MediaWatch: September 1992

Vol. Six No. 9

Media Accuracy Patrol Only Shoots At GOP


Everyone agrees the media have a responsibility to expose inaccuracies on the campaign trail. But the "correcting" going on is all focused in one direction: George Bush and the Republicans.

On the August 27 NBC Nightly News, White House reporter John Cochran aired footage of Bush charging that Bill Clinton's plan included "$220 billion in new spending, plus the largest tax increase in history, $150 billion." With a red graphic screaming "WRONG," Cochran declared: "In 1982, Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, George Bush, presided over the largest projected tax increase in history -- $152 billion."

Clinton's economic plan may say it only calls for $150 billion in new taxes, but that figure does not include any increased spending on, among other things, training or health care. Clinton has proposed a 1.5 percent payroll tax for job training and has loosely endorsed a "play or pay" health plan with a payroll tax of seven to nine percent. Those two taxes, added to the rest of Clinton's plan, would easily make Clinton American history's highest tax raiser. Even if Cochran were correct, the same reporters who deplore painting Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal are defending Clinton by saying he's only proposing the second biggest tax increase in history.

The media seized on Michael Kinsley's column challenging the Bush claim that Clinton raised taxes in Arkansas 128 times. Reporters failed to answer the question: What was the Arkansas tax burden? Clinton's camp claims it has the 49th lowest tax burden, but that's measured on a per capita basis, meaning only that Arkansas is poor, so its tax revenues are necessarily low. Most economists, however, measure the tax burden by studying the percentage of family income devoted to taxes. By that standard, Arkansas is firmly in the middle of the states, and rising. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute found from 1983 to 1990, Arkansas state taxes rose from 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent of family income.

Will most reporters question the accuracy of Clinton's declarations? Take the ad the Clinton campaign released August 30, which claims: "Those making over $200,000 will pay more. The rest of us get a break." But Clinton has also proposed raising taxes on the top two percent of earners, meaning individuals making more than $90,000 a year and couples making more than $130,000. Economists expect a third tax rate of 36 to 40 percent on taxpayers above those levels. That's not exactly a "break" on everybody under $200,000.

By "correcting" only one candidate, reporters show they aren't so much interested in doing their job -- sorting out what's accurate -- as they are making sure Clinton doesn't become the next Michael Dukakis.