What? The IRS was asking people what they talked to God about? That’s what the headline seemed to say, especially given the fact that there were quotes around those last four words. (Here’s a screenshot.) This sounds even further out of bounds than what we already knew about the IRS targeting conservative groups, I thought.
And then I quickly started questioning the source of this allegation. The headline stated it as a fact, not as a mere allegation. Then I followed the story to its source and realized that it was a lie to make a really bad story sound even worse.
According to the Washington Examiner, during the Friday congressional hearing, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., said this in an exchange with an IRS witness: “Their question, specifically asked from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa: ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers.'”
So what was the source of this allegation? According to the Examiner, it was a press release issued by the conservative Thomas More Society. The group produced a report — at the request of Schock, the Republican congressman — and the press release contains this charge: “Further questioning by the IRS requested detailed information about the content of the group’s prayer meetings, educational seminars, and signs their members hold outside Planned Parenthood.” [Emphasis mine]
Somehow, this allegation has changed greatly. It started out that the IRS was allegedly asking about what went on at a group’s prayer meetings, but by the time it became a screaming headline on one of the web’s most popular news sties, it had become a demand to know the “content of their prayers.” That’s dishonest.
The worst part of this is that the truth of this story is already bad enough. The IRS has admitted to treating conservative groups in a radically different way than progressive left groups were treated. Why destroy credibility by claiming something as fact — just because it’s outrageous — when the things you already know are sufficient? In other words, even if you don’t car about the truth, why would you risk destroying your credibility?
I wouldn’t bother belaboring this point if it weren’t so common from people of every political position. People are willing to exaggerate and flat-out lie just because they like an accusation. And if you question them enough to get them to concede that they don’t have the facts the make the charge, they frequently say something like, “Well it sounds like something they would do, doesn’t it?”
The Drudge Report ran an inaccurate and misleading headline. The Washington Examiner — which was Drudge’s source — at least attributed the statement to a congressman. The congressman just stated something as fact which was somewhat similar to what was in a press release of a group which wrote an advocacy report for him. Everyone involved in that chain was more interested in promoting a political position than in being fair or accurate. Unfortunately, this is par for the course these days — and you see this kind of slippery disregard for truth from all sorts of people who are eager to push an agenda, from various points of view.
In this particular case, it was conservative activists who were dishonest. If the shoe were on the other foot, it would have been progressive leftists or even libertarians or those of some other political point of view.
If you see a headline or if someone tells you something that closely matches your worldview and your assumptions about people you don’t like — but it happens to be something that can’t be confirmed — question yourself very carefully and ask whether you’re interested in the truth or in making a cheap political point even though you can’t confirm the truth.
If you’re interested in truth and fairness, don’t repeat such stories. Simple.