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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000/ 17 Menachem-Av, 5760

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Consumer Reports

'Little Abuse' -- A BUSINESS SECTION in the New York Times this week led with a story that runs under the headline "Inquiries Find Little Abuse by Tax Agents." The inside headline says, "Data Shows Few Instances of Harassment by I.R.S.," and that is the gist of the story. As the article quotes one Democratic congressman as saying, reports of overzealous Internal Revenue Service auditors and laws trying to stop the abuse are just "another example of the Republican priority of demonizing the I.R.S. and limiting its resources to fulfill its responsibilities."

You have to read pretty deep into the Times article to find some astonishing facts. In one case, an auditor who was arrested for drunken driving told a police officer that he would "find out" about him and have "a good time" with him. The article also reports that one in 33 I.R.S. workers either did not file tax returns or owed back taxes.

The article reports excuses for both the drunken auditor and the non-compliant I.R.S. workers. But it would seem to that the headline and story should emphasize that the tax collectors aren't paying taxes and that they are getting drunk and threatening to audit police officers, not that there is "little abuse."

When the New York Police Department accidentally shoots an innocent person, the Times doesn't write a story under the headline, "little abuse," even though the statistics may bear that out. It writes about the abuse and headlines it, giving the statistical context lower down in the story. It's enough to give a reader the impression that, somehow, the Times likes tax collectors better than it likes police officers.

The article quotes representatives from the I.R.S. and from its employees union, but there is not a single quote from a conservative anti-tax group. Can you imagine the Times running a story on police abuse without the obligatory quotes from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rev. Al Sharpton? Of course not. But try to find Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform quoted in today's story. Not there.

This is how a middle-class person in Brooklyn sounds, to the ear of a New York Times reporter: "'Hey Vinnie, kommen sie her,' Officer Keane called out to his partner, Vincent Morris, who was posted at the X-ray machine. 'You got any good antidotes about how slow it is today?'" The Times would be doing working-class Brooklynites a big favor if the newspaper refrained from sneeringly mocking their accents and malapropisms in news articles, as in this example from a story in one of this week's New York editions.

(We assume this is an attempt at mockery rather than the reporter's own misspelling and malapropism.)

This is the classic, limousine liberalism of the Times at its worst; the same issue carried a handwringing news story about the decline in pro-bono hours worked by lawyers and a windy editorial about "a metropolis of poor children" -- but when the Times actually ventures into the city and comes across a working man with a Brooklyn accent, it makes fun of his speech patterns and fails to correct his grammar. Imagine the furor if the Times started rendering the speech of some African Americans or Chinese Americans in this kind of dialect.

The Times makes a front-page story about the potential conflict of interest for Richard Cheney as vice president and as owner of stock in an oil-related industry. The Times writes that Mr. Cheney "would stand to profit if oil prices rose, a factor that the administration's energy policies could affect." The article goes on to say, "There do not appear to be any directly comparable situations in recent history." Well, we guess it depends on what you would consider "recent history." Would the Clinton-Gore administration count? Vice President Gore, after all, is the sole trustee of his father's estate, which holds between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Occcidental Petroleum stock, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Occidental Petroleum could also be affected by the administration's energy policy decisions. The Times may argue that Gore's Occidental stake is worth less than Cheney's Halliburton options, but it's still a pretty large chunk for someone with Mr. Gore's net worth. -- "Smarter than the Times, and almost as arrogant, but with only a tiny fraction of the circulation" -- is a daily report edited by Ira Stoll at Brooklyn, N.Y. Comment by clicking here.

08/11/00: Jew Lieberman


© 2000, Ira Stoll