NYT Makes Romney's 15% Tax Rate a Loaded Lead Story, Ignores Context

The New York Times jumped hard on GOP candidate Mitt Romney's allowing that his personal tax rate was around 15%, making it Wednesday's lead story under a loaded deck of headlines: 'Pressed, Romney Shares Tax Data; A Rate Near 15% – Investment, Not Salary – Draws Notice to Treatment of Rich.' There were a lot of reporters on board the 'scoop': Nicholas Confessore, David Kocieniewski and Ashley Parker, with additional reporting from three others.

Under growing pressure from rival Republicans to release his tax returns, Mitt Romney said on Tuesday that he paid a tax rate approaching 15 percent on his millions of dollars in annual income but said he would not make public his full return until April.

His effective tax rate was 'probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,' Mr. Romney said at a campaign stop in South Carolina, noting that most of his considerable income over the last decade has come from investments rather than from earned income like salary. He also characterized as 'not very much' the $374,327 he reported earning in speaking fees last year, though that sum would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country's earners.

Mr. Romney mentioned the 15 percent figure in response to a question at a news conference, leaving uncertain whether his comment was unplanned or a deliberate effort to begin airing the issue ahead of a general election campaign. But his remarks on Tuesday drew immediate criticism from the Obama administration and Republican rivals, and are likely to cement Mr. Romney's place as an unwilling emblem of the intensifying national debate over taxation and income inequality, which burst into the campaign this month when rival candidates began attacking Mr. Romney's career in the leveraged buyout business.


Indeed, Mr. Romney probably pays a lower overall rate than many other wealthy Americans. They typically take home more ordinary income from salaries and wages than does Mr. Romney, who left Bain Capital in 1999 and joked to a group of voters last year that he was 'unemployed.'

The Washington Post also made Romney's tax rate the lead, but at least provided a tiny bit of context: 'Even at 15 percent, however, Romney would pay more than most Americans. IRS data show the average taxpayer forked over 11 percent of income in 2009. Under the country's progressive tax system, the bottom 50 percent of earners paid less than 2 percent in income taxes, and millions of households had no income tax liability.'