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Elijah Cummings under increasing fire from conservative media on IRS role

Fox News has a new punching bag this week: Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Monday night, he and other Democratic members of the House Committee investigating the IRS over allegations that it targeted conservative groups took a pounding on Megyn Kelly's show over recently released emails.

Tuesday morning, the beatdown intensified on "Fox & Friends," which kept flashing headlines like: "Where's the Outrage? Media ignores Cummings role in IRS scandal."

"There's explosive new evidence," host Elizabeth Hasselbeck said, introducing a discussion of Cummings, "that he was leading the charge against conservatives the entire time" that he was part of a panel that was supposed to be investigating the IRS for allegedly treating conservative groups unfairly. 

Cummings role on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is ranking minority member. And the latest charge from the right is that his staff members requested information from the IRS on a conservative Texas group, essentially putting them on the radar for the IRS to pursue.

"The House Oversight Committee chairman [California Republican Darrell Issa]," Hasselbeck told viewers, "actually produced emails from 2012 that show Lois Lerner accommodating the request from Elijah Cummings... providing information about an organization called True The Vote, a conservative organization that was singled out and scrutinized [by the IRS]."

"So let me get this straight," co-host Steve Doocy said, as the screen filled with video of Cummings and Lerner. "What you just said, that guy right there, the top Democrat on the House oversight [committee], was coordinating with that woman, Lois Lerner, targeting a Texas conservative group called True The Vote. They were coordinating to crack down on them. That is so wrong, isn't it?"

Lerner is the former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service who has retired and taken the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination rather than testify in the House probe into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups in 2012 and denied some of them tax-exempt status.

This is Fox News in full-tilt, takedown, boogie mode, and it can be highly effective even with as battle-hardened a veteran of ideological warfare as the Baltimore congressman.

But what effect the Fox campaign might or might not have on Cummings' reputation is something for the folks who cover politics at the Sun to discern.

What troubles me is the way the Issa-Cummings battle has become yet another wretched example of the extreme polarization on the landscape of media and politics.

As right-wing Fox is leveling serious charges against Cummings based on the emails released by Issa on the very day that many Americans are sending checks off to the IRS, the left-wing "Mother Jones" is countering with an online piece for its readers headlined: "Why Darrell Issa's new IRS scandal accusation makes no sense."

While it is factually true that there are emails, each side is spinning the content and context of the missives so hard, it is all but impossible to determine whether they prove Cummings' innocence or complicity.

Both Issa and Cummings, like Fox News and Mother Jones, say they are on the side of democracy, truth and ordinary citizens -- and that the other side is Satan in a blue suit with an American flag pin in the lapel.

Perhaps it has always been thus with Washington politicians.

But it wasn't always thus with the media. And that's one of the major reasons we are such a hopelessly confused, jangled and troubled nation these days.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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