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Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Planted Question

Many posts have examined the relationship between reporters and political figures.  It is common for officials to plant questions at events that journalists cover. (Sometimes they plant questions with the journalists themselves.)  At The Huffington Post, Jon Ward writes of an example involving the IRS scandal:
A senior IRS official, Lois G. Lerner, was speaking on a panel at an American Bar Association conference in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Washington. She was asked a question by a member of the audience, and disclosed then that IRS agents had "used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title."
A few days ago, Kevin Williamson at National Review reported that the person who asked the question of Lerner, Celia Roady, was a tax lawyer who had served on IRS-formed advisory committees that dealt with issues of organizations applying for nonprofit status.
Williamson wrote that sources on Capitol Hill said the question was "planted" and that "the IRS has informally admitted as much."
On Friday, the acting commissioner of the IRS admitted publicly that the question was planted.
"I did talk to Lois about the possibility of ... did it make sense for us to start talking about this in public," Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS, told the House Ways and Means Committee during sworn testimony.
Miller said he and Lerner discussed volunteering the information publicly "now that the [IRS inspector general's] report was finalized, now that we knew all the facts, now that we had responded in writing and everything was done."
"We talked about what would be said and how we might do it," Miller said of his conversation with Lerner.
At USA Today, Gregory Korte provides some background:
It was an unusual way to deliver bad news, even in a town known for its selective leaks, Friday night news dumps and wag-the-dog distractions.
The Internal Revenue Service, apparently determined to get out ahead of an inspector general report critical of its handling of tax exemptions for Tea Party groups, came up with a plan: Lois Lerner, the official responsible for the tax-exempt division, would publicly apologize in response to a question at the American Bar Association conference in Washington.
Communications professionals said it was a puzzling move that backfired and alienated members of Congress.

"It violates the golden rule of political crisis management — disclosing critical facts early," said Nu Wexler, a former Democratic Hill staffer and vice president of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.

Lerner "had an opportunity to explain the full story in the May 8th hearing, and she passed. Members of Congress don't like being misled, and that's why two key House Democrats are now calling for her resignation," Wexler said.