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Are media buying into ‘phony scandal’ claim?

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July 24, 2013: President Obama speaks about the economy at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. (AP)

Conservative leaders allege the media are trying to ignore the once high-profile scandals overshadowing the Obama administration, as President Obama and his aides aggressively push the claim that these controversies are "phony." 

The "phony scandal" line was the unofficial talking point of the week in Washington. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made it his fallback retort from the podium -- when asked about the president's new wave of speeches on the economy, Carney explained Obama was trying to refocus Washington away from "fake" controversies. 

For three speeches in a row, Obama hammered this refrain: "With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball." 

But, at least on the IRS targeting scandal, both the Obama administration and the mainstream media took that controversy quite seriously when it broke in May. MSNBC's Chris Hayes called the selective screening of conservative groups a "genuine abuse of power" at the time. 

Fast forward two months. As Obama hit the trail to talk economy, two CNN anchors this week described the controversies that had dogged him as "so-called scandals." 

The conservative Media Research Center also calculates that on the Big Three network news channels -- NBC, CBS, and ABC -- the number of stories on the IRS scandal has plummeted. 

The evening and morning shows did 96 stories in the first two weeks, according to MRC. The coverage steadily disappeared, and between June 28 and July 24, the center recorded "zero stories" on the matter. 

When a major development broke last week -- testimony by a retired IRS worker that an Obama appointee was involved in the screening process -- only CBS Evening News gave the issue a mention. 

Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, and other conservative leaders issued a statement Thursday decrying the alleged blackout. 

"No fair, objective journalist can look at the facts of this flagrant abuse of power and not conclude that it is a massive political scandal deserving of constant, merciless scrutiny," they said in a statement. 

Even before Obama and his team began pushing the "phony scandal" line, a few media outlets and personalities were making that case. Salon published an article on the IRS issue earlier this month asserting that, in the end, "the entire scandal narrative was a fiction." 

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell made the same argument. 

But given the attention their own networks gave the IRS and other scandals just a few weeks earlier, a number of journalists and media personalities refused to go easy on the president this week. 

On MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough ripped into Carney on Wednesday after the press secretary claimed the attention on "phony scandals" had all "come to naught." 

"Do you think the IRS scandal is a phony scandal?" Scarborough asked. 

Carney described it as "inappropriate activity," claiming that the press got "extremely excited" about the potential for scandal only to drop it when the "facts came out." 

Scarborough, getting heated, pointed out new allegations that the controversy went all the way up to the IRS counsel's office, led by a political appointee. After Carney accused the host of pushing a GOP talking point, Scarborough said: "Stop your games with me. ... I'm not playing your games. I'm not somebody you talk ... down to from your podium." 

Carney closed by asserting the IRS controversy was not a scandal because the White House was not involved. 

Congressional Democrats have tried to downplay the IRS scandal lately by pointing to emerging evidence that liberal groups may have been singled out in IRS criteria as well. The matter is still being investigated. However, as Republicans note, liberal groups have not come forward to say they actually were targeted -- as conservative and Tea Party groups have done, by the dozens. 

And the other so-called "phony scandals" continue to churn in Washington. 

After the Obama administration took heat for seizing phone and email records from journalists, the Department of Justice earlier this month released new guidelines for investigations involving reporters -- in response to the outcry. The administration continues to battle with Congress over the surveillance power of the National Security Agency -- narrowly defeating a House bill this past week that would have reined in the NSA. 

And on the Benghazi terror attack, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and others continue to raise serious questions about what happened that night and why lawmakers have not been provided access to the survivors

Becky Gerritson, a Tea Party activist whose group was stalled by the IRS and who testified about it on Capitol Hill, took umbrage at the administration's "phony scandal" line. 

"I think it's like the captain of the Titanic calling the icebergs phony," she said. "I think the only phony thing going on is the narrative that the White House is trying to push off on the American people."

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