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Too Taxing? Big Three Networks Abandon IRS Scandal

When news broke that IRS agents were abusively targeting conservative groups particularly the Tea Party, it looked at as if this was an Obama administration scandal that would stick. Even reporters like NBC’s Andrea Mitchell counted it as among the “most outrageous excesses I’ve seen.” Obama sycophant Chris Matthews predicted it could be worth “five or 10 points” for Republicans in the next midterm elections. Even the New York Times editorial board proclaimed: “The IRS Audits Are Condemned.”

The Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) news networks actually jumped to cover the story, filling their evening and morning shows with a total of 96 stories in the first two weeks (May 10 through May 23) of coverage. But after those two strong weeks, the broadcast networks lost interest in the scandal, and the coverage slowed to a crawl -- just 31 stories in the subsequent weeks (May 24 through June 12). So far this week (the six days spanning June 7 through June 12), the networks have run only one story (June 11 on ABC’s Good Morning America) on the IRS scandal.

UPDATE: From June 12 through the morning of June 18 CBS and NBC have run no additional stories on the IRS scandal. ABC ran one brief on the June 17 edition of Good Morning America.

MRC analysts reviewed each of the morning and evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC from May 10 through June 12 (ABC’s World News, Good Morning America, CBS’s Evening News and This Morning, and NBC’s Nightly News and Today show), and found 127 full stories, interviews or anchor briefs that focused on the IRS scandal. Analysts determined that 76 percent of the IRS stories were aired within the first two weeks, while 24 percent of the stories arrived in the latter period, a huge drop-off.

Altogether CBS ran the most stories (49) on the IRS scandal. NBC had the second most stories (44) and ABC finished last (34).

When the IRS scandal first broke the Big Three anchors and reporters hopped on the story. NBC’s Brian Williams opened the May 10 Nightly News: “Targeted by the IRS, a stunning admission and an apology tonight. Why the government is saying sorry to the Tea Party and admitting mistakes were made.” That same night on ABC’s World News Diane Sawyer called it a “firestorm,” and on the May 11 Evening News CBS’s Anthony Mason proclaimed: “A huge scandal at the IRS.”

But by May 24, the Big Three network anchors and reporters seemed ready to move on from the story. The release of embarrassing IRS conference training videos featuring a Star Trek spoof and employees learning how to line dance, all on the taxpayers’ dime, and congressional testimony from conservatives bullied by the IRS, failed to reignite the furious pace of stories from the first two weeks of the scandal.

The only coverage so far this week of the IRS imbroglio was when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Rep. John Boehner about it on the June 11 Good Morning America.

When the IRS scandal first broke in May, even reliably liberal network reporters saw it as a real threat to President Obama and his political agenda. The fact that they have so quickly dropped it from the news agenda is just more evidence that the broadcast networks filter their so-called “news” through a partisan lens. After all, does anyone doubt that if an identical scandal had erupted during the Bush years, the networks would have essentially walked away after just a couple of weeks of heavy coverage?

-- Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.