REPORT: Broadcast Evening News Ignores Relationship Between Tax Rates And Economic Inequality


Over the past year, broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to mention the role of reduced taxes on the wealthy as a cause of inequality, despite the fact that economists view taxes as a primary driver of income gaps.

Broadcast News Fails To Mention Taxes When Discussing Inequality

No Mention Of Taxes On The Wealthy In Segments On Inequality. Since April 15, 2013, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC have not mentioned the role tax relief for the wealthy as a driving force behind inequality. This occurred despite each network dedicating numerous segments to discussing the effects of inequality.

Relationship Between Income Tax Rates And Income Inequality

Top Tax Rates Fall, Economic Inequality Grows

Brookings: Decline In Tax Rates "Has Coincided With An Increase In Income Inequality." According to a blog post by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution, federal tax rates for higher earners have declined at the same time that income inequality has widened:

This decline in tax rates for the wealthy has coincided with an increase in income inequality, where most of the wage gains have been concentrated among a relatively small portion of the American people. For example, since 1979, earnings for households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution have risen by over 250 percent. At the same time, many households at the middle and bottom of the income distribution have experienced stagnating incomes or even declines in earnings (figure below, blue bars). This means that the very people who have received the biggest income gains in the past three decades have also seen the largest tax cuts (figure below, red bars).

Tax Relief, Economic Growth Mostly Felt At The Top

[The Brookings Institution, Up Front blog, 4/13/12]

Tax Foundation: Top Marginal Tax Rate Far Below Historic Peak. According to historical data from the non-partisan Tax Foundation, the top marginal income tax rate in the United States was 50 percent or higher for much of its history, reaching a peak of 94 percent from 1944-1945. The current top marginal rate of 39.6 percent reflects the top marginal rate from 1993-2000. [Tax Foundation, 10/17/13]

UC Berkeley: Income Of Top Earners Has Grown More Than 86 Percent Since 1993. According to updated research from University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the top one percent of earners has seen income grow by 86.1 percent since 1993. During this period, the income of the remaining 99 percent of the population has grown by just 6.6 percent. Roughly 68 percent of all income growth in the economy during this period has been captured by just one percent of American workers:

Emmanuel Saez,

[University of California, Berkeley, "Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States," 9/3/13]

Economists Advocate Progressive Tax System To Reduce Inequality

Robert Shiller: Progressive Tax System Reduces "Worst Consequences Of Income Inequality." In an April 12 column in The New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller advocated the role of a progressive income tax system in mitigating "some of the worst consequences of income inequality." Shiller further argued that a flexible progressive income tax could alleviate growing economic inequality by increasing top marginal rates and decreasing rates for lower income earners as necessary. [The New York Times, 4/12/14]

Paul Krugman: The United States Has A History Of Using Taxes To Lessen Inequality. In a March 27 column in The New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman argued that the United States already has a history of using tax policy to address "the dangers of extreme wealth concentration." Citing work by economist Thomas Piketty, Krugman noted that "taxation whose goal was to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money" was an underlying principle during the initiation of permanent income and inheritance taxes in 1913 and 1916, respectively. [The New York Times, 3/27/14]

EPI: "Increasing Top Marginal Tax Rates" Would Reduce Economic Inequality. According to a June 2013 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), increasing top marginal tax rates would make the system of taxation more progressive, reduce widening economic inequality, and improve the unequal distribution of income gains -- "pretax inequality" -- from economic growth:

[I]ncreasing top marginal tax rates would decrease after-tax income inequality (by definition making the tax and transfer system more progressive), but economic research suggests such changes could also have powerful effects on pretax inequality. As discussed above, the pretax market distribution of income has been the primary driver of inequality growth, and the federal tax and transfer system would have to be made substantially more redistributive than it was in 1979 in order to reverse the increase in post-tax, post-transfer inequality since then. [Economic Policy Institute, 6/14/13]


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening weekday programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC from April 15, 2013 through April 14, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: inequality or poverty or income gap or tax! or economic disparity or wealth gap or poor. When transcripts were incomplete, we reviewed video.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), and Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Posted In
Economy, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment, Poverty
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, World News with Diane Sawyer
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.