Despite commentators who have spent the days since November's elections accusing the media of being too conservative (really), there has been no let-up in the establishment media's prevailing liberal bias, especially when it comes to the issue of high taxes.
Liberals believe government is an engine for positive social change, so it's always better for bureaucratic do-gooders to have as much money as possible. Therefore, they disdain tax cuts as anti-poor if they result in spending cuts, or as irresponsible deficit-makers if spending stays high. Conservatives, on the other hand, recognize that new wealth can only be built by free private enterprise, and that spurring economic growth is the only path to lasting progress. Because they don't put government's needs ahead of the private sector, free-marketers favor tax cuts that create jobs, build wealth and spur economic growth.
So how have the networks played the tax story? Whether the economy is growing or not, whether government is in surplus or not, tax cuts are portrayed as risky and dangerous - the liberal view. As the MRC's Free Market Project has documented in a series of research reports, ABC, CBS and NBC reporters usually adopt the rhetoric of liberal tax cut foes in their news coverage: downplaying tax cuts' ability to accelerate growth, presenting their benefits through a liberal redistributionist template, and portraying tax cuts - not high government spending rates - as the cause of awful budget deficits.
The networks hit these liberal themes once again with the firing of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and nomination of John Snow as his replacement. On Friday's Nightly News, NBC's Campbell Brown portrayed O'Neill as an impediment to a tax-cutting President: "With Bush under constant fire from Democrats for focusing on war with Iraq at the expense of the economy, the President needed an economic stimulus plan to unveil at the first of the year, but O'Neill wouldn't go along with more tax cuts."
That antagonism to tax cuts made O'Neill a hero to some liberal media chiefs. On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, the Washington Post's David Broder gushed about O'Neill's penchant for "truth telling" that pleased liberal ears: "He had, what I would politely refer to as, a barnyard epithet for those...who knew with great confidence how much of a surplus we were going to have to give away in tax cuts. And I kind of miss that sort of candor, and I'm afraid he may be being punished for his candor." Just whose money do tax cuts "give away," Mr. Broder?
Conservatives are worried that John Snow might be just as recalcitrant as O'Neill (see box), but their views were absent from Monday evening's ABC, CBS and NBC newscasts. Instead, reporters worried that Snow would do nothing to stop Bush's tax cut express.
"From all indications, the change at Treasury is not intended to bring change to the basic Bush economic policy, including more of his controversial tax cuts," Dan Rather rued on the CBS Evening News. Quoting the liberal economic handbook, ABC's Peter Jennings asked George Stephanopoulos, "He [Snow] is said to be in favor of tax cuts, but against deficits. Doesn't one lead to the other?" NBC's Tom Brokaw warned viewers that "at the heart of the President's plan to kick-start the economy: tax cuts. He wants more, and to make those already in place permanent. It's a bold move, and to critics, it's irresponsible."
If history is any guide, the networks will try to set the table for Bush's future tax cut plans by presenting new deficits as more dangerous than a slow-growing economy, and tax cuts as costly giveaways to the rich, not a proven way to create more wealth through economic growth. Liberal bias a thing of the past? Not while TV correspondents use their network perches to push a slanted anti-tax cut agenda. - Rich Noyes and Brent Baker