Public Editor

IRS scandal is more than partisan

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

The Washington headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service.
The Washington headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service.

One of the most common complaints I hear about The Kansas City Star doesn’t concern what gets published in the print edition. Rather, readers tell me what they are missing.

In recent weeks, I have heard loud and clear voices from news followers who don’t think The Star has adequately covered GOP anger over questions that the Internal Revenue Service improperly delayed the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status for some conservative groups. Also, some emails of IRS worker Lois Lerner that may be germane are now missing, furthering suspicions of a cover-up.

Now, some readers’ allegations that The Star has ignored the issue are a bit overblown. When the scandal really heated up in the middle of May, it was the subject of five Page A1 stories, and it’s been a constant ever since on the Nation Watch page and particularly in the Opinion section.

There is no way to evaluate seriously the common allegation that the paper “would make a bigger deal of it if a Republican were in the White House,” as a caller said last week. But of course I understand those who think the topic should get more scrutiny. (Though of course, “This isn't a scandal,” said one commenter on The Star’s Facebook page. “It never was.” Others have told me the same.)

The core of this debate isn’t really so much about partisan politics, though. It is a philosophical question about how news is delivered in the 2010s, versus readers’ memories of how things used to be in the not-so-distant past.

I don’t think one can overstate how much CNN, and then the Internet, have changed our collective comprehension of what constitutes “news.” Before the 24-hour news cycle came into our homes, most people’s primary access to national and international news came via the newspaper and the three nightly network news broadcasts.

Today, there is a vastly greater variety of nationwide media outlets, obviously offering immeasurably more content than before.

But those cable news outlets and wide-audience websites aren’t really a good comparison to The Star, the print edition in specific. That’s because CNN, Fox News, the Huffington Post, and all the others are addressing an audience that doesn’t share a common geography.

Like pretty much all regional papers these days, The Star devotes its resources primarily to what’s going on in this area. And further, editors generally try to report on national and international stories through the lens of how they might affect Kansas Citians.

That may sound like I’m trying to say the IRS scandal isn’t a story for The Star. That’s far from the case — and I have also heard from people who support President Barack Obama and think the issue transcends partisan politics.

But as adults, don’t we all have to agree that the breathless coverage on Fox News and anti-Obama websites has “gone pretty far over the top” as one conservative caller said to me on Friday morning?

I used to vigorously defend Fox News’ straight reporting in the past, as I thought most liberals’ criticisms of the network confused its pundits for its news coverage. However, it has made a dramatic shift in recent years into what I consider open partisanship for the right, just as MSNBC has done on the left.

The core mission of The Star’s news operation is to report on what’s happening accurately and fairly. Leave the speculation and calls for their heads to the commentator class.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 or email