Conservative media figures have long insisted that top marginal income tax rates effectively target small businesses. This "zombie lie" has sprung up throughout President Obama's first term as an argument against Democratic proposals to renew the Bush-era rates only for middle- and low-income Americans. Despite continual efforts by experts to debunk this claim, media figures continue to repeat these lies in the 2012 edition of the fight over high-income tax rates.
CNN's Christine Romans offered an incomplete fact check of whether GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney ever said "let Detroit go bankrupt." She focused heavily on the origin of the phrase rather than the almost-certain outcome of Romney's opposition to the auto industry bailout.
Romans appeared on CNN's Early Start to discuss the October 11 vice presidential debate and to fact-check what the candidates said. One of the claims she analyzed was Vice President Joe Biden's claim during the debate that Romney would have let Detroit go bankrupt:
We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that -- when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, "No, let Detroit go bankrupt."
Romans rated Biden's statement false, declaring that Romney had never used the exact words "let Detroit go bankrupt." The basis of Roman's judgment are the actual words Romney used in a 2008 New York Times op-ed that ran under the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Romney, Romans argued, did not write that headline, and he "never used those words in that piece."
But the actual policies Romney advocated are far more informative than the debate over who wrote the headlines.
Romans noted that while President Obama used government funds to rescue the auto industry, Romney had an alternate vision: He "did not want a direct injection of tax-payer funds into the companies as they were." It is the absence of that public investment that is crucial.
CNN rated as "true" Mitt Romney's claim that his tax proposals would create about 7 million jobs, noting that the study on which the Republican presidential candidate based his claim makes certain assumptions. But in rating the claim true, CNN assumed facts it did not possess -- and that the study's author admitted he lacked.
During an interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, Romney said that his tax proposal was "scored by people at Rice University as creating 7 million new jobs." What Romney omitted to say, however, is that John Diamond, the economist who conducted the Rice University study, had no way of truly scoring the plan.
As National Journal explained, Diamond "couldn't model the full Romney plan, because the Republican's campaign refuses to identify, even to him, which tax deductions and credits they would cut to make the plan revenue-neutral." The article continued:
"They didn't give me a whole lot of guidance," he said.
So Diamond filled in the blanks with largely generic assumptions and noted in his analysis that the specifics could change his results. He also assumed that Romney -- contrary to his stated campaign position -- would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and then impose his 20 percent across the board rate reduction from there.
Diamond's final conclusion was that Romney's reform would add 5.4 percentage points to projected gross domestic product growth over the next decade and would result in 6.8 million new jobs.
The Journal further noted that "Diamond didn't analyze how the plan would affect the distribution of the tax burden across income levels" but guessed that "it's not possible" to avoid raising taxes on lower- and middle-income Americans -- something Romney maintains he would not compromise on.
In his fact-check, CNN anchor John Berman noted that "Diamond says that since Romney does not make clear how he would pay for his plan, Diamond had to make certain assumptions and depending on what deductions and loopholes Romney closes, that could change the results."
Berman concluded, however:
BERMAN: Our verdict here is true with important qualifications on the claim that there is a study that says his plan would add 7 million jobs. It only adds 7 million according to the study if you assume certain details that Romney simply doesn't provide.
But the purpose of fact-checking isn't to assume what is true and what is false -- it is to evaluate factual statements based on relevant information and actual available details. But as Berman acknowledged, he did not have that evidence -- and Diamond has admitted he couldn't accurately score Romney's full plan.
Media outlets including the Associated Press and CNN are holding President Obama accountable for Mitt Romney's failure to lay out how he will pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts. But independent analysts have estimated that Romney's proposal would cut taxes by $5 trillion, with no specific plan to replace that revenue.
In their coverage of the January 30 Republican presidential debate, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, ABC, and National Public Radio all reported Sen. John McCain's criticism of Mitt Romney over negative campaign ads. However, none of those media outlets noted that McCain has aired numerous ads attacking Romney, despite having said that "negative campaigns don't work."
Reporting on Republican presidential candidates' final days of campaigning before the Florida primary, Kelly Cobiella of CBS and John Berman of ABC both noted that John McCain criticized Mitt Romney for attacking opponents who "are moving up and succeeding." Neither, however, reported that McCain has been airing attack ads against Romney even while denouncing negative campaigning.