Tax Hike Hype
George Bush pledged "no new
taxes" if voters elected him President. And he won overwhelmingly.
But the television networks didn't seem to get the message. A MediaWatch
Study confirms the networks spent the weeks following the election
repeatedly hyping the dangers of the federal budget deficit, and
championing a tax increase as the solution.
During the month of November, ABC's World
News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews,
and NBC Nightly News aired 22 feature length stories on the
budget deficit. Statements by reporters or those interviewed on camera
were tallied in two areas. First, suggestions for tax increases versus
spending cuts to remedy the deficit problem. Second, statements placing
blame for the deficit: whether with the White House, with Congress, or
By a margin of nearly four to one,
reporters and on-camera spokesmen called for tax increases over spending
cuts to correct the budget deficit. A tax increase was suggested 41
times in three weeks on the four network newscasts. Nearly 60 percent
came from reporters or anchors.
The mere 11 suggestions for spending cuts
were offset by ten statements discrediting the feasibility or wisdom of
those cuts. No air time was given to anyone suggesting a tax cut to
stimulate economic growth.
Whom did the networks blame for the
fiscal red ink? Matching the Dukakis campaign pitch, on thirty one
occasions, reporters and spokesmen characterized the White House as
solely responsible for the deficit. Reporters leveled the blame on
Congress only twice in the time period. Congress and the Administration
shared equally in the blame for the deficit spending 13 times.
Network reporters discredited the Bush
pledge immediately. The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 47 points on
November 11, just three days after the election, prompting ABC's Ted
Koppel, the substitute anchor on World News Tonight, to blame
the Bush victory: "Stocks nosedived, in part because investors are
worried that George Bush's 'no new taxes' pledge may prevent him from
reducing the deficit."
Ray Brady of CBS News claimed that Bush's
no-tax pledge was "bothering many money men." His "money
men" were two unidentified stock brokers, one of whom was quick to
advocate "a severe cut in the defense budget" as necessary to
head off "another financial crisis." Brady didn't allow anyone
to defend the Bush pledge.
NBC's Mike Jensen said markets were
worried that Bush would ignore the recommendations of the National
Economic Commission members. "Many of them want to raise
taxes," and "so do a lot of other experts," Jensen
warned. But Jensen's only "expert" was a Harvard University
economist who urged implementation of a national sales tax. Jensen
neglected to mention that Bruce Babbitt's national sales tax proposal
earned him fifth place in Iowa.
NBC's Irving R. Levine kept up the chant
the next day. Saturday anchor Connie Chung introduced the report with
unidentified "expert" opinion: "There are experts who
insist President Bush will find a way to do what he said he would never
do: raise taxes." Among the "experts" Levine consulted?
Dan Rostenkowski and Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution, both
liberal Democrats. Levine offered Bush a solution: "Calling a tax
by some other name may eventually provide a way for Bush to climb down
from the no-tax limb."
CNN's Candy Crowley announced on November
13: "Experts say Mr. Bush's hard line [on taxes] has led investors
to cast an early vote of no confidence." Crowley ran a clip of
Reagan explaining he'd "given up trying to guess why the market
does that. I don't think it has anything to do with George Bush."
But Crowley quickly countered with this wrap-up: "Market analysts
say differently," adding they "predict that investors...will
remain uncertain until they hear Mr. Bush singing harmony with
ABC's Lark McCarthy gave additional
credibility to the desirability of the tax increase option by warning:
"Already, Democratic politicians are predicting a fiscal train
wreck unless Bush does something about the T-word: taxes."
NBC's Levine was ready with more advice
for the President-elect on November 16. He suggested Bush use the
bi-partisan National Economic Commission as a cover, "enabling him
to back off his no-tax pledge."
On November 17, a mere nine days after
Bush's victory, CNN's Frank Sesno pronounced Bush's no-new-tax stance
dead, dismissing it as "fun while it lasted." Indeed,
"many think taming the deficit," Sesno claimed, "is all
but impossible without some new taxes." His source: liberal
Democratic Congressman Bill Gray.
When Bush announced his OMB and Council
of Economic Advisors selections on November 21, Deborah Potter of CBS
took another swipe at Bush: "With most of his economic team in
place, Mr. Bush can now focus on a specific plan to lower the deficit
without raising taxes, which almost everyone outside his inner circle
believes is impossible."
That same night, NBC's Tom Brokaw
announced: "Even though Bush insists that he won't raise taxes,
more and more prominent Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, are
urging him to do just that." Andrea Mitchell then proceeded to
charge: "Bush gave the markets another case of jitters by once
again saying that he was elected with a no tax mandate, no matter what
happens to the deficit." That day the Dow rose three points.
By late November, reporters were finding
all sorts of impending disasters because of the Bush pledge. "With
medical costs still rising, and a President who pledges 'no new
taxes,'" CBS' James Hattori ominously predicted, "the outlook
for federal help appears grim as hundreds of rural hospitals remain on
the critical list." NBC's Levine called the savings and loan
"crisis" a "ticking time bomb that could quickly force
George Bush to abandon his no new tax pledge."
The Sunday after Thanksgiving Mitchell
made clear Bush had quite a few economic disasters to deal with, and
offered a solution. As President, "he's stuck with all the problems
he avoided during the campaign; enormous deficits, a collapsing dollar,
jittery markets, the need for massive cuts in defense."
The networks spent November blaming
"jittery markets" on Bush's no-tax pledge. But how does that
explain a big market drop on October 19 of this year, when rumors of a
scandal involving Bush that could possibly cause his political demise
were circulating? Moreover, how does that explain a market recovery by
early December that left the Dow higher than it had been before election
Could it be that investors, worried Bush
would raise taxes, lost confidence in the economy, then regained it as
Bush stuck to his no-tax pledge even under severe pressure? Probably no
network reporter ever thought of that.
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