A Media Matters analysis found that key provisions of the tax bill put forth by Senate Republicans were all but omitted from local media coverage of the plan in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and Nashville, TN. Additionally, while local media widely reported that the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, they neglected to note that doing so would raise premiums and increase the number of uninsured people. Stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media conglomerate friendly to the Trump administration, also were worse than other stations in reporting on these important aspects of the bill.
Senate prepares to vote on Republican-backed bill to overhaul tax code
ABC News: “Senate Republicans are racing to approve their tax overhaul” as soon as this week. According to ABC News, “Senate Republicans are racing to approve their tax overhaul, with a possible floor vote as early as Thursday. But it's unclear if they have enough support.” The story also noted, “Republicans hope to get a tax bill to President Donald Trump to sign before Christmas.” From the November 27 report:
Senate Republicans are racing to approve their tax overhaul, with a possible floor vote as early as Thursday. But it's unclear if they have enough support.
Several pockets of Senate Republicans continue to raise different sets of objections to key aspects of the bill, setting up a potential seesaw process in which concessions to some senators arouse opposition from others.
With 52 seats, Senate Republicans can lose no more than two votes to pass the tax legislation, which is being considered under a process known as reconciliation that requires a simple majority for approval.
But at least seven senators have publicly voiced qualms about key parts of the bill, presenting a difficult challenge for Senate GOP leaders. Republicans hope to get a tax bill to President Donald Trump to sign before Christmas. [ABC News, 11/27/17]
Local media reports neglected key provisions and consequences of the proposal
A Media Matters analysis of 102 segments discussing the Senate tax bill in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Nashville, TN; Madison, WI; and Anchorage, AK found:
Senate tax bill would increase taxes on many low- and middle-income households. According to an analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which The Washington Post summarized, the Senate tax proposal “would give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade.” [The Washington Post, 11/16/17]
Only eight segments mentioned the detrimental impact of the tax bill on low- and middle-income households. Of the 102 total segments, only eight -- or 7.8 percent -- mentioned that the proposal would raise taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans.
CBO: Senate tax bill would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion “over the next 10 years.” The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cited JCT to estimate that within 10 years, the tax proposal would lead to “an increase in the deficit of $1,414 billion.” [Congressional Budget Office, 11/26/17]
Only 30 segments mentioned the impact on the deficit. Of the 102 total segments, only 30 -- or 29.4 percent -- mentioned the impact the proposal would have on the deficit.
The Hill: Senate tax bill could trigger “$25 billion in Medicare cuts.” According to The Hill, the CBO also estimated that “the GOP tax bill could trigger automatic cuts worth $136 billion from mandatory spending in 2018, including $25 billion in Medicare cuts, if Congress doesn’t find another way to offset its deficit increases.” [The Hill, 11/14/17]
Only five segments mentioned cuts to Medicare. Of the 102 total segments, only five -- or 4.9 percent -- mentioned how the proposal would result in cuts to Medicare. Additionally, the Medicare cuts were mentioned in four of those five segments only through clips of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) mentioning the potential cuts during an interview.
Senate tax bill repeals the alternative minimum tax, which could save Trump tens of millions of dollars. As CNN reported, the Senate bill would repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a provision designed to prevent wealthy Americans from gaming the tax code to drastically reduce their federal tax obligations. And, according to a New York Times review of Trump’s leaked 2005 tax returns, because the AMT “accounted for about 80 percent” of income taxes he paid that year, repealing it would have saved him over $31 million in one year alone. [CNN, 11/9/17; The New York Times, 9/28/17]
No segments mentioned the repeal of the alternative minimum tax. Of the 102 total segments, zero segments mentioned that the proposal would repeal the alternative minimum tax.
While many segments mentioned that the proposal repealed the ACA’s individual mandate, few mentioned its impact
CBO: 13 million people would lose insurance if the individual mandate was repealed. The CBO estimated that if the individual mandate was repealed in 2019, “the number of people with health insurance would decrease by 4 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2027.” [Congressional Budget Office, November 2017]
CBO: Premiums may go up by 10 percent if the mandate was repealed. The CBO also estimated that for some plans, average premiums could go up “by about 10 percent in most years of the decade” if the mandate was repealed. [Congressional Budget Office, November 2017]
Many segments mentioned the repeal of the individual mandate, but few mentioned the consequences. Of the 102 total segments, 48 -- or 47.1 percent -- mentioned that the proposal would repeal the individual mandate. However, only five segments -- or 4.9 percent -- mentioned that repealing the individual mandate could cause premiums to rise. Additionally, only one segment mentioned that repealing the individual mandate would cause an increase in the number of uninsured people.
Four of the 20 stations included in this study were owned or operated by Sinclair. Of the 20 local stations examined in this study, four were owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group. These stations include, WZTV (Nashville’s Fox affiliate), WMSN (Madison’s Fox affiliate), WGME (Portland’s CBS affiliate), and WPFO (Portland’s Fox affiliate). [Sinclair Broadcast Group, accessed 11/28/17, 11/28/17, 11/28/17]
Sinclair stations downplayed or ignored several provisions of the Senate tax bill. Viewers were less likely to hear about these important provisions on Sinclair stations than they were on non-Sinclair stations:
32.5 percent of segments on non-Sinclair stations mentioned the impact the proposal would have on the deficit or debt while 18.2 percent of segments on Sinclair stations did;
51.3 percent of segments on non-Sinclair stations mentioned that the proposal would repeal the individual mandate while 31.8 percent of segments on Sinclair stations did;
6.3 percent of segments on non-Sinclair stations mentioned that premiums would increase if the individual mandate was repealed while no segments on Sinclair stations did; and
1.3 percent of segments on non-Sinclair stations mentioned that people would lose their insurance if the individual mandate was repealed while no segments on Sinclair stations did.
Media Matters searched iQ media for mentions of the word “tax” on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliates in Anchorage, AK; Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; and Nashville, TN that aired between November 17 -- the day the Senate proposal was released -- and November 26.
Segments were included if they featured a “significant discussion” of the Senate proposal. We defined a “significant discussion” as one of the following:
a segment where the Senate tax bill was the stated topic of discussion;
a segment in which two or more speakers discussed the proposal; or
a host or anchor monologue during which the bill was the stated topic of discussion.
Segments were not included if they aired on programs that are broadcast nationally, such as Meet the Press, CBS This Morning, or World News Tonight.
Cristina Lopez and Grace Bennett contributed to this piece