This critique should not be viewed as a defense of the White House or its position on the controversy. Indeed, my piece could be read as a call for more coverage, not less. As Hemingway notes, though the IRS keyword lists included liberal and non-political terms like “open source,” data from the inspector general and Republican staff on the House Ways and Means Committee suggests liberal groups may have been less likely to be selected for follow-up or to receive intense scrutiny. If such a discrepancy were found to be attributable to political factors, it would be a matter of serious public concern—precisely the kind that reporters should investigate!

However, the lingering possibility that misconduct may yet be uncovered does not excuse the way that outlets stopped devoting sustained coverage to the story, which presumably left most readers with a simplistic—and perhaps incorrect—understanding of events. Journalists need to do a better job cleaning up their own messes.

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Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.