(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg) (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Columnist Peggy Noonan wrote yesterday that the Obama administration’s difficulties with the IRS story aren’t limited to the political organizations that were targeted for audits. The rot goes much deeper, she writes:

The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government’s attention. He told ABC News: “It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized ObamaCare.” Franklin Graham, son of Billy, told Politico he believes his father was targeted. A conservative Catholic academic who has written for these pages faced questions about her meager freelance writing income. Many of these stories will come out, but not as many as there are. People are not only afraid of being audited, they’re afraid of saying they were audited.

Opinionators be on notice: When you venture into the realm of the quantitative — even when you may not realize it — there’s a number-crunching ombudsman waiting to audit you. Nate Silver, the biggest winner of the 2012 presidential election, saw an opportunity to use numbers in fact-checking Noonan’s representations about this “second part” of the IRS scandal.

His conclusion? Uh, Noonan needs some more data if she’s going to corroborate her contention:

[E]ven with no political targeting at all, hundreds of thousands of conservative voters would have been chosen for audits in the I.R.S.’s normal course of business. Among these hundreds of thousands of voters, thousands would undoubtedly have gone beyond merely voting to become political activists.

The fact that Ms. Noonan has identified four conservatives from that group of thousands provides no evidence at all toward her hypothesis. Nor would it tell us very much if dozens or even hundreds of conservative activists disclosed that they had been audited. This is exactly what you would expect in a country where there are 1.5 million audits every year.

At the end of his post, Silver does a bit of knife-twisting, writing that some folks last year engaged in similar quantitative atrocities in concluding that Mitt Romney was likely to win the presidential election, “while dismissing polls that collectively surveyed hundreds of thousands of voters in swing states and largely showed Mr. Obama ahead.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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