilly and Erickson even mentioned the judge's ruling, but they just sidestepped it—disregarded it, really—as being fake or something: