That seems to be the medias Sunday school lesson to audiences lately. First, they demonized oil companies for making too much. Then they went after individual CEOs. Most recently, theyve once again turned on that group that forever threatens the well-being of America: The Rich.
Yes, according to the press, Congress has again bowed to the wishes of The Rich. It has cut them a huge tax break while the rest of America suffers and the national debt soars from the cost of letting people keep more of their own money. But the media, the Guardians of the Poor, are here to expose it all. The multimillion-dollar anchors, like NBCs Brian Williams and soon-to-be CBSs Katie Couric, are on the case! They are not at all aligned with the interests of The Rich.
The tax cut clearly favors the wealthy, said ABCs Betsy Stark. Critics (which often means journalists) call it a gift to the wealthy, said CBSs Harry Smith. As usual, to put these comments in perspective, its necessary to examine two bodies of information: what the media are telling us, and what theyre not telling us.
They are telling us the newly-passed $70 billion tax relief bill benefits The Rich. Obviously, a tax cut benefits only those who are paying taxes. As the Tax Foundation has pointed out, 32 percent of those who filed federal tax returns this year actually had no tax liability. Those people arent going to benefit from most tax cuts because thats hard to do when youre not paying taxes to begin with.
Theyre also telling us tax cuts are bad for our debt. CBSs Bob Schieffer said on May 10 that critics remind us that any tax cut is just going to drive the national debt higher.
There are two problems with that reasoning. One is the media view tax cuts as a cost to the government. This subtlely promotes the idea that the government owns your money already, and if they allow you to keep what youve earned, they are cutting you a break. By keeping it, you are draining the Treasury.
The other problem with the debt argument is that cutting taxes on capital gains and dividends increases the incentive to invest. That leads to more investment. More investment leads to more income. And more income means more tax payments. Funny how that works.
As The Wall Street Journal noted on May 14, The tax payments of the wealthiest 3% of Americans increased at twice the rate of the tax payments by everyone else from 2001-2004. And those richest 3% now pay nearly as much income taxes as the other 97% combined. If politicians didnt spend every penny that comes into Washington, perhaps we could start paying down the debt with our higher tax revenues.
But the media tell us the debt is the tax cuts fault. Meanwhile, what arent they telling us?
For starters, theyre keeping mum about the ridiculous economic growth since the tax cuts were enacted in 2003. America has added more than 5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate has fallen from 6.3 percent to 4.7 percent. Its as if they dont view that as a fact, but as merely a claim on one side of a debate. NBCs Brian Williams said on May 10, Republicans say the tax cuts are helping the economy, but Democrats argue most of the benefits go to the wealthiest Americans. Its difficult for viewers to get the facts about the U.S. economy from reports like that.
Broadcasters also havent been mentioning how upset they were over the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) just a few months ago. A large part of the recent tax bill $31 billion out of $70 billion will go to AMT relief for 15 million middle-class families, which has had support from both parties and the media.
Take CBSs Julie Chen for example. On the February 23 Early Show, she was gasping at the impact of the AMT on the middle class. Oh, my goodness, Chen said, adding that it really sounds like they need to change the tax laws. But when Congress did just that, she said it was a Republican plan and that Democrats complain the bill favors the rich.
The medias suspicion of The Rich is a driving force behind much reporting. But even the Bible doesnt say money is the root of all evil. It says the love of money. That means elevating money above more important things. And as long as the media continue to elevate wealth-bashing above facts, the quality of journalism will suffer.
Amy Menefee is Deputy Editor for the Business & Media Institute.