Portraying the Tax Cuts Through a Liberal Prism -- 01/08/2003 CyberAlert
NBC Vaguely Concedes That Rich Pay More
Rather Says Few Want Tax Cuts, But CBS Poll Doesn't Prove That
CBS's Expert Bush Tax Cut Basher a Democratic Donor
Market Rose on Tax Cut News, But Not Enough for CBS's Smith
GMA Hits Frist from Right, Today Presses McCain from Right
Whole Donahue: "Is There a Conservative Bias in the Media?"
"Mr. Bush's plan has unleashed a very political debate about whether it will stimulate the economy or just further enrich the wealthy," intoned anchor Peter Jennings on the January 7 World News Tonight.
Ignoring the several elements of Bush's plan which would be retroactive to January 1 of this year that would increase take home pay immediately if passed, such as the lowering of the rate in each tax bracket by one point and an increase in the child deduction, Jennings highlighted only the plan to eliminate the tax on dividends and how it would not provide a benefit until next year. "Would there be any immediate benefit for taxpayers?" Jennings answered: "No. Taxpayers would not see any savings until after they file their 2003 tax returns, which would be in the spring of 2004."
Jennings also worried about "how much is this going to cost the government? -- $25 billion in 2003, $280 billion over the next decade, money which," he helpfully suggested, "could be spent in other ways."
Jennings proceeded to point out how "an ABC News poll released today finds that 50 percent of Americans believe the tax cuts the President is proposing favor the rich" before Betsy Stark profiled the impact on two families. Though she didn't point it out, her numbers showed that the family earning $35,000 would get a larger tax cut, actually getting back more than they put in and thus becoming another non-tax paying family, as a percent of their income than the family earning $70,000. Instead, Stark relayed how the wife in the $70,000 family didn't think much of her $1,400 tax cut and Stark warned about the inefficiency of the Bush plan.
Jennings introduced the World News Tonight segment on Bush's plan: "In Chicago today, President Bush formally unveiled the details of his economic plan. Mr. Bush wants to make significant tax cuts and increased spending at a total cost to the government of $674 billion. Mr. Bush's plan has unleashed a very political debate about whether it will stimulate the economy or just further enrich the wealthy. A central element of the President's plan is abolishing the taxes that people pay on their stock dividends, the money a shareholder gets when a company makes a profit."
As taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, Jennings looked only at the dividend tax cut proposal as if Bush recommended nothing else:
Stark checked in and finally clued in viewers about how there was more to Bush's plan than just the elimination of the tax on dividends: "And, Peter, neither of them would benefit at all from the elimination of that dividend tax because neither of the families we talked to earn any dividend income, which makes them fairly typical. But they would save money on other tax changes. With an annual income of $35,000 and two children, Sharyl and David McAllister say they could use something extra from the government."
I think most people could figure out something to buy which costs less than $1,387.
Though she failed to point it out, Stark's two families illustrate how the tax cut plan is skewed in favor of lower income people: $1,098 is a greater percentage of $35,000 than $1,387 is of $70,000. Specifically, the cut/payout to the $35,000 family is about 3.1 percent of their income while the cut represents about 1.9 percent of the income of the $70,000 family.
For a rundown of the elements of the Bush plan:
Brokaw opened the January 7 NBC Nightly News: "Good evening. Today President Bush made a series of far-reaching proposals he hopes will strengthen the American economy. And the centerpiece is a massive tax cut the Democrats were quick to say favors the wealthy, reviving the charge that it is 'trickle down economics.' But the President, who now has Republican majorities in the House and Senate, is counting on taxpayers to plow their tax savings back into the economy and to grow jobs. He also proposed some immediate relief for the unemployed and working parents. Tonight we'll take a look at what all of this means from Wall Street to Main Street to Washington. We'll begin with NBC's Campbell Brown at the White House on the beginning of an epic political battle."
Brown asked and answered: "So who would benefit most? Elderly stockholders. The President wants to end taxes on corporate dividends, and half of all that income goes to seniors. Every taxpayer would get some relief with the President calling for the early phasing in of his 2001 tax cut. Most savings would go to the richest Americans who pay more in taxes. Families would gain with a reduction in the marriage penalty and an increase in the per child tax credit from $600 to $1000 this year. And the unemployed -- the President wants to set up special accounts of up to $3,000 for the jobless to use for retraining or child care."
After a clip of Bush, Brown warned: "But some may keep struggling under the plan like the working poor -- who don't make enough to pay taxes, cash-poor state governments -- the dividend tax cut will cost them money. Then there's the growing deficit. Many economists warn deficits hurt the economy long-term."
As promised in the January 7 CyberAlert, until a network reporter informs viewers of the skew, I will keep running the table showing how a relative few bear the burden of paying most of the income taxes collected:
> Top 1%: Adjusted Gross Income of more than $313,469, pays 37.42 percent of all income tax collected
For the press release with those numbers:
For six pages of detailed IRS tables, in PDF format:
And it looks like by giving more back to lower income people, through a higher child care credit, than they pay in the first place, the Bush plan will take even more lower income people off the tax rolls. On CNN on Tuesday afternoon Paul Begala said 37 percent of Americans pay no income tax, the same figure cited on Fox News Sunday by Senator Rick Santorum. I haven't tracked down that stat, but if those two agree it's probably true.
[Web Update: The MRC's Rich Noyes alerted me to a Tax Foundation report, based on IRS data, which documented how those in the top one percent, top five percent, top ten percent, top 25 percent and top 50 percent all pay a greater share of the income taxes collected than they earned as a share of overall income. Only the bottom 50 percent, those earning less than $27,682 in 2000, paid less in income taxes than their share of income.
Dan Rather highlighted how a new CBS News poll determined that "only 14 percent say cutting taxes should be Congress's top priority," but Rather failed to inform viewers that the majority of respondents, 54 percent, considered "helping unemployed and creating jobs" to be the highest priority, a goal which Bush backers would say will be achieved through tax cuts.
And amazingly, Bob Schieffer picked up on how conservatives don't think Bush's tax cut plan isn't big enough -- a concept never considered by the other networks. Schieffer concluded his January 7 CBS Evening News story: "Getting this passed won't be easy. Some conservative Republicans say it will take even larger tax cuts to jump start the economy while some moderate Republicans and many Democrats believe many of these tax cuts should be directed at people in the lower income tax brackets."
Rather introduced Schieffer's piece: "Here at home, growing concern about the economy. In a CBS News poll, 57 percent of Americans say it's in bad shape. That's the highest number in a decade. 46 percent are telling Congress that fixing the economy is more important than a possible war with Iraq, even the overall war on terror. As for how to fix it, only 14 percent say cutting taxes should be Congress's top priority. But that is what President Bush asked the new Congress to do as it convened today with a new Bush point man in the Senate."
But a check of the CBS News Web site determined that CBS only gave respondents three choices and assumed that creating jobs and helping the unemployed is somehow unrelated to cutting taxes. The Web story recounted:
The summary of the poll is online at:
A Monday CBS Evening News story supported the liberal premise that Bush's tax cut helps the rich while abandoning the poor by featuring expert comment from a CPA who declared that "when you go to the lower brackets, there is no savings," and: "If you went to summarize this tax proposal as we see it today, the winners are the wealthy."
But it turns out that accountant, Avery Neumark, has a personal political agenda of his own which CBS failed to note. The MRC's Rich Noyes went to OpenSecrets.org and discovered that Neumark has made large contributions to the Democratic National Committee and liberal Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
As recounted in the January 7 CyberAlert, on the January 6 CBS Evening News Byron Pitts set out to demonstrate how the Bush plan helps only the rich. Pitts focused on the views of "a middle class wife" who saw Bush's plan as "little more than a feel-good gift that won't give much to most Americans -- especially the middle class." Pitts supported her jealousy: "We asked accountant Avery Neumark to do the math. Under the President's overall tax plan, a person earning $175,000 per year could save $3,500. Someone earning $50,000 could expect to get back an extra $1,000. Anyone earning $25,000 -- zero." Pitts let Neumark proclaim: "If you went to summarize this tax proposal as we see it today, the winners are the wealthy." For more about that story:
Using the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org Web site, Rich entered the name "Neumark, Avery" in the state of New York and came up with these recent donations from someone with that name whose employer is the accounting firm of Rosen Seyomour Shapps Martin:
-- 6/6/1996: $500 to Nadler, Jerrold
The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped nearly 178 and the NASDAQ rose 34 on Monday on news of President Bush's proposal to completely eliminate the tax on dividends, but CBS Early Show quad-host Harry Smith demanded on Tuesday morning of Commerce Secretary Don Evans: "As word of the package spread yesterday, the stock market was not exactly flooded with buyers, why not?"
Evans pointed out how "the stock market was up 177 yesterday, so I would say it was a pretty good day for the stock market."
Smith moved on, MRC analyst Brian Boyd observed, to the usual liberal complaint: "By one calculation the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers would get 47 percent of the benefit. How would that stimulate the economy?"
During the January 7 interview Smith did next ask about having bigger cuts faster: "In terms of reviving the economy, though, some people say there should be more cuts, faster as opposed to spread over ten years."
From the left on GMA, but from the right on Today. ABC's Diane Sawyer on Tuesday morning pressed new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from the left about how the Bush tax cut is skewed to the rich, bemoaning how "there will not be rejoicing in America by all of these middle-class taxpayers for $42," but, in an unusual event, Today's Katie Couric hit Senator John McCain, a tax cut opponent, with how the middle class will benefit greatly.
On the January 7 Good Morning America, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, Sawyer lectured Frist: "I want to turn to taxes, if I can, for a minute because the Democrats are out there hammering hard on what they say is the basic inequity that cannot be disputed, based on a couple of facts of the President's tax plan. For instance, they say that somebody in this country who is making a million dollars or more is going to benefit $29,000 for the President's tax plan, but if you're making 30 to $40,000 a year, which the average American [sic], you're only going to get $42, and there will not be rejoicing in America by all of these middle-class taxpayers for $42."
But over on NBC's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, Katie Couric challenged McCain's anti-tax cut premises: "One aspect of the administration's plan is the elimination of the dividend tax. By one account the White House believes it will boost stock prices by 10 percent and benefit 35 million people. What's so wrong with that aspect of the plan in your view?"
Couric followed up: "But Senator McCain if you listen to Commerce Secretary Don Evans and he just appeared on this program, working Americans and middle-class Americans, under the Bush proposals will get a major break. A family of four making $39,000 a year, according to Mr. Evans, will get an $1,100 tax cut for several years, allowing them to plan their individual budgets. That sounds like something that won't just simply benefit the wealthy."
Former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg came under attack on Monday night on MSNBC's Donahue, devoted to the mysterious question: "Is there a conservative bias in the media?"
[Tim Graham, newly returned to the MRC Staff this month, wrote up this summary of the January 7 show.]
Comedian Al Franken, author of "Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot," began by attacking Goldberg for publishing one of the MRC's top Notable Quotables for 1991 in his book Bias. Franken's primary thesis: "Here's the difference between the mainstream media and the 15 percent of the media that is Fox, that is the Washington Times, that is the New York Post, that's Hannity, that's Rush -- they cheat. The mainstream media at least tries to be fair."
Asked for examples, Franken turned to Chapter 12 of the Goldberg book, which reprinted a slate of MRC quotes. He took offense at ridicule of John Chancellor's commentary from August 22, 1991: "It's short of soap, so there's lice in hospitals. It's short of panty hose, so women's legs go bare. It's short snowsuits, so babies stay home in winter....It drives everybody crazy. The problem isn't communism. No one even talked about communism this week. The problem is shortages."
This bowls conservatives over with laughter every time it's replayed, as it was at the MRC's Dishonor Awards dinner in 1999, and it's hard to take out of context, unless you believe, as Franken does, that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had been liberated from communism in about 1985.
Franken demanded Goldberg answer his question: "Now what happened in the Soviet Union that day?" When Goldberg conceded he didn't know, Franken asserted: "That was the collapse of the coup, the hard-liner coup, at the Parliament....You know that perestroika had been in effect for six years at that point? The point here is, Bernie, you regurgitate a quote that you got from some right-wing media watch group, and you didn't care to look at the context of it."
Franken then read Tom Brokaw's opening words from that night's newscast, in which Brokaw described it as "the day when the power of the people in the Soviet Union proved to be greater than the power of the gray and cold-blooded men who thought they could return that country to the darkness of state oppression." Franken asked sarcastically: "Boy, sounds like a pro-communist bias at NBC, doesn't it?" Actually, in the context of the day, with people risking their lives to defeat a communist coup, what would Brokaw have said? But in reality, the coup's end didn't immediately bring democracy, but the the return of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Franken continued: "But you know what, Bernie? You did not even bother to find out what the context of John Chancellor, who by the way, is dead and couldn't defend himself. You had no interest in finding out the context of what he was saying, and what he was saying that was after six years of perestroika, in which communism was gone -- that the people, that the reason for these shortages was the transition away from communism...And you have the nerve to say about John Chancellor, you call his absurd observation at the problem in the old Soviet Union wasn't communism, but shortages. The only thing absurd about this is your accusing John Chancellor of saying that."
Well, judge for yourself. We had MRC analyst Patrick Gregory go to the MRC tape library and transcribe the entirety of Chancellor's commentary on the August 21, 1991 NBC Nightly News. Here it is, in full:
For a reminder of who Al Franken is, check his Internet Movie Database page which features a picture of him and a rundown of his TV and movie credits: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Franken,+Al
Back to Tuesday's Donahue, later in the show Franken started pounding Goldberg again on Chancellor. Goldberg expressed disbelief at the "the fact that they don't have anything isn't the fault of communism, it's the result of shortages...Al, you're a comedian. You ought to use that in your routine."
Franken still protested that was not what Chancellor said: "The context was after six years of perestroika, after six years of dismantling centralized economy in the Soviet Union, that was when they had the worst shortages." He denied it when Goldberg asked him if capitalism was to blame, but added: "I'm saying that the mainstream media has standards, and you don't." To complete the mystery of Franken's confused theories, he added that "Milton Friedman would agree with John Chancellor."
Goldberg's book was also briefly critiqued by another guest, Mario Cuomo, who insisted it was wrong to assert that the problem of homelessness began to disappear from TV screens once Bill Clinton became President: "They made a point of homelessness in the Clinton administration."
To see the MRC refutation of that notion, check a February 1996 MediaWatch study:
For a 1999 update, which recalled how in 1989 CNN's Lou Waters claimed, "There now are up to 40 million Americans living on the knife edge of homelessness, just one paycheck, one domestic argument from the streets," go to: www.mrc.org/realitycheck/1999/fax19991216.asp
Cuomo also had this explanation for why liberals don't have a presence in talk radio like Rush Limbaugh: "Because we believe in subtlety. We believe in telling the whole truth. We don't want to exaggerate. Look, they write their message with crayons. We use fine-point quills."
End of report written up by Tim Graham.
Remember Cuomo's condescending claim the next time you hear commentary in "fine-point quills" from Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi and James Carville. I guess screaming about how Bush's tax cut is a payoff to the rich is not writing with crayons. -- Brent Baker