Thursday, April 15, 1998 - Vol. Two, No. 16 - Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703) 683-5004
Reporters Ignore Arguments for Tax Cuts, Present all Reform as Politics
Facts Exempt: Network News and Taxes
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News
poll asked Americans which they would prefer: a tax-cutting candidate, or a candidate who
favors more spending on education and child care. Only 39 percent preferred the former,
while 55 percent chose the latter.
One possible reason for this preference is that
tax cuts get bad press. Network news reports generally portray tax reform as an
election-year sop to the rich at the expense of the poor. And viewers probably think there
is no philosophical or economic rationale behind tax cuts, since they are rarely told of
is the conclusion of a study of tax coverage by the Media Research Center's Free Market
Project. Researchers analyzed tax stories from March 15, 1997 through March 14, 1998 on
ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News.
The study found:
There were 13 stories mentioning the liberal
argument that last year's cut in the capital gains tax would mainly benefit the wealthy.
Only four stories mentioned conservative arguments that the capital gains cut would help
the non-wealthy because more middle-class investors are entering the stock market every
year, and that such a cut would help grow the economy. A typical report was a June 30 CBS
Evening News story by anchor Paula Zahn and correspondent Rita Braver. According to
President Clinton "said he disagrees with key parts of the tax-cut bill passed by the
House and Senate because they give too many breaks to the wealthy and not enough to
middle-income Americans." Braver added that Clinton "attacked the congressional
plans for catering to the rich." Neither bothered to present any Republican arguments
for the capital gains tax cuts.
Out of 58 stories on last year's budget deal
between Congress and the White House, only two pointed out that it increased the
complexity of the tax code, which ran counter to 1996 campaign promises and to the GOP's
supposed agenda of tax simplification. NBC's Gwen Ifill was nearly alone in calling the
changes "tangled new rules that will prove a bonanza for tax preparers and
lawyers" and in pointing out that "last year Americans spent $230 billion on tax
preparation," a figure which "is heading up" because of the budget deal.
In 14 instances, reporters claimed that either
the congressional focus on abuses by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or congressional
plans to cut taxes were motivated by base political calculations. Only one of these
stories said the same thing about new federal spending. On the October 20 World News
Tonight, ABC's Peter Jennings reported that "in Washington, where every
politician knows a good target when he sees one, the Republican Party has taken aim, in a
most emphatic way, at the Internal Revenue Service." He opened the next evening's
broadcast with this comment: "Benjamin Franklin once said that nothing is certain but
death and taxes. We might add to this the certainty that politicians will always use the
issue of taxes for political gain when they can. In Washington today both the Republicans
and the Democrats think they have something to gain by a major overhaul of the IRS."
While it is not unreasonable to assume that
politicians are motivated by political considerations, reporters were not nearly as quick
to tar advocates of new federal spending as having ulterior motives -- Timothy Lamer
This report is adapted from a larger
study, available on the MRC's web site at www.mediaresearch.org.
L. Brent Bozell III, Publisher; Brent Baker, Tim Graham, Editors;
Eric Darbe, Geoffrey
Dickens, Gene Eliasen, Clay Waters, Media Analysts; Kristina Sewell, Research
Associate. For the latest liberal media bias, read the
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe