Dow Jones spokeswoman Colleen Schwartz told me several hours later that McKinnon would not be made available for an interview—I had offered to let her listen in as I spoke to the reporter—and that the company would have no comment. It was a good example of how media organizations often do not hold themselves to the same standards of transparency they expect of other news sources and subjects.

It’s worth repeating, too, that even if the timing of events explains the weak phrasing of the initial Journal lede, the paper’s final story underplays the significance of the information released Monday, and how it shapes the public understanding of the IRS controversy.

There was one important nugget tucked in the WSJ story, though. McKinnon wrote:

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), said lawmakers should find out why the inspector general focused only on targeting of conservative groups.

Why indeed? Reporters like CNN’s Dana Bash started pursuing that question on Tuesday, and got the beginning of an answer that takes the story in a new direction.

As Bash reported in a segment that included an interview with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, the spokesperson for Inspector General J. Russell George’s spokesperson said the audit had “focused on conservatives because that is what the Republican-led committee asked him to do.”

The statement from George’s office that Issa asked for a report focused on targeting of conservatives—a request with clear partisan implications—raises questions about whether the congressman intended to create a scandal. Journalists covering the story should press Issa and George on these questions. It’s time for some more skepticism, and for reporters to remember the old adage: Fool me twice, shame on me.


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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.