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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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September 1996


Deficit Chicken Hawks
Tax Cuts Concern Reporters, Medicare Increases Do Not

Bob Dole pledged to cut income taxes by 15 percent, balance the budget, and leave Social Security and Medicare untouched. Toughminded reporters believed none of it and shared their skepticism with a national television audience," writes the Weekly Standard's David Frum in the September 9 issue of that magazine.

But then, according to Frum, "Two weeks later, the Democrats met in convention and, to put it simply, lied through their teeth about their plans for Medicare. They accused Republicans, in Al Gore's words, of wanting to `give health insurance ripoff artists a license to change Medicare, to let this program for our seniors wither on the vine. That's why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won't let them.' Those remarks are blatantly untrue, both about the Republican plans and about Clinton's own. And the media said...nothing."

Is Frum correct? Are reporters more skeptical of Bob Dole's tax rhetoric than of Bill Clinton's Medicare rhetoric? Media Research Center analysts reviewed all of the stories about either tax cuts or Medicare on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's World Today during the month of August. The MRC's findings: While network journalists were ardent deficit hawks when reporting on tax cuts, they lost their deficitcutting zeal when Democrats denounced Republican Medicare plans.There were a total of 24 stories during the month that questioned whether Bob Dole could both cut taxes and balance the budget. Only two stories questioned whether Bill Clinton could erase the deficit while not advancing Medicare reforms in his second term.The reaction to the unveiling of Dole's tax plan was the same across the networks. "Since Dole would leave Social Security, Medicare, and defense untouched," reported CBS News correspondent Phil Jones, "it's still unclear what would be cut in order to pay for his tax cut." According to CNN's Gene Randall, "Bob Dole has produced an economic plan that is getting mixed reviews even from Republicans. The bipartisan Concord Coalition on Sunday warned against electionyear taxcut Santas."

NBC's Mike Jensen offered that "most analysts say it's not good economics. Bob Dole says about a fourth of the tax cuts would be paid for by an expanding economy, but the rest would have to come from spending cuts, and those haven't been spelled out yet." Over at ABC, correspondent John Cochran claimed that "if critics say Dole's tax plan would lead to budget deficits of the size of those dating back to the Reagan era, then his campaign simply isn't going to worry about it for now."

But what about Bill Clinton and Medicare? Economics columnist Robert Samuelson, in the September 4 Washington Post, pointed out that in the upcoming years "the only way to avoid (or minimize) much higher taxes, the [Congressional Budget Office] said, would be a mix of an older retirement age, reduced benefits and a shift of Medicare toward managed care. On Medicare, the Republicans proposed precisely such a shift...Clinton's demolition of this effort confounds the CBO's sensible advice."

Only two network reporters questioned whether leaving Medicare alone could be compatible with balanced budgets. "A generation of baby boomers begins retiring within a decade," ABC's Jerry King pointed out. "So, the bad news is, unless the politicians find a way to cut entitlement spending, today's deficit reductions will be impossible to sustain." ABC's Jeff Greenfield reported that "with the huge baby boomer generation retiring in about 15 years, those entitlement programs could take every single dollar of the budget."

King and Greenfield were the only reporters concerned about how to "pay for" automatic Medicare spending increases. If Bill Clinton won't reform Medicare in his next term, why aren't reporters asking him which taxes he will raise?


Rich Noyes


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