Obviously, the fact that three of Barack Obama's nominees have had tax trouble gives the Republicans and the media something of an opening to poke a little fun at Obama and the Democratic Party. But reporters should keep in mind that Republicans have had their share of tax troubles, too.
Countless reporters have quoted GOP Rep. Eric Cantor saying "It's easy for the other side to sit here and advocate higher taxes because - you know what? - they don't pay them." Others have made the same argument in their own voice.
Quoting Cantor is fine -- it's a good line. But news reports that simply quote Cantor or express a similar sentiment give the impression that tax troubles are a problem unique to prominent Democrats.
Not so. During last year's presidential campaign, it emerged that Cindy McCain hadn't bothered to pay taxes on one of her homes. Several other Republican candidates last year had tax troubles. Republican Party Strategist and Mascot Joe Wurzelbacher had a tax lien placed against him. Dick Morris -- who has criticized Tim Geithner's failure to pay taxes -- had a $1.5 million tax lien filed against him by the IRS, and the state of Connecticut said he owed more than $450,000 in unpaid taxes and penalities. There are presumably dozens of other examples.
Obviously, that doesn't mean the media shouldn't mention the tax troubles of Obama's nominees. Nor does it mean they shouldn't quote Republican criticisms. But when they quote Republicans suggesting unpaid taxes are a uniquely Democratic problem, they have an obligation to make clear that this is not true. And, certainly, they should avoid making that suggestion themselves.
Responding to Adam Green's piece over at Huffington Post, which admonished Burnett for her MTP appearance this weekend where she seemed to act more like a spokeswoman for Wall Street firms, and less like a reporter covering them, Burnett's CNBC colleague Jim Cramer came to her defense on the air yesterday.
Meanwhile, Green has invited Burnett to live blog with him and Huff Post readers about the topic of the Wall Street bailout. Let's hope she accepts.
And note to Green: if the debate takes place, please be sure to ask Burnett about her claim on MTP that taxpayer money did not help pay for those recent corporate bonuses for Wall Street execs. It appears she got the facts wrong.
The Wall Street Journal misleadingly claimed in an editorial that the U.S. corporate tax rate "is higher than in all of Europe." In fact, according to the Government Accountability Office, "Statutory tax rates do not provide a complete measure of the burden that a tax system imposes on business income." Additionally, World Bank and GAO data indicate that the U.S. effective corporate tax rate is lower than 35 percent and lower than several developed -- including some European -- economies.
Lou Dobbs falsely claimed that the economic recovery bill, which the House recently passed, "would allow people who don't have Social Security numbers to be eligible" for the bill's Making Work Pay tax credits and would therefore make undocumented immigrants "eligible for checks." In fact, illegal immigrants without Social Security numbers are not eligible for tax credits under the stimulus bill.
CNBC host Erin Burnett asserted that there were "interesting ideas" in Rush Limbaugh's Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing President Obama's economic recovery plan and offering Limbaugh's own suggestions for what should be included in a stimulus plan. Specifically, Burnett said that Limbaugh's suggestions of "cutting the corporate tax" and "slashing capital gains [taxes]" are "serious things to say." But Burnett did not note that many economists do not view corporate and capital gains tax cuts as "serious" or effective methods for stimulating the economy.
Echoing a Republican talking point, Rush Limbaugh asserted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "[t]he average recession will last five to 11 months; the average recovery will last six years. Recessions will end on their own if they're left alone." But Limbaugh's claim misses the point and misrepresents the reason for the stimulus bill. Economists take the position that an economic stimulus package is necessary, both during the recession and after the economy begins to recover.
The Politico reported the GOP claim that "it may take years before the stimulus plan spurs real job growth" and highlighted a video showing "a Joint Committee on Taxation staffer tell[ing] Michigan Rep. Dave Camp that he can't promise that the $275 billion in tax cuts in the stimulus will create any new jobs." In fact, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf has stated of the bill: "According to CBO's estimates, the number of jobs would be between 0.8 million and 2.1 million higher at the end of this year, 1.2 million to 3.6 million higher at the end of next year, and 0.7 million to 2.1 million higher at the end of 2011."
On The O'Reilly Factor, Dick Morris asserted that the economic recovery bill "won't work," in part because "two hundred billion of it is just money to the state. That just stops taxes from going up, but it doesn't stimulate anything." However, economist Mark Zandi testified to Congress that "aid to financially-pressed state governments" is an "economically potent stimulus," and a table provided with his testimony indicated that aid to states would boost GDP by $1.36 for every dollar spent. Similarly, information that the CBO provided to Congress shows that aid to states produces a greater "cumulative impact on GDP" than do tax cuts.
Earlier today, I wrote that it's important for journalists to actually apply some critical thought to their work rather than simply regurgitating Republican talking points.
Right on cue, here's Marc Ambinder (emphasis added):
Here's a peek at the major planks in the economic recovery plan being introduced by House Republicans tomorrow.
It starts with a permanent five percentage point reduction for those who qualify for the 10% and 15% tax brackets, averaging about $500 per year for the poorest of the bunch and $1,200 for the slightly more wealthy.
The talking point here is that poorer Americans would see more money from the GOP plan than from Obama's -- and it would be permanent.
Well, of course that's the "talking point." Who the hell cares? Is it true? Marc Ambinder doesn't say. He doesn't even acknowledge that it might be an interesting question. The concept of which plan actually gives "poorer Americans" "more money" is literally nowhere to be found in his post.
There are people for whom "distributing Republican talking points" is part of their job description. They are called "deputy press secretaries," and they work at the RNC and in Republican congressional offices. Reporters for The Atlantic ought to behave a bit differently.
(Is it true? I don't know -- but it seems unlikely. The GOP plan, as Ambinder describes it, would do nothing for the many Americans who work hard and pay state, local, sales, and FICA taxes -- but who do not make enough money to pay federal income taxes.)
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Discussing President Obama's meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economic stimulus plan, CBS' Chip Reid reported that "when Republicans criticized tax refunds for people who don't pay taxes, sources in the meeting say the president said, quote, 'I won,' referring to the election and making it clear he's sticking with that part of the plan." In fact, Obama has not proposed giving tax refunds to "people who don't pay taxes"; he has proposed giving the tax credit to "working families," which means they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.
On NBC's Nightly News, Chuck Todd reported that President Obama "drew more criticism from Republicans [...] thanks to a new report claiming the stimulus will take years, not months, to improve the economy" and aired a clip of House Minority Leader John Boehner criticizing the stimulus plan. However, Todd did not mention the Democratic leadership's response: that the Congressional Budget Office report ignored faster-moving provisions in the stimulus, creating a "false impression" of the plan's effects.
On The O'Reilly Factor, Dick Morris repeatedly criticized Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner for his failure to pay Social Security taxes several years ago. But Morris has his own history of tax delinquency; USA Today included Morris in an April 2008 report on "[b]ig names" who are tax delinquents.
Fox News' Sean Hannity falsely claimed that President-elect Barack Obama's economic plan gives money to "people that don't pay any taxes," echoing the oft-repeated myth from the presidential campaign that Obama's proposed tax cuts would go to people who don't pay taxes. In fact, Obama has proposed giving the tax credit to "working families," which means they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.
In recent days, Fox News anchors and contributors have falsely asserted, repeatedly, that people who don't pay taxes would be eligible for a $500 individual tax credit included in President-elect Barack Obama's proposed economic recovery plan, echoing an oft-repeated myth from the presidential campaign that Obama's proposed tax cuts would go to people who don't pay taxes. In fact, Obama has proposed a tax credit for working Americans, meaning they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.