My new column for Columbia Journalism Review examines how the media lost interest in the IRS scandal before all the facts came out. Here's an excerpt:
The problem is what we might call the “scandal attention cycle.” George Washington University political scientist Danny Hayes has described how the “issue attention cycle” results in a surge in news coverage of a new issue like gun control followed by a fairly rapid decline, which received increased attention after the Sandy Hook massacre but ultimately trailed off, following a similar trajectory to previous high-profile shootings. A similar pattern often occurs for scandal—there’s a surge in initial interest as reporters rush to embrace the scandal narrative, but the press quickly loses interest after the most sensational charges are not substantiated. The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out. By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.
Read the whole thing for more.
Update 9/4 12:46 PM - I wrote a followup that begins with this:
The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway objected Friday to my latest CJR post in a goalpost-shifting effort titled, “The Campaign to Wish Away the IRS Scandal.” The steep dropoff in coverage of the controversy even as new facts emerged is unremarkable, Hemingway argues, because later developments “didn’t fundamentally change the perception of what was driving the scandal.”
Despite his assertions, the evidence to date of disparate IRS treatment of groups on different ends of the political spectrum is not consistent with the initial coverage (which frequently suggested conservatives were targeted exclusively) or with the early hype from Obama’s opponents (who intimated IRS inquiries might be part of a politically motivated effort directed by the White House). Reporters should investigate whether conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status received disproportionate scrutiny, but the fact remains that the impression left by the early coverage was far more simplistic and sensationalized than the state of the evidence today.
Read it here.