During an online discussion today, Washington Post reporter Alex MacGillis was asked about the media's focus on President Obama's proposed tax increases for the very few Americans who make more than $200,000 a year rather than the proposed tax cuts for the rest of the country:
90 percent vs. 2 percent?: Barack Obama has proposed a budget that, among other things, would reduce taxes on more than 9 out of 10 Americans and increase taxes on around the wealthiest 2 percent of the population (actually, just letting Bush's tax cuts expire on schedule). Flipping through the Sunday talk shows, it's striking to see how uniformly wealthy media celebrities think it makes sense to characterize this is a "tax increase" or "raising taxes" and to leap immediately to a discussion of what the impact of these "higher taxes" will be. I think that the 95 percent of people whose taxes are set to go down might be more interested in learning about the impact of lower taxes, don't you, Alec?
Alec MacGillis: You definitely have a point on this one. The TV talk of 'raising taxes' does often leave out the broader context, and Republicans have done their best to frame the debate this way as well. Also left unmentioned often is that the higher rates for the rich will not kick in until 2011. We'll see if the White House decides it needs to do more to push back on this, to make clear again just who would be hurt and helped, because the fact is that polls are showing that taxing the rich right now is a much more popular proposition than it has been in years past.
Ah, but it isn't just "The TV talk of 'raising taxes.'" Alex MacGillis' own newspaper, the Washington Post, has done as much as any other news organization to drive the obsessive focus on the few Americans who will pay more taxes rather than the many who will pay less, as I explained in my column on Friday:
By my count, at least 484 of the article's 1,284 words were about the tax increases in Obama's proposal. Among those 484 words was this quote from House GOP leader John Boehner: "The era of big government is back, and Democrats are asking you to pay for it." That simply isn't true, unless you make more than $200,000 a year -- though the Post simply presented Boehner's claim without rebuttal.
And how did the Post address the tax cuts in Obama's plan? The article devoted just 39 words to them. Among other omissions, the Post completely ignored the fact that the plan makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans.
And by the following Monday, tax cuts had disappeared entirely from the Post's reporting. Under the headline "Aides Defend President's Budget; White House and Fiscal Conservatives Set for Showdown," the Post reported Obama's budget would be "raising taxes on top income earners and oil and gas companies" and again quoted a Republican criticizing the tax increases. But there wasn't so much as a hint that most Americans would see their tax bills go down.