The White House released a series of statements, reportedly initiated by new press secretary Tony Snow, attacking specific media reports and editorials as misleading. Conservatives in the media have touted the statements as indicative of a new willingness on the part of the White House communications office, led by Snow, to call the press on its misinformation. But Media Matters for America has found that, of the six "Setting the Record Straight" releases issued from May 8 to May 11, at least four are highly misleading.
Wall Street Journal articles on the $70 billion GOP tax bill ignored entirely the disproportionate benefit to the wealthy of the GOP package.
Stephen Moore selectively cited Internal Revenue Service statistics in order to buttress his assertion that "[i]n the aftermath of the Bush investment tax cuts, the federal income tax burden has substantially shifted onto the backs of the wealthy." In fact, the reason that the total share of income tax paid by those making more than $200,000 increased between 2002 and 2004 is that the number of people earning at least that much increased substantially, as did the average income of people within that bracket. However, filers earning at least $200,000 actually paid an average of 4 percent less federal income tax in 2004 than they did in 2002, even though their average incomes increased 10 percent during the same period.
Fox News' Sean Hannity claimed that "the federal government and the state and local governments take about 50 percent of our income." Hannity's claim is contradicted by the conservative Tax Foundation, which has calculated that Americans' total tax burden has never exceeded 33.6 percent of income in a given year.
Continuing to mischaracterize polls showing that the public prefers Democrats over Republicans on handling taxes, Chris Matthews acknowledged that "the latest polling shows that people trust Democrats more" on taxes, but still stated that the polls referred to "tax cutting" and suggested that the results were surprising because "nobody has ever accused the Democrats of tax cutting." In fact, the polls asked more broadly about tax policy, not merely "tax cutting," and contrary to Matthews's suggestion that Democrats do not cut taxes, numerous Democrats have enacted or proposed tax cuts in recent years.
On the CBS Evening News, Washington correspondent Bob Orr characterized a recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations proposal allowing tax return preparers to sell information from returns to third parties as spelling out a "loophole of sorts" that has "been around for more than 30 years." In fact, in permitting sales to third parties, the new proposal would allow tax preparers to do something they are not currently permitted to do; under current law, they can pass on such information only to affiliates.
NBC News correspondent David Gregory uncritically reported a claim by "Republican leaders" that the "president's strengths, like tax cuts or tough anti-terror measures, have been overlooked" because of Americans' concern over the war in Iraq. Gregory ignored the most recent polling on the subject -- a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll -- which found that 43 percent of Americans trust Democrats to do "a better job of handling taxes" than the president. In that poll, only 34 percent said the president would do a better job. And regarding "tough anti-terror" measures, polls indicate that American approval of the president on terrorism is decidedly more mixed than Gregory's statement suggested.
Major newspapers and broadcast and cable TV news largely ignored a peaceful religious protest against budget cuts to social programs in which more than 100 people were arrested. A search of the Nexis "major newspapers" database -- which contains 87 newspapers -- turned up only 10 mentions of the event.
A New York Times report ignored the primary reason that the Senate has failed to act to reform the alternative minimum tax (AMT) -- so Senate Republicans can improve the chance of passing capital gains and dividend tax cuts next year as part of the same reconciliation package. The article also omitted the reasons why Democrats object to the tax-cut plan -- they would benefit the wealthy on the heels of spending cuts that targeted the poor and would far outweigh recently approved spending cuts.
In covering the House of Representatives' approval of extending tax breaks on investment income, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Associated Press did not mention that the cost of the tax-cut package far exceeds recent spending cuts.
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