Can a Hollywood producer offer an objective review of his own
movie? Most people would probably say no — once they stopped
laughing, that is. But something comparable happened when one
network turned to a liberal activist and made him an honorary member
of their "Truth Squad" after a TV debate between the two
During their first joint appearance, Vice President Al Gore tried
to portray Governor George W. Bush’s tax cut proposal as a boon for
wealthy citizens. "The key question that has to be answered in this
election," Gore asked on October 3, "is will we use that prosperity
wisely in a way that benefits all of our people and doesn’t go just
to the few?"
"Almost half of all the tax cut benefits, as I said, under
Governor Bush’s plan, go to the wealthiest 1%," claimed Gore, before
pronouncing: "I think we have to make the right and responsible
Bush campaign has disputed Gore’s statistics, but NBC’s Lisa Myers —
leader of her network’s self-described "Truth Squad" — assured
voters that the Vice President was correct. "Most experts say Gore’s
math isn’t fuzzy," Myers reported on the October 4 NBC Nightly
News. "Though estimates vary, Bush does give the wealthiest one
percent, those making more than $300,000, a huge tax cut."
She then showed a soundbite from Robert McIntyre, a lawyer,
registered lobbyist, and director of Citizens for Tax Justice.
McIntyre echoed Myers’ assessment: "Gore got the numbers right. Bush
didn’t really challenge him. He just said, I think those people
deserve a tax cut, too."
But of course McIntyre would agree with Gore’s statistics —
they’re his numbers! Neither he nor Myers, however, alerted viewers
to the fact that the Democratic nominee’s soundbite was being
defended by the man who supplied it.
Five months ago,
Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) produced an analysis of Bush’s
tax cut program that has been quoted repeatedly by both the news
media and the Democrats this year. That study included the assertion
that 42.6% of the benefits of the proposed tax cut would go to
taxpayers with annual incomes above $319,000, which CTJ says is just
the very top 1% of taxpayers, a claim that the Committee for a
Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) — a middle-of-the-road group led
by economist Carol Cox Wait — branded "an exaggeration."
"Joint Tax Committee (JTC) analysis suggests that people with
incomes over $200,000 get 27% of the benefit. Most of the difference
depends on how you treat estate tax relief....The JTC analysis is
based on 2005 and does not include estate taxes. The Vice President
bases his numbers on Citizens for Tax Justice, a self-identified
liberal organization, projections over 11 years to capture the full
phase-in of estate tax relief. That analysis attributes the entire
cost of estate tax relief to the top 1% of taxpayers," explained the
McIntyre and his group design studies that serve to promote their
belief that wealthy individuals and big corporations receive favored
treatment under the nation’s tax laws. Fair enough — they have an
agenda. Some news reporters — including those from CNN and the
New York Times — have carefully and accurately labeled Citizens
for Tax Justice either as a "labor-backed," "left-leaning" or a
"liberal" group. Reporters use such labels in order to give news
consumers a quick impression of the background and agenda of groups
which may be unfamiliar. The practice allows viewers and readers to
better judge the statements and claims of such groups for
But the three broadcast networks seem to have gone out of their
way to present Citizens for Tax Justice as a band of disinterested,
non-partisan experts with no agenda or axe to grind.
Myers, for example, never labeled McIntyre for her "Truth Squad"
report earlier this month. Nor did her Nightly News colleague
David Bloom properly identify McIntyre when he panned Bush’s tax cut
on the day it was announced, December 1, 1999. "He’d either have to
raid the Social Security trust fund, or he’d have to have gigantic
cuts in everything else the government does," McIntrye told Bloom.
During the primaries, in fact, McIntyre was the sole expert on the
three broadcast evening newscasts shown commenting on the various
Republican tax proposals. (See "When
Bigger Isn’t Better," a Free Market Project Special Report,
March 6, 2000.)
CBS’s Diana Olick also failed to label McIntyre, but gave him a
chance to smear congressional Republicans as liars in a June 9
Evening News story on their efforts to repeal the estate tax.
"They don’t want to tell the truth," McIntyre told Olick. No
congressional Republican was given a chance to respond. (For more on
that one-sided anti-tax cut story, see "Liberal
Experts Featured, Conservative Experts Excluded From TV’s Death Tax
Coverage," MediaNomics, June 16, 2000.)
ABC also refused to tell viewers about McIntyre’s liberal
pedigree when he attacked corporate tax shelters in a February 29
World News Tonight story. "If you find that you’re paying an
extra $500 or $1000 a year in taxes just so some big company can
shelter its income, I think you ought to be outraged," he told
Yet none of the three networks were as disingenous as a lengthy
Los Angeles Times feature story from June. In "The Battle
Over Single Mothers," reporter Maria LaGanga not only let McIntyre
cast doubt on Bush’s tax plan, but she camaflouged his group’s
agenda by merely identifying Citizens for Tax Justice as
"nonpartisan" and a "Washington-based group."
After profiling a working mother, Debbie Vickers, who earns
$22,000 a year, LaGanga wrote of Bush’s tax proposal, "One hundred
and ten dollars would not change Vickers’ life, nor would $1,000,
not that she’d turn up her nose at either. She’d probably use the
money to buy groceries; $110 wouldn’t pay for a week of child care."
Later in her story, LaGanga presented the Citizens for Tax
Justice study as authoritative. "In fact, in analyzing Bush’s plan,
the nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice figures that those in the
top 10% of earners would, on average, get a tax break of $6,369. The
bottom 20% of income earners in America would save $43."
Her story continued: "‘Most of his tax cut goes to upper-income
people, but Bush says some of it goes to other people,’ says Robert
McIntyre, director of the Washington-based group. ‘That’s true, but
not very much. The question for those other people is, "Is there
something you’d rather have more?"’
"Debbie Vickers would rather have child care, an affordable
high-quality place for [her son] Richie to stay when she’s working
her full and erratic schedule," LaGanga tendentiously concluded,
never informing her readers that her source was a liberal advocate.
McIntyre’s point of view is a legitimate one, and can fairly be
included in the networks’ political coverage — if only to let
citizens know what sort of advice the Vice President has been
getting. But the networks not only have a duty to balance such views
with those of conservative and free market-oriented experts; they
also need to tell viewers when their expert is a liberal with his
own activist agenda.