On MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews did not challenge former Gov. Robert Ehrlich's false suggestion that President Obama's proposal to let the Bush tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers expire would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses. In fact, Obama has proposed raising marginal income tax rates and reducing income tax deductions for individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and for couples earning more than $250,000 per year, and according to the Tax Policy Center, just 2 percent of tax returns that reported small business income in 2007 are in the top two income tax brackets, which include all filers with taxable incomes that would be affected.
In claiming that "small businesses ... are putting $250,000 in revenue out there, and they're going to get impacted" under President Obama's proposal to let the Bush tax cuts on wealthy taxpayers expire, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo falsely suggested that Obama has proposed taxing small business revenue. In fact, Obama has proposed raising marginal income tax rates and reducing income tax deductions for individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and for couples earning more than $250,000 per year.
The Washington Post and The New York Times uncritically reported Rep. John Boehner's debunked suggestion that increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 would cause a large percentage of small businesses to pay higher taxes. In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center, a mere 2 percent of tax returns that reported small business income in 2007 are in the top two income tax brackets, which include all filers with taxable incomes of more than $250,000.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto stated that President Obama "misstate[d]" the facts on the U.S. corporate tax rate structure, and purporting to "correct" him, claimed that the U.S. corporate tax rate is "at a high 35 percent ... the highest in the industrialized world. That is un-debatable and unequivocal." In fact, while the U.S. statutory corporate tax rate is 35 percent, 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 economies.
Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that taxes would increase on "most small businesses" if the Bush tax cuts on Americans making more than $250,000 expire in 2011. In fact, the Tax Policy Center stated that in 2007, about 2 percent of tax returns that reported small-business income are in the top two income tax brackets, which include all filers with taxable incomes of more than $250,000.
On Morning Joe, Pat Buchanan stated that under President Obama's plan, "we're looking at permanent tax increases," while Joe Scarborough said that the White House suggested it will propose "an increase of taxes." But neither Scarborough nor Buchanan noted, as Peter Orszag said during a later segment, that Obama proposes letting the Bush tax cuts expire only "for those who are earning more than ... a quarter of a million dollars a year."
CNN's John King allowed Sen. Mitch McConnell to revive the debunked claim that letting the Bush tax cuts expire for Americans making more than $250,000 would affect a large percentage of small businesses. In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center, 481,000 small businesses -- about 2 percent -- fall in the top two income tax brackets that would be affected by those increases.
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You don't have to spend much time reading the nonsensical ramblings of the Media Research Center/Newsbusters crew before you start wondering how on earth anyone could ever take them seriously.
Take a look at some of their recent complaints.
Let's start with Newsbusters' Tom Blumer, who just flat-out made a fool of himself yesterday. Blumer was all up in arms about an Associated Press analysis by Charles Babington. According to Blumer, Babington failed to describe Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax problems. Blumer points to Babington's "fifth and worst paragraph, which is all you'll need to know how bad it is," which read:
An old story, with new actors, played out Tuesday: A new president's team imperfectly vetted top nominees. The nominees, it turns out, had not paid taxes for household help or other services when they were private citizens. The news media and political adversaries bored in. And rather than spend more valuable time and political capital defending the appointees, the administration dropped them and moved on. [emphasis Blumer's]
Of that paragraph, Blumer wrote: "This is beyond risible. Babington knows full well that Tim Geithner's and Tom Daschle's tax problems went way, way beyond "household help or other services. Geithner's nanny tax problems were relatively small, and had long since been addressed. The real biggie was his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on his 2001-2004 income earned when he was at the International Monetary Fund."
But - and this is kind of important - the paragraph in question didn't have anything to do with Tim Geithner. It was about Daschle and Nancy Killefer. There are a couple of things that give that fact away: The reference at the beginning of the paragraph to a story that "played out Tuesday" and the bit at the end about the administration dropping the nominees. Geithner's tax trouble played out long ago and, of course, he was not "dropped." Blumer apparently didn't read either the beginning or the end of the paragraph - either that, or he just has no idea what he's talking about.
To Blumer's broader "point" that Babington supposedly downplayed Daschle & Geithner's tax problems: Babington noted that Geithner "had been required to pay $34,000 in overdue income taxes" and Daschle "belatedly paid $128,203 in taxes and $11,964 in interest."
Wow, Babington really covered up for them, didn't he?
Finally, Blumer portrayed Babington's piece as part of the "Beltway victimization theme" the media is supposedly pushing to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the tax stories. But Babington - in that "fifth and worst" paragraph Blumer so badly misread - wrote that Obama's "team imperfectly vetted top nominees." Later, he wrote that Obama "may be more ordinary than some admirers would like to admit."
Needless to say, Blumer didn't say a word about the actual problem with Babington's "analysis" - his unsubstantiated claim that Obama is "seen by some as arrogant."
Also Wednesday, MRC's Scott Whitlock claimed that ABC's George Stephanopoulos was guilty of "Democratic Spin." The "spin" Whitlock was complaining about consisted of Stephanopoulos saying that the Daschle nomination had threatened to hurt Obama's "reformist image." Somehow I doubt that came from White House talking points. Moments later, Stephanopoulos said Obama is "going to have to agree to some changes" to the stimulus package to accommodate Republicans. Again: probably not what most people would consider "Democratic spin."
One more from Wednesday: MRC Director of Media Analysis Tim Graham quoted from a column by the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker: "Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once." In response, Graham thundered: "Can't Parker do math? If 58 percent of Americans haven't gotten "sweetly baked in hay," why do pot proponents always pretend that practically everyone has used, and practically every cop or judge is a hypocrite?"
Well ... can't Graham read? Parker wrote "almost half" - and gave the percentage. Graham even quoted that line. Nowhere in her column did Parker claim or imply that a "practically everyone" has used marijuana. Indeed, she supplied the statistic Graham used.
I mean, this is just crazy. Parker said fewer than half of Americans have used marijuana - and Graham is apoplectic that she failed to point out that a majority haven't used the drug. What?
On Tuesday, MRC News Analyst Kyle Drennen complained "CBS Pundit Defends Daschle But Slammed Tom Delay." The "CBS Pundit" in question was actually a guest, but we'll give Drennen a pass on that one. The real problem is that the guest, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, didn't defend Daschle. Here's what Drennen thinks is a "defense" of Daschle:
"What Tom Daschle does is the more sophisticated kind of lobbying we have in Washington, where he's a consultant. And he talks to people about the strategy for getting a piece of legislation passed...Maybe the truth of the matter is, you need some of those Washington insiders in order to make your new government work. But then let's say that." [emphasis Drennen's]
That isn't a defense. If anything, it's a criticism. The first part of the quote followed CBS reporter Bill Plante noting that Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist. So, Sloan was arguing that though Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist, he still does "the more sophisticated kind of lobbying." That quote plainly isn't a defense of Daschle.
Had Drennen read that morning's New York Times (or glanced at CREW's web page), he would have seen Sloan quoted as saying some pretty critical things about the Obama administration's follow-through on his campaign statements about reform.
Finally, Drennen doubled down on his inane and false complaint that Sloan was defending Daschle by attempting to contrast it with comments she made about Tom DeLay in 2005. But Daschle and DeLay aren't quite the same situation: Tom DeLay was under criminal indictment at the time. Of course Sloan's comments about DeLay were more harsh.
Also on Tuesday, Newsbusters associate editor Noel Sheppard quoted Obama saying of his relationship with Fox News "I think it's fair to say that I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we're not supposed to all be in lock step here" - and somehow concluded from that that "everybody other than Fox IS in lock step as far as Obama is concerned." Ah, ok, Noel. But that isn't what Obama said - and it doesn't follow logically from what he said.
I used to think the defining quality of the folks at the Media Research Center is their dishonesty. After all, this is an organization whose founder, Brent Bozell, complained in 1998 that the media wasn't covering the Lewinsky story enough - on a day when there were 500 news reports about Bill Clinton and Lewinsky. But I'm beginning to think their dishonesty may be a close second to the fact that they just aren't very bright.
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund falsely claimed that "Hong Kong has had a flat tax for over 50 years and has had the fastest economic growth of any country in the world over that period of time." In fact, Hong Kong's system for taxing salaries features multiple tax brackets, with differing marginal rates for different levels of income.
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.