ABC's World News stood out as the sole Big Three evening newscast on Wednesday to not cover the release of Lois Lerner's e-mails, where the former top IRS official slammed conservatives as "a**holes" and "crazies." Instead, the news program devoted full reports to the water main that burst on the campus of UCLA and the controversy over usage charges on cell phone bills.
By contrast, NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News on Wednesday both set aside about two minutes each of air time to Lerner's "salty language," as NBC's Kelly O'Donnell put it: [MP3 audio available here; video below]
KELLY O'DONNELL (voice-over): ...Lois Lerner has long refused to cooperate with Congress....But her harsh words, apparently aimed at conservative talk radio, contained in just-released I.R.S. e-mails, are drawing new fire. Lerner referred to some as 'crazies.' She wrote in November 2012, 'So we don't need to worry about alien terrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down.'
The broadcast networks have a long record of spiking the IRS scandal:
> July 28: “Networks Refuse to Report Latest IRS Scandal Revelations”
> June 24: “Tuesday Night, Only CBS Evening News Covers Latest IRS Hearings”
> June 19: “Networks Censor Coverage of Lois Lerner’s Destroyed Hard Drive, Cover Car Chase on Golf Course, Kate Gosselin Instead”
> Media Reality Check study, May 7: “The Burying of a Scandal: TV News Hides the Facts on the IRS’s Targeting of Conservatives”
NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced O'Donnell's report by underlining that "the investigation into a partisan scandal at the I.R.S. has now just come to new life in a graphic way. E-mails were released today by a House committee investigating former I.R.S. official Lois Lerner, who is accused of targeting the Tea Party and other conservative political groups for special scrutiny. The e-mails attributed to her may say a lot about political motivations."
The correspondent then outlined the latest details in the ongoing scandal. She included soundbites from Lerner and from Republican Congressman Dave Camp, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Commitee:
KELLY O'DONNELL (voice-over): Tonight, a new e-mail drama involving this former senior I.R.S. official – and some salty language. Lois Lerner has long refused to cooperate with Congress.
LOIS LERNER (from congressional hearing): I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right, and decline to answer that question.
O'DONNELL: But her harsh words, apparently aimed at conservative talk radio, contained in just-released I.R.S. e-mails, are drawing new fire. Lerner referred to some as 'crazies.' She wrote in November 2012, 'So we don't need to worry about alien terrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down.'
Lerner has been at the center of a year-old controversy – allegations the I.R.S. improperly targeted and delayed Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
House Republican Dave Camp is chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
REP. DAVE CAMP, (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: I think it shows a state of mind. I mean, clearly, she didn't like conservatives or their views, and used her position as a high-ranking government official to delay their applications.
O'DONNELL: The e-mails show that Lerner used her government-issued Blackberry to write a personal friend. That friend referred to talk radio and the – quote, 'whacko wing of the GOP.' Lerner responded with an expletive: 'Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many blank [a**holes].'
O'DONNELL (on-camera): Tonight, Democrats point out the evidence shows no White House involvement in any I.R.S. targeting. House Republicans again urge the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor. Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, the Capitol.
On CBS Evening News, substitute anchor James Brown teased correspondent Chip Reid's report at the top of the program by noting "Lois Lerner's e-mails – the former I.R.S. official calls Republicans 'crazies' and worse." Seven minutes later, Brown pointed out that "it turns out not all of Lois Lerner's e-mails were lost when her computer crashed. Lerner is the former I.R.S. official at the center of investigations over whether the agency targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny. E-mails she sent on her Blackberry surfaced today."
Like O'Donnell, Reid included a clip from Rep. Camp during his report on the Lerner e-mails:
CHIP REID (voice-over): Congressional Republicans have long argued that former I.R.S. official Lois Lerner was hostile to conservatives. Now, they believe they have a smoking gun. In 2012, Lerner, who was in England at the time, received an e-mail from a friend that said, 'You should hear the whacko wing of the G.O.P. The U.S. is through. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to.' Learner responded. 'Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many expletives [assholes].' Her friend continued: 'And I'm talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid.' To which Lerner responded, 'So we don't need to worry about alien terrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down.'
Republican Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been a leader in the I.R.S. investigation.
REID (on-camera): What do these e-mails tell you about Lois Lerner?
REP. DAVE CAMP, (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: I think these e-mails show clearly a political bias – a political bias against conservatives and conservative organizations that resulted in the violation of their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
REID (voice-over): In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today, Congressman Camp wrote, 'It is my sincere hope that in light of this new, strong evidence that you immediately begin aggressively investigating this matter or appoint a special counsel.' The Justice Department says it is reviewing the letter. Lerner's lawyer did not respond to our request for comment about her e-mails.
REID (live): Lerner has invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify each time she's been called before Congress. And, James, Democrats say there is nothing new here. They say despite these e-mails, there is still no real evidence that the I.R.S. was motivated by political bias.