ABC's lousy health care reporting

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Here's how ABC reporter Troy McMullen begins an article headlined "Health Care Reform Likely to Include More Taxes for Many Americans":

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama had one central message to middle-income Americans: no new taxes.

Really? I'd have said Obama's "central message" was "change." Or maybe "hope." I guess I must have missed Obama's "Ready My Lips: No New Taxes" pledge.

McMullen continues:

But as a massive health care reform bill inches closer to reality, middle-class Americans, as well as high income earners, can expect some sort of increase in what they pay into government coffers, say Republican critics and some fiscal watch dog groups.

...

It would also impose a 40 percent tax on the portion of insurance premiums exceeding $8,000 a year for individuals and $21,000 a year for family plans. That tax would be imposed on insurance companies, though it would likely be passed on to consumers, including many middle-income families, say experts.

Which "fiscal watch dog groups"? Which "experts"? McMullen doesn't say.

Later:

Some Republicans and Wall Street investors say tapping into high-end earners and capital gains will soak the rich and hurt an already ailing economy.

"Could there be a more efficient way to kill our halting recovery from recession than to have Harry Reid plot in secret to raise taxes?" says Donald Luskin, chief investment officer at Trend Macrolytics LLC. "Have we learned no economic lessons from the Depression?"

Despite the use of the plural "Wall Street Investors," Luskin is the only one mentioned. And Luskin is ... Well, Donald Luskin is simply not someone who should ever be taken seriously. Ever.

Eventually, ABC's McMullen gets around to citing someone a bit more credible than Don Luskin:

According to a report by the Tax Foundation, a tax research group based in Washington, D.C., wealthy taxpayers in 39 states could pay a top tax rate higher than 50 percent by 2011.

But that's about wealthy taxpayers. The ABC article has been hyping potential tax increases for middle-class taxpayers.

So the ABC article doesn't quote or paraphrase or cite a single source actually substantiating its basic premise; the closest it comes is a vague and hyperbolic claim by Donald Luskin, someone you shouldn't trust to tell you what year it is, much less analyze health care legislation. (Luskin, by the way, is not identified as a conservative in McMullen's article.)

And the article repeatedly stresses the cost of health care reform:

But as a massive health care reform bill inches closer to reality, middle-class Americans, as well as high income earners, can expect some sort of increase in what they pay into government coffers, say Republican critics and some fiscal watch dog groups.

...

But Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he'll vote to block any health care bill that looks like the bill passed by the House. "The costs are extraordinary associated with it," he told ABC News. "It increases taxes in a way that will not pass in the Senate. I won't vote to move it."

...

All of the health care packages are expensive. The House bill is projected to cost $1.2 trillion over 10 years and the Senate Finance Committee bill is projected to cost $829 billion. Taxes will increase if any of the plans are enacted, say experts.

But no mention of the fact that the House bill would decrease the deficit. That's kind of an important detail that should be mentioned if ABC is going to hype the cost, don't you think?

Then there's this:

The House GOP bill, which was rejected a week ago, had no new taxes. Republicans would get savings by capping medical liability awards, stepping up efforts to fight Medicare and Medicaid fraud, and setting up an approval process for generic versions of high-tech drugs.

Yeah, and the House GOP bill would only cover 3 million people, would have almost no effect on most premiums, and result in far less deficit reduction than the Democratic bill. Again: Those seem like relevant details, no?

UPDATE: I neglected to mention this earlier, but The Tax Foundation is funded by foundations affiliated with Richard Mellon Scaife and Koch Industries, among others. Not to mention Exxon Mobile. There is, in other words, ample reason to take its assertions with a grain of salt, though ABC described the group simply as "a tax research group based in Washington, D.C."

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
ABC, ABCNews.com
Person
Troy McMullen
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