ABC Hypes IRS's Help Line Wait Times, Smaller Budget; Had No Time for Criminal Referral For Lerner

April 11th, 2014 11:49 PM

On Friday's World News, ABC's David Kerley pressed I.R.S. Commissioner John Koskinen about taxpayers who are unable to "get an answer as to how much they're supposed to pay," due to long wait times on the agency' help line. However, Kerley didn't bother to ask Koskinen about the House Ways and Means Committee's Wednesday vote to refer former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution, over alleged targeting of Tea Party groups for auditing.

In fact, as of Friday, none of the Big Three evening newscasts have covered the House committee's criminal referral, nor the House Oversight Committee voting on Thursday to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. Instead, the ABC correspondent zeroed in on taxpayers' complaints about the IRS help line, as well as the commissioner's YouTube video warning about how to deal with the poor service there: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

DAVID KERLEY (voice-over): The government wants your tax dollars. But if you call in with a question...good luck getting an answer....It's so bad, recently, the head of the I.R.S. even went on YouTube with a warning.

JOHN KOSKINEN, I.R.S. COMMISSIONER (from video): And there will frequently be extensive wait times....

KERLEY (voice-over): What can you do? Try the I.R.S. website; buy a tax software program; or go to a voluntary tax assistance office – because all the head of the I.R.S. can offer is-

KOSKINEN (from video): And I apologize that we can't do more.

Anchor Diane Sawyer led into Kerley's report with a brief on President and Mrs. Obama's latest tax return: "The Obamas reporting $481,000 in income last year, and that's a sizeable drop from the year before – 21 percent down from 2012 –  over $600,000. The big drop is because sales of the President's books are down." She continued by noting that "since it is last-minute tax time, we decided to check up on the I.R.S. service for taxpayers – help. If you're one of the millions of Americans with questions about your tax return, can you get an answer?"

Kerley wasted little time before playing five straight soundbites of video complaints from people who tried to call the I.R.S. help line. He spent the bulk of the rest of the segment on clips from his interview of Koskinen – interrupted only once by a rebuke from Nina Olson from the National Taxpayer Union:

KERLEY (voice-over): ...[W]e went to the I.R.S. commissioner with a simple question.

KERLEY (on-camera): How do you expect taxpayers to pay when they can't get an answer as to how much they're supposed to pay?

KOSKINEN: That's our biggest concern.

KERLEY (voice-over): Last year, there were 109 million calls to the I.R.S. Forty percent of those calls trying to reach an agent went unanswered. Those who did get through: the average wait time was 18 minutes.

Your advocate inside the agency has never seen service so bad.

NINA OLSON, NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE: I'm outraged. You know, I'm – I feel that taxpayers have a right to quality service.

KERLEY (on-camera): Some might ask, why don't you reallocate funds so you can serve the taxpayer better?

KOSKINEN: We have reallocated every dollar we can to serving the taxpayer better. But we have obligations we can't avoid.

KERLEY (voice-over): The commissioner says the agency has cut 10,000 employees the past four years, because its budget was cut by a billion dollars. This tax season, he hopes only 30 percent of all calls are unanswered.

KERLEY (on-camera): That's a huge failure rate.

KOSKINEN: I view it as intolerable – and, as I say, nobody cares more about it than the people that work for us.

Kerley ended his report with Koskinen's "I apologize that we can't do more" line from his video. One wonders if ABC (not to leave out its competitors at CBS and NBC) is ever going to apologize for going out of its way to avoid covering the I.R.S. scandal.