A ghost in here? IRS targeting Jews too?

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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase the story pitch this way for your editor: Has the IRS created a religious test in order to define what it means to be a loyal Jew?

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Caller reported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

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Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny

Earlier today I mentioned some questions I have about this crazy “court-martial” story that blew up this week. The post is headlined “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize,” in reference to GetReligion reader Will Linden’s saying about how the same action can be described in different ways.

Much of the media coverage has been devoted to tamping down conservative Christian concern about whether Christians in the military will be court-martialed for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with fellow soldiers. And that’s a good thing, since the story was clearly overblown and mishandled.

I was reading Ed Stetzer’s piece “Some Thoughts on the Newest Christian Concern: Court-Martials for Evangelism,” in which he goes after Christians for hyping the story (and while we’re at it, here’s a great Warren Throckmorton piece with quotes from the actual regulations). The comments to his post were instructive, though. For instance:

I know I for one was in an uproar when I read the story on Breitbart, but not simply because I feared that our men and women in uniform could be facing court martial for being Christian and sharing their Christian faith. My indignation was over the administration’s willingness, and apparent desire, to bring in Mikey Weinstein as some sort of special advisor on the issue–a man who seemingly makes no bones about calling Christians who share their faith “monsters” and associating us with rapists. My contempt for this policy (and I’ll admit that I, too, rushed to judgment) was not simply about the policy itself, but the fact that Weinstein, among others, was brought in to advise the administration on this policy. He can call it freedom from religious persecution all he wants, but how can he justify advocating such a thing when he is clearly so hostile toward men and women like you and me–men and women who desire to see people come to Christ and experience the gift of salvation from sin and death that He offers to each and everyone of us.

and

I appreciate your desire to be the voice of calm and reason, but I’m not reading much in your post that re-instills my faith in the pure motives and direction of this administration. Their apparent willingness to meet with the character in the Breitbart report does nothing but build legitimate suspicion, especially when all of their other priorities are taken into account.

I definitely think tamping down Christian concern by reporting this story fairly is a great journalistic service, as The Tennessean did here. But I do wonder if reporters are missing this other huge angle: that Mikey Weinstein is a player in this story!

It might be worth noting that religion reporters have different types of sources. Compare how a source such as the Jesuit Father Thomas Reese is portrayed with how a source such as Pamela Geller is. What’s tricky about Weinstein is that he has a little bit of both attributes. Reporters love Reese because he is great at making journalists’ jobs easier. He’s always good for a helpful quote and he makes himself available to reporters. He is genuinely helpful and speaks in a quotable manner. It’s great. Geller is treated less favorably for many reasons, but her extreme rhetoric when talking about Islam plays a major role in that treatment.

Weinstein is great with public relations like Reese is — he makes himself nothing if not available to reporters and he pushes out hot-button stories on the religion beat. He (Weinstein) also speaks in the Geller manner about Christians and yet, unlike her, he gets used as a source and is treated neutrally or favorably by the media.

Back to the Religion News Service story we discussed earlier, it mentions that the controversy arose after Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, met with Pentagon officials:

Weinstein is known for his inflammatory rhetoric about religious believers and Christians in particular, and he didn’t disappoint this time: he told The Washington Post after the April 23 meeting that proselytizing in the military is akin to “spiritual rape,” among other things.

It’s good that the “inflammatory rhetoric” is mentioned but it might understate things.

National Review Online published a piece where author David French also disputes the court-martialing for evangelicals aspect of the story, saying he’s “not aware of any immediate or pending change in Pentagon policies regarding religious liberty.” However, he’s deeply concerned about the military’s involvement with Weinstein. In an article headlined “Are Military Leaders and the MSM Embracing an Anti-Christian Extremist?,” he quotes a handful of comments made by Weinstein. The first example:

Our Pentagon has been turned into a Pentacostalgon, and our DOD has been turned into an imperialist, fascistic contagion of unconstitutional triumphalism by people that want to kill us – or have their version of Jesus kill us if we don’t accept their Biblical world view.

He provides four other similar, but somehow much worse, comments (seriously, you must read them, they’re amazing) and adds:

I’m sorry, but these are just ravings. And he met with generals? And the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News and others treats him as a serious commentator on faith in the military? Substitute “Muslim” for “Christian” in any of these comments and the brass wouldn’t let him darken the Pentagon’s doors. Sally Quinn might write about him, but only as a Terry Jones–like threat to peace, as the fanatical equivalent of a Koran-burner.

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