During Tony Snow's recent series of appearances on cable news channels, interviewers on CNN and Fox News left unchallenged a number of false, misleading, and baseless Republican talking points on a variety of issues. After allowing Snow to misrepresent the Democratic position on the surveillance and detention of suspected terrorists, CNN host Wolf Blitzer told Snow that he is "a straight shooter."
Fox News' Neil Cavuto did not challenge Tony Snow's false claim that "since the president cut taxes in 2003, the Dow Jones is up 60 percent. The Nasdaq is up 80 percent." But even under the most favorable criteria, Snow's statistics are plainly wrong. And when adjusted for inflation, the value of both stock indices has decreased since President Bush's first major tax cut package in June 2001.
Neil Cavuto did not challenge Ken Mehlman's false claim that Rep. Charlie Rangel has said that "you would get across-the-board tax increases" if Democrats regain control of the House. In fact, during an interview with Cavuto less than two weeks earlier, Rangel stated: "The president has -- had allowed these things to expire in 2010 ... and I would not advocate or support a retroactive increase in taxes."
The New York Times and The Washington Post highlighted President Bush's recent attack on the Clinton administration's tax increases and his touting of the tax cuts he passed in his first term, but did not compare the effects of these policies. In fact, after President Bill Clinton's 1993 tax bill passed, deficits declined and budgets were in surplus within five years, while the federal budgets approved under Bush have produced record deficits.
On The Beltway Boys, Fred Barnes baselessly asserted that congressional Democrats opposed a bill that would have increased the minimum wage because "Democrats have decided, 'We're not going to help Republicans on anything. ... We're going to object to it ... even when they're offering us things like hiking the minimum wage that we like.' " Barnes did not mention that House Republicans tied the wage increase to a bill that would cut the estate tax, a proposal Democrats vehemently opposed for providing a disproportionate benefit to the wealthiest Americans.
On Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Charles Krauthammer falsely claimed that the estate tax "penalizes a lot of small businesses" and could leave the "heirs" of a "small-business owner" with "nothing." In fact, the estate tax affects very few small-business owners, and the highest marginal estate-tax rate is 46 percent.
Stephen Moore asserted that "a lot of the new [tax] revenue is coming from rich people," and then asked rhetorically, "if [Bush's tax cut] was a big tax cut for the rich, why are the rich paying more taxes than ever?" In fact, filers earning at least $200,000 paid less federal income tax in 2004 on average than they did in 2002.
On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Neal Boortz made misleading claims about the Fair Tax Act, introduced by Rep. John Linder, which would replace all existing federal taxes with a national retail sales tax on most consumer and government purchases. In fact, Boortz relied on an unusual method of describing sales tax rates. Moreover, according to President Bush's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, Boortz significantly understated the tax rate necessary for the Fair Tax Act to be revenue-neutral.
On ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Elizabeth Vargas noted President Bush's claim that dividend and capital gains tax cuts passed in 2003 "have helped expand the economy and create jobs," but she omitted any mention of critics who have challenged the administration's claims that the tax cuts were responsible for the recent economic growth.
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.