Special Report tag team returns: FOX's Garrett, Angle, and Birnbaum misled viewers on CBO tax study
Research ››› ››› GABE WILDAU
After the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a study appearing to support the contention of many Democrats that tax cuts passed by President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, reporters and analysts on the August 13 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume presented various misleading explanations of the study's findings in an apparent attempt to blunt criticism of the tax cuts.
While articles in The New York Times ("Report Finds Tax Cuts Heavily Favor the Wealthy") and The Washington Post ("Tax Burden Shifts to the Middle") detailed the report's main conclusion -- that the middle class has assumed a larger portion of the overall federal tax burden as a result of Bush's tax cuts -- Special Report repeatedly ignored this finding.
For example, while interviewing William W. Beach, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis, FOX News senior White House correspondent Jim Angle showed a mislabeled graphic chart apparently intended to blur the distinction between the total federal tax burden (including corporate and individual income taxes, payroll taxes, and excise taxes) -- which, according to the CBO study, shifted away from the wealthy and onto the middle class -- and the income tax burden, which, according to the study, has shifted toward the wealthy as a result of the Bush tax cuts.
While Angle narrated, the chart was displayed comparing the share of federal taxes paid by the wealthiest one percent and the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans in 2001 (before Bush's tax cuts), with the same groups' share in 2004. Though the chart's title was "Share of Total Tax Burden" [emphasis added], the numbers shown were the income tax numbers from the CBO report. This falsely suggested that the Bush tax cuts resulted in wealthy taxpayers assuming a larger share of the total tax burden. Angle briefly referred to "some numbers that show the middle class paying more" (the total tax burden numbers) before he quickly moved on to the income tax numbers -- favored by the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign -- that also appeared on the chart:
ANGLE: He [Kerry] also said, "The burden is shifting to the middle class." And there are some numbers in the tables from the CBO that show the middle class paying more. [total tax burden numbers shown] Now, here you see, this [income tax numbers shown] is on the wealthy paying more. The top 1 percent is actually paying 32.3 percent, only 31.6 percent before the tax cut. Before the tax cut, the top 20 percent were paying about 78 percent. Now they're paying 82 [percent]. So the burden has gone up on the wealthiest taxpayers.
Angle's decision to focus solely on income tax burden while dismissing the total federal tax burden as "some numbers" is like a sports writer reporting that team A hit more free throws than team B, while claiming the winner and final score are irrelevant.
When the "FOX All-Stars" convened at the end of the show, Washington Post staff writer (and FOX News Channel political contributor) Jeffrey H. Birnbaum similarly tried to shift the focus away from the overall tax burden and onto income taxes:
BIRNBAUM: The politically salient question is different than the one we've been discussing here. That is, what was the effect of the Bush-initiated income tax cuts? And the answer to that is that the upper-income people actually pay more of a share than those in the middle class ... of the total income taxes paid. And so, it is the exact opposite case than the Democrats are making. In fact, the income tax, after the Bush income tax cuts, is more progressive than it was beforehand.
During the same program, FOX News general assignment reporter Major Garrett also reported on the CBO study and suggested that an important statistic was missing; the statistic he cited was in fact false. Garrett then joined Angle and Birnbaum in focusing narrowly on the income tax figures, which make Bush's tax policy appear more equitable:
GARRETT: The report fails to show that the Bush tax cuts removed 14 million poor taxpayers from the income tax rolls entirely. But it does show that the Bush tax cuts mean that on a percentage basis the wealthiest households now pay a larger share of federal income taxes under Bush than they did under Clinton.
According to an April 9 press release from the U.S. Treasury Department, only 5 million Americans no longer owe federal taxes because of the Bush administration's tax cuts.