Liberal Spin Prevails: How CBS Led the Networks' Charge Against the Bush Tax Cut

Sizing Up the Tax Cuts: Reporters Side With Liberal Critics

In their review of these stories, FMP researchers tallied 94 judgments about the size of the Bush tax cut, 84 percent of which labeled it as "big" or "huge" or otherwise portrayed it as large. Many of these (46) were the reported comments of tax cut opponents. North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, for example, was shown on ABC on February 5 declaring that "this tax cut is simply too big," while CBS on February 27 displayed former Clinton budget chief Jack Lew claiming of Bush’s plan, "there’s a real risk that it doesn’t all fit. And if it doesn’t all fit, you’re either going to be spending more than you mean to or not doing things that are very important."

These remarks from partisan sources were an expected part of the debate surrounding the tax program, and they demonstrate the fact that judgments about the size of the overall package were not neutral observations. Liberal sources cited the bigness of Bush’s tax package as a key reason for their opposition, claiming that a too-severe reduction in revenues could either force a resumption of budget deficits or unwanted cuts in federal programs.

Exhibit1Although not nearly as frequently as they quoted tax cut critics, the networks also quoted sources refuting this argument, including statements from President Bush emphasizing his belief that the tax cut was the right size, and some congressional Republicans who argued that the size of the tax cut should be increased. Yet taken together, these views only amounted to 16 percent of the total opinions on the size of the tax package, meaning that these voices were outweighed five-to-one by those who criticized the largeness of the tax cut. (See Exhibit 1: "Labeling Bush’s Tax Cut")

But reporters were guilty of more than simply failing to maintain a balance in their choice of news sources, since about one-third of the judgments about the scale of Bush’s tax cut (30 statements, or 32% of the total) were expressed by network correspondents as their own opinion, and all of these comments by reporters reflected the liberal perspective that the proposed tax cut was large.

Most of these assessments from reporters came on CBS and NBC, each with 14 such comments. Correspondents on ABC’s World News Tonight were far more neutral, casting the Bush tax cut as large only twice. (See Exhibit 2: "Assertions By Reporters That Bush’s Tax Cut Is Large")

Exhibit2CBS’s Dan Rather uttered this opinion more than any other correspondent, branding the President’s tax plan as "big" eleven times. NBC’s Tom Brokaw used more varied language to convey his views about the size of Bush’s program, calling it either "big," "very big," or "massive" a combined total of ten times. These two anchors together accounted for nearly two-thirds (64%) of the reporters’ commentary on this topic, and more than one-fifth (22%) of all of the opinions on this topic from all sources.