MediaWatch: September 1989

Vol. Three No. 9

Reporters Addicted to Tax Hikes


In his first televised speech to the nation on September 5, President Bush announced his plan to fight a war on drugs. To his Democratic opponents, the war is not over changing people's behavior, it's over money, or the perceived lack of it. Two Democrats leading their party on the issue, Senator Joe Biden and Congressman Charles Rangel, immediately demanded taxes and spending be increased. A fair number of reporters agreed.

"One Democratic veteran of the budget wars insists taxes are the only answer," ABC's Cokie Roberts preceded a matching comment from former Democratic Rep. James Jones on the September 3 World News Sunday. Roberts noted that "Republican strategists reject that argument," but, she wondered, "how much can Peter be robbed to pay Paul?"

On the CBS Evening News the night of Bush's address, correspondent Bob Schieffer reported: "That's what you hear all over the country, that it will take more than just good intentions or even first-class treatment's going to take money, a lot of it for a long time." After interviewing Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, who said Bush's plan is "a real joke in terms of the resources that have been offered," Schieffer concluded: "That's very much the feeling here" on Capitol Hill. "Until Congress gets a lot more detail on just how the President intends to pay for all this, there will be considerable doubt here as to just how serious the administration really is." The problem is "finding the money for everything on the congressional agenda this year, and doing it without raising taxes," Schieffer worried the next night.

On a CBS News special report following the President's address, Lesley Stahl directly contradicted Bush. "The President says the issue is not money, but in fact it is money, and everything in this plan is constrained by the fact that one, the President does not want to ask for new taxes, and two, we're working under the Gramm-Rudman budget restrictions. There just isn't money."

In Time's September 11 issue, Senior Editor George Church charged that "the amount he proposes to spend is almost laughably inadequate." Church added: "The big joke is that Bush proposes to do all this with pitifully little falls far, far short of what a true war on drugs would require."

But the fight is not really about a drug war. As ABC's Brit Hume succinctly explained on September 6: "The fight's not really about drug policy, it's about taxes. Congressional Democrats want the President to agree to raising them so they can spend them on the drug war, and a lot of other things."