This much is clear about the $1.6 trillion tax cut proposed by President Bush: He means it. Unlike his predecessor, who delivered the largest tax hike in history after promising a tax cut on the campaign trail, and unlike his father who broke his read-my-lips pledge, Bush championed a $1.6 trillion tax cut while campaigning and is (at least for now) refusing to budge an inch from that promise.
It may explain why some in the news media have gone thoroughly hysterical to the point of outright dishonesty in their reporting, so desperate are they to see his plan defeated. The hostile fire is coming from many directions, but nothing is quite so consistent, and outrageous, as the ack-ack coming from CBS News.
There are two simple mantras being followed by that network. First, nothing Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy and Co. propose can be inaccurate or unfair.
On February 15 the Democrats unveiled their budget proposal. Dan Rather gave it this wholly uncritical eye: "It features tax cuts half the size of the Bush proposal, fewer of those cuts going to the wealthy, many more targeted to middle and lower income Americans. The Democrats would also earmark more of the federal surplus for national debt and for creating a prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare."
Could a press release from the Democratic National Committee have been any more succinct?
But when the Republicans unveil their proposals, the second mantra goes into effect: Nothing the GOP says is trustworthy, or fair.
On the eve of President Bush's address to Congress, Dan Rather gave this overview of what the public should expect: "President Bush tonight outlines his cut-federal-programs-to-get-a-tax-cut plan to Congress and the nation. Democrats will then deliver their televised response, which basically says Mr. Bush's ideas are risky business, endangering among other things, Social Security and Medicare."
Another crisp press release from the DNC.
Earlier that day, on CBS's The Early Show, Jane Clayson had interviewed White House Counselor Karen Hughes. "Instead of an across-the-board tax cut," Clayson suggested, "it seems many Americans would prefer a smaller tax cut for lower and middle income Americans... But doesn't the tax cut really favor mostly wealthy Americans?"
At this point you wonder why the DNC bothers to employ a press operation at all.
Is it true that "many" Americans favor smaller, targeted tax cuts - i.e., the Democratic plan? On March 1, CBS flat-out said so. Reporting on the CBS Evening News, John Roberts proclaimed: "New polls, however, show voters leaning slightly in favor of the Democratic plan." Maybe Roberts was referring to a Reuters/Zogby poll released that day which showed that while 38 percent of the public backed Bush's $1.6 trillion proposal, 40 percent supported the Democrats' smaller $800 billion package. There's only one problem with that. Another eight percent of the public is backing the higher $2.5 trillion tax cut being advanced by some Republicans.
Thus by 46-40, Americans want a tax cut as large as Bush's - or larger.
Oh, the games being played with surveys. Two days before Roberts reported that voters were "leaning slightly in favor of the Democratic plan" there was another poll out there saying something dramatically different. It found that a full 67 percent of the public supported the Bush package. Moreover, for those who had watched Bush's televised address advocating his tax cut package, support had skyrocketed into the stratosphere: a whopping 88 percent were behind the proposals he outlined.
Who took that survey? Believe it or not: CBS News. It was reported on the CBS News website, and mentioned the following morning on The Early Show. But somehow the day it was released, the CBS scientific survey of 978 people was deemed unnewsworthy by those producing that evening's CBS Evening News report on the public's opinion of the Bush tax plan.
Actually there was good reason for the CBS Evening News to spike its own national survey. Dan Rather opened up the network's evening report on the tax battle thusly: "President Bush insists what the economy really needs is his major tax cut. Democrats and some independent economists believe the Bush push is risky business." Roberts followed with coverage of Bush's visit to Omaha in which he featured interviews with women opposed to the president's plan.
To report a national survey showing that 2 out of 3 Americans support Bush, and almost 9 out of 10 who saw his speech support him would have rendered the Rather/Roberts presentation pure poppycock.
Throughout the post-election imbroglio in Florida, Dan Rather and CBS did everything in their power to undermine the credibility of George W. Bush. Their coverage of the tax cut debate, replete with the DNC talking point "risky business" phraseology, shows they've no intention of letting up.