Corrections Don’t Get Coverage

Aug 5 2013 @ 11:46am

IRS Scandal

Despite the deflating of the IRS scandal, Brendan Nyhan believes that it could “have serious consequences for the IRS”:

As The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis argued [last] week, Peggy Noonan’s comparisons to Watergate may be hyperbolic but the reputational damage to the agency that she describes could be real.

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.

Waldman adds:

[I]t’s likely that the idea that “the IRS targeted conservative groups” is going to live pretty much forever, even though it isn’t true. And of course, the people who care—conservatives who believe the Obama administration is guilty of pretty much every crime one could imagine—will do their best to keep it alive, facts or no facts.