Facts Exempt: Network News and Taxes
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- 1. Tax cuts mainly help the wealthy
- Tax relief should not be only for taxpayers.
- 3. An increase in the complexity of an already mammoth tax code is not newsworthy.
- 4. The complexity of the tax code has nothing to do with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) abuses.
- 5. When Congress cuts taxes or investigates the IRS, it is inspired to do so by crass political calculations.
- 6. There were many facts about taxes in the U.S. that many viewers would have found interesting, but nonetheless were left unmentioned. For instance:
1. Tax cuts mainly help the wealthy
The liberal claim that tax cuts mainly help the wealthy was mentioned in 13 stories, mostly during debate over efforts to cut the capital gains tax as part of last year’s budget deal. On the June 9 World News Tonight, for instance, ABC’s John Cochran told viewers that House Ways and Means Committee "Chairman [Bill] Archer wants to give a big tax cut to those who invest in capital gains...the President thinks those tax cuts are too generous to the wealthy." CBS reporters Paula Zahn and Rita Braver outlined President Clinton’s objections to the GOP plan on the June 30 Evening News, also without bothering to give any Republican arguments. "Clinton weighed in today with his version of a tax cut plan," Zahn reported. "He said he disagrees with key parts of the tax-cut bills passed by the House and Senate because they give too many breaks to the wealthy and not enough to middle income Americans." Braver added that Clinton "attacked the congressional plans for catering to the rich."
And NBC’s John Palmer concluded his May 3 Nightly News story by pointing out that the "budget agreement is only a framework. Congress still has to vote on the actual appropriations that will directly affect people’s lives. And there could be trouble from those who worry that the budget is weighted too much in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor."
While reporters had a responsibility to present White House arguments against the capital gains tax cut, few felt they needed to tell viewers of GOP arguments for the cut. Only four stories brought up the conservative argument that a capital gains tax cut would help more than just the wealthy. According to ABC’s Bob Jamieson, for example, on the July 29 World News Tonight, many middle class people are excited about the capital gains tax cut, too. He noted that "in the last five years, as stock prices have nearly tripled, the number of people invested in the market has doubled. Half of all investors today never graduated from college. Thirty five percent are middle class or blue collar workers." And while "critics argue that this is a tax cut for the elite because most stock is still owned by the richest six percent of Americans," these "new, less wealthy investors argue it is just as important to them." But Jamieson’s report was unusual. Most ignored the rise of the middle class stockholder, as well as arguments that a capital gains tax cut would help homeowners who wanted to sell and the economy as a whole.