On the day that journalist Matt Taibbi testified in Congress about his discoveries from the Twitter Files, he received a visit from the IRS commenting on individual taxpayer matters. Media critic William A. Jacobson said that a home visit was unusual. Until the IRS explained, assuming the visit was connected to Taibbi’s journalism was reasonable.
Subsequently, following this event, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, to identify every journalist who was granted access to the company’s archives.
The incident has raised many questions, including why the IRS visited Taibbi’s home, and whether it was a coincidence the day that journalist Matt Taibbi testified in Congress about his discoveries from the Twitter Files, he received a visit from the IRS. The coincidence was suspicious and raised concerns that the government was trying to intimidate Taibbi. While nothing has been proven to show that the IRS was acting nefariously, it was not the first time journalists have reported on government intimidation tactics.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board reported on the same day the IRS visited Taibbi’s home in New Jersey as he testified to Congress. After being notified, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan promptly wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging them to provide answers.
Veteran journalist Brit Hume expressed his surprise at the unprecedented incident, stating it was peculiar. Meanwhile, longtime journalist Sharyl Attkisson believes visiting Taibbi’s home could discourage other reporters from pursuing stories. Attkisson also alleges that the Justice Department under the Obama administration illegally monitored her activities while working for CBS News.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation expressed their concerns, stating that if the visit by the IRS to Taibbi’s residence were linked to his reporting or his recent testimony before Congress, it would constitute a worrisome assault on the freedom of the press. Taibbi responded to the tweet, saying he had been reassured that there was no problem but still wanted an explanation.
While the IRS did not answer any questions, including whether Taibbi’s role in the Twitter Files had anything to do with his visit, a spokesperson said that federal law prohibited the IRS frome, and what it could mean for press freedoms. Regardless, the incident highlights the need for more oversight and significant reforms to restore balance.
The Uncommon IRS Visit
It is unusual for the IRS to visit someone’s home. While the agency is authorized to conduct home visits, it typically does not do so. Instead, the agency generally communicates with taxpayers via mail or phone. Home visits are usually reserved for situations where the agency has been unable to communicate with the taxpayer through other means or where there is a risk that the taxpayer might flee.
Journalists have long faced government intimidation tactics. Many have been spied on, harassed, and even arrested for work. The IRS has also been accused of using its power to intimidate journalists. For example, during the Obama administration, the IRS was accused of targeting conservative groups, including journalists, for extra scrutiny.
The incident involving Taibbi has raised concerns that the government is trying to intimidate reporters unfriendly to the Biden administration. Taibbi was documenting the Twitter Files, which showed government interference in the political debate. The visit to his home on the same day he testified before Congress has raised suspicions that the government was trying to send a message to journalists.
Congressman Jim Jordan’s letter to the IRS demanded answers to several specific questions, including how often the IRS visits individuals, the purpose of the visit to Taibbi’s home, and whether it connected to his congressional testimony. Jordan also requested that the IRS provide a copy of its policy regarding visits to journalists’ homes and explain whether it had sought or obtained any information from Twitter regarding Taibbi or his reporting.
The IRS has not provided any answers to these questions nor offered any evidence to suggest that its visit to Taibbi’s home was unrelated to his reporting. The lack of transparency from the agency has only fueled speculation and concern among journalists and free press advocates.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the IRS to be transparent about its actions and respect press freedom. “Journalists should be free to report on the government without fear of intimidation or retaliation,” the statement read. “We call on the IRS to make clear whether its visit to Matt Taibbi’s home was related to his reporting and to respect the fundamental right to press freedom.”
The incident involving Taibbi and the IRS highlights the ongoing challenges faced by journalists and media organizations in the United States. Intimidation tactics from government agencies have a chilling effect on press freedom, and those agencies’ lack of transparency and accountability only exacerbates the problem.
As journalists continue to report on issues of public interest and hold those in power accountable, they should be able to accomplish this without fear of retribution. Likewise, the IRS and other government agencies must respect the fundamental right to press freedom and be transparent in their actions to avoid any appearance of impropriety or intimidation.
The IRS’s visit to Matt Taibbi’s home on the same day he testified before Congress about his findings from the Twitter Files has raised concerns among journalists and free press advocates. While nothing has been proven to show that the visit was related to Taibbi’s reporting, the agency’s lack of transparency and accountability has only fueled speculation and concern. Journalists must be able to report on the government without fear of intimidation or retaliation, and government agencies must respect the fundamental right to press freedom.