You don't have to spend much time reading the nonsensical ramblings of the Media Research Center/Newsbusters crew before you start wondering how on earth anyone could ever take them seriously.
Take a look at some of their recent complaints.
Let's start with Newsbusters' Tom Blumer, who just flat-out made a fool of himself yesterday. Blumer was all up in arms about an Associated Press analysis by Charles Babington. According to Blumer, Babington failed to describe Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax problems. Blumer points to Babington's "fifth and worst paragraph, which is all you'll need to know how bad it is," which read:
An old story, with new actors, played out Tuesday: A new president's team imperfectly vetted top nominees. The nominees, it turns out, had not paid taxes for household help or other services when they were private citizens. The news media and political adversaries bored in. And rather than spend more valuable time and political capital defending the appointees, the administration dropped them and moved on. [emphasis Blumer's]
Of that paragraph, Blumer wrote: "This is beyond risible. Babington knows full well that Tim Geithner's and Tom Daschle's tax problems went way, way beyond "household help or other services. Geithner's nanny tax problems were relatively small, and had long since been addressed. The real biggie was his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on his 2001-2004 income earned when he was at the International Monetary Fund."
But - and this is kind of important - the paragraph in question didn't have anything to do with Tim Geithner. It was about Daschle and Nancy Killefer. There are a couple of things that give that fact away: The reference at the beginning of the paragraph to a story that "played out Tuesday" and the bit at the end about the administration dropping the nominees. Geithner's tax trouble played out long ago and, of course, he was not "dropped." Blumer apparently didn't read either the beginning or the end of the paragraph - either that, or he just has no idea what he's talking about.
To Blumer's broader "point" that Babington supposedly downplayed Daschle & Geithner's tax problems: Babington noted that Geithner "had been required to pay $34,000 in overdue income taxes" and Daschle "belatedly paid $128,203 in taxes and $11,964 in interest."
Wow, Babington really covered up for them, didn't he?
Finally, Blumer portrayed Babington's piece as part of the "Beltway victimization theme" the media is supposedly pushing to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the tax stories. But Babington - in that "fifth and worst" paragraph Blumer so badly misread - wrote that Obama's "team imperfectly vetted top nominees." Later, he wrote that Obama "may be more ordinary than some admirers would like to admit."
Needless to say, Blumer didn't say a word about the actual problem with Babington's "analysis" - his unsubstantiated claim that Obama is "seen by some as arrogant."
Also Wednesday, MRC's Scott Whitlock claimed that ABC's George Stephanopoulos was guilty of "Democratic Spin." The "spin" Whitlock was complaining about consisted of Stephanopoulos saying that the Daschle nomination had threatened to hurt Obama's "reformist image." Somehow I doubt that came from White House talking points. Moments later, Stephanopoulos said Obama is "going to have to agree to some changes" to the stimulus package to accommodate Republicans. Again: probably not what most people would consider "Democratic spin."
One more from Wednesday: MRC Director of Media Analysis Tim Graham quoted from a column by the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker: "Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once." In response, Graham thundered: "Can't Parker do math? If 58 percent of Americans haven't gotten "sweetly baked in hay," why do pot proponents always pretend that practically everyone has used, and practically every cop or judge is a hypocrite?"
Well ... can't Graham read? Parker wrote "almost half" - and gave the percentage. Graham even quoted that line. Nowhere in her column did Parker claim or imply that a "practically everyone" has used marijuana. Indeed, she supplied the statistic Graham used.
I mean, this is just crazy. Parker said fewer than half of Americans have used marijuana - and Graham is apoplectic that she failed to point out that a majority haven't used the drug. What?
On Tuesday, MRC News Analyst Kyle Drennen complained "CBS Pundit Defends Daschle But Slammed Tom Delay." The "CBS Pundit" in question was actually a guest, but we'll give Drennen a pass on that one. The real problem is that the guest, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, didn't defend Daschle. Here's what Drennen thinks is a "defense" of Daschle:
"What Tom Daschle does is the more sophisticated kind of lobbying we have in Washington, where he's a consultant. And he talks to people about the strategy for getting a piece of legislation passed...Maybe the truth of the matter is, you need some of those Washington insiders in order to make your new government work. But then let's say that." [emphasis Drennen's]
That isn't a defense. If anything, it's a criticism. The first part of the quote followed CBS reporter Bill Plante noting that Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist. So, Sloan was arguing that though Daschle isn't technically a lobbyist, he still does "the more sophisticated kind of lobbying." That quote plainly isn't a defense of Daschle.
Had Drennen read that morning's New York Times (or glanced at CREW's web page), he would have seen Sloan quoted as saying some pretty critical things about the Obama administration's follow-through on his campaign statements about reform.
Finally, Drennen doubled down on his inane and false complaint that Sloan was defending Daschle by attempting to contrast it with comments she made about Tom DeLay in 2005. But Daschle and DeLay aren't quite the same situation: Tom DeLay was under criminal indictment at the time. Of course Sloan's comments about DeLay were more harsh.
Also on Tuesday, Newsbusters associate editor Noel Sheppard quoted Obama saying of his relationship with Fox News "I think it's fair to say that I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we're not supposed to all be in lock step here" - and somehow concluded from that that "everybody other than Fox IS in lock step as far as Obama is concerned." Ah, ok, Noel. But that isn't what Obama said - and it doesn't follow logically from what he said.
I used to think the defining quality of the folks at the Media Research Center is their dishonesty. After all, this is an organization whose founder, Brent Bozell, complained in 1998 that the media wasn't covering the Lewinsky story enough - on a day when there were 500 news reports about Bill Clinton and Lewinsky. But I'm beginning to think their dishonesty may be a close second to the fact that they just aren't very bright.
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund falsely claimed that "Hong Kong has had a flat tax for over 50 years and has had the fastest economic growth of any country in the world over that period of time." In fact, Hong Kong's system for taxing salaries features multiple tax brackets, with differing marginal rates for different levels of income.
Obviously, the fact that three of Barack Obama's nominees have had tax trouble gives the Republicans and the media something of an opening to poke a little fun at Obama and the Democratic Party. But reporters should keep in mind that Republicans have had their share of tax troubles, too.
Countless reporters have quoted GOP Rep. Eric Cantor saying "It's easy for the other side to sit here and advocate higher taxes because - you know what? - they don't pay them." Others have made the same argument in their own voice.
Quoting Cantor is fine -- it's a good line. But news reports that simply quote Cantor or express a similar sentiment give the impression that tax troubles are a problem unique to prominent Democrats.
Not so. During last year's presidential campaign, it emerged that Cindy McCain hadn't bothered to pay taxes on one of her homes. Several other Republican candidates last year had tax troubles. Republican Party Strategist and Mascot Joe Wurzelbacher had a tax lien placed against him. Dick Morris -- who has criticized Tim Geithner's failure to pay taxes -- had a $1.5 million tax lien filed against him by the IRS, and the state of Connecticut said he owed more than $450,000 in unpaid taxes and penalities. There are presumably dozens of other examples.
Obviously, that doesn't mean the media shouldn't mention the tax troubles of Obama's nominees. Nor does it mean they shouldn't quote Republican criticisms. But when they quote Republicans suggesting unpaid taxes are a uniquely Democratic problem, they have an obligation to make clear that this is not true. And, certainly, they should avoid making that suggestion themselves.
Responding to Adam Green's piece over at Huffington Post, which admonished Burnett for her MTP appearance this weekend where she seemed to act more like a spokeswoman for Wall Street firms, and less like a reporter covering them, Burnett's CNBC colleague Jim Cramer came to her defense on the air yesterday.
Meanwhile, Green has invited Burnett to live blog with him and Huff Post readers about the topic of the Wall Street bailout. Let's hope she accepts.
And note to Green: if the debate takes place, please be sure to ask Burnett about her claim on MTP that taxpayer money did not help pay for those recent corporate bonuses for Wall Street execs. It appears she got the facts wrong.
The Wall Street Journal misleadingly claimed in an editorial that the U.S. corporate tax rate "is higher than in all of Europe." In fact, according to the Government Accountability Office, "Statutory tax rates do not provide a complete measure of the burden that a tax system imposes on business income." Additionally, World Bank and GAO data indicate that the U.S. effective corporate tax rate is lower than 35 percent and lower than several developed -- including some European -- economies.
Lou Dobbs falsely claimed that the economic recovery bill, which the House recently passed, "would allow people who don't have Social Security numbers to be eligible" for the bill's Making Work Pay tax credits and would therefore make undocumented immigrants "eligible for checks." In fact, illegal immigrants without Social Security numbers are not eligible for tax credits under the stimulus bill.
CNBC host Erin Burnett asserted that there were "interesting ideas" in Rush Limbaugh's Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing President Obama's economic recovery plan and offering Limbaugh's own suggestions for what should be included in a stimulus plan. Specifically, Burnett said that Limbaugh's suggestions of "cutting the corporate tax" and "slashing capital gains [taxes]" are "serious things to say." But Burnett did not note that many economists do not view corporate and capital gains tax cuts as "serious" or effective methods for stimulating the economy.
Echoing a Republican talking point, Rush Limbaugh asserted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "[t]he average recession will last five to 11 months; the average recovery will last six years. Recessions will end on their own if they're left alone." But Limbaugh's claim misses the point and misrepresents the reason for the stimulus bill. Economists take the position that an economic stimulus package is necessary, both during the recession and after the economy begins to recover.
The Politico reported the GOP claim that "it may take years before the stimulus plan spurs real job growth" and highlighted a video showing "a Joint Committee on Taxation staffer tell[ing] Michigan Rep. Dave Camp that he can't promise that the $275 billion in tax cuts in the stimulus will create any new jobs." In fact, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf has stated of the bill: "According to CBO's estimates, the number of jobs would be between 0.8 million and 2.1 million higher at the end of this year, 1.2 million to 3.6 million higher at the end of next year, and 0.7 million to 2.1 million higher at the end of 2011."
On The O'Reilly Factor, Dick Morris asserted that the economic recovery bill "won't work," in part because "two hundred billion of it is just money to the state. That just stops taxes from going up, but it doesn't stimulate anything." However, economist Mark Zandi testified to Congress that "aid to financially-pressed state governments" is an "economically potent stimulus," and a table provided with his testimony indicated that aid to states would boost GDP by $1.36 for every dollar spent. Similarly, information that the CBO provided to Congress shows that aid to states produces a greater "cumulative impact on GDP" than do tax cuts.
Earlier today, I wrote that it's important for journalists to actually apply some critical thought to their work rather than simply regurgitating Republican talking points.
Right on cue, here's Marc Ambinder (emphasis added):
Here's a peek at the major planks in the economic recovery plan being introduced by House Republicans tomorrow.
It starts with a permanent five percentage point reduction for those who qualify for the 10% and 15% tax brackets, averaging about $500 per year for the poorest of the bunch and $1,200 for the slightly more wealthy.
The talking point here is that poorer Americans would see more money from the GOP plan than from Obama's -- and it would be permanent.
Well, of course that's the "talking point." Who the hell cares? Is it true? Marc Ambinder doesn't say. He doesn't even acknowledge that it might be an interesting question. The concept of which plan actually gives "poorer Americans" "more money" is literally nowhere to be found in his post.
There are people for whom "distributing Republican talking points" is part of their job description. They are called "deputy press secretaries," and they work at the RNC and in Republican congressional offices. Reporters for The Atlantic ought to behave a bit differently.
(Is it true? I don't know -- but it seems unlikely. The GOP plan, as Ambinder describes it, would do nothing for the many Americans who work hard and pay state, local, sales, and FICA taxes -- but who do not make enough money to pay federal income taxes.)
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Discussing President Obama's meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the economic stimulus plan, CBS' Chip Reid reported that "when Republicans criticized tax refunds for people who don't pay taxes, sources in the meeting say the president said, quote, 'I won,' referring to the election and making it clear he's sticking with that part of the plan." In fact, Obama has not proposed giving tax refunds to "people who don't pay taxes"; he has proposed giving the tax credit to "working families," which means they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.
On NBC's Nightly News, Chuck Todd reported that President Obama "drew more criticism from Republicans [...] thanks to a new report claiming the stimulus will take years, not months, to improve the economy" and aired a clip of House Minority Leader John Boehner criticizing the stimulus plan. However, Todd did not mention the Democratic leadership's response: that the Congressional Budget Office report ignored faster-moving provisions in the stimulus, creating a "false impression" of the plan's effects.