What is the purpose of the new tax cut President Bush signed this week? Is it designed to perk up the economy? Or is it designed to provide welfare checks for poor people who don't pay taxes?
Last night and this morning, the networks fervently picked answer #2. Yesterday, The New York Times published a front-page article by reporter David Firestone that largely served as a press release for the paleoliberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The CBPP told the Times that most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not see any "tax relief," including 11.9 million children.
The networks picked up this story and ran with it, telling the traditional class-war sob story about how the poor won't get any cash, while the rich don't need any. Left out or played down: that most of these taxpayers with kids pay little or no income tax, so "fully refundable" checks would be welfare payments, not tax cuts.
ABC: Peter Jennings began: "On World News Tonight, the tax cut surprise. Some of the people who need it most will benefit the least." In the top story, reporter Linda Douglass found office messenger Rhonda Williams to lament that she would have used the money to send her kids to a "nice college." Near the end, Douglass admitted: "Many low-income families do not pay income taxes but are entitled to a portion of the child credit."
CBS: Substitute anchor Jane Clayson began the Evening News: "Millions of U.S. taxpayers won't get the rebate they're expecting." CBS was the oddball in not making this the top story, but reporter Bill Plante found a woman who wanted to pay for Pampers and "won't be getting that refund check the president says is in the mail." Plante's last sentence allowed the White House "points out that many of the families who will miss out on the $400 child tax credit already pay little or no income tax."
CNN: The afternoon show Inside Politics began with an announcer: "The check may not be in the mail. This family is looking forward to the new child tax credit. But, surprise. Millions of low-income families won't get it." In the top story, Kate Snow totally ignored the angle that most of those "left out" don't pay income taxes. On Wednesday's edition of NewsNight, anchor Aaron Brown warmly previewed the Firestone story and said it proved "why The New York Times is a great newspaper."
NBC: Tom Brokaw began Nightly News: "Cut out. Why millions of lower-income families may not be getting the help they expected from President Bush's new tax cut." Brokaw described an "embarrassing omission," that Bush left out low-income families in the tax cut. In the top story, reporter Campbell Brown even scolded Democrats, "who only spoke up about it in response to a New York Times report today."
On CNBC's The News with Brian Williams last night, Williams echoed Brokaw's "embarrassing omission" line, and ran the same Campbell Brown report. Both shows had the "embarrassing omission" of the non-taxpayer angle.
The bias even extended to the White House briefing yesterday. NBC's David Gregory incorrectly insisted a "large group of people" won't get "their money." ABC's Terry Moran proposed to Ari Fleischer he should agree with his summation: "I just want to make sure that you are saying that the White House agreed to make the choice to leave these children behind." For more on this very biased night, see today's CyberAlert. - Tim Graham and Brent Baker