Facts Irrelevant in NYT Tax Coverage

There’s a simple way of looking at the debate over the Bush tax cuts. The White House and most Democrats say they want to extend them for the vast majority of the population, but keep higher rates in place for families making over $250,000 a year. Republicans seem to know that “Keep Taxes Rates Low for the Rich!”isn’t a winner, politically speaking. So they argue that these tax increases are really going to punish “small businesses.”

There’s ample evidence that this is mostly untrue–the number of “small businesses” that would affected is somewhere between 2 percent and 5 percent, depending on how you define the term. But some media outlets seem unwilling to render judgment on the GOP’s talking point–see the New York Times today (9/13/10):

Many Senate Republicans have said that letting the Bush cuts expire for high earners amounts to raising taxes on small-business owners, some of whom fall into those rates because they report their business earnings as personal income.

Or last week (9/9/10):

Mr. Boehner got out ahead of Mr. Obama’s speech. Appearing on ABC-TV‘s Good Morning America, he said that extending the top Bush tax rates would benefit small businesses; Democrats argue that few small businesses pay taxes at the top rates.

Journalism should tell us more than what politicians say about this or any other issue. How something will work in the real world is vastly more important than what John Boehner thinks, or what “Democrats argue” in response to what Boehner says. Oddly enough, you had to read a Times editorial on the same day (9/9/10) to get a meaningful sense of what was going on:

Mr. Boehner’s much professed concern for small businesses is misdirection. The tax cuts that Mr. Obama would let expire would affect very few owners of small businesses–how many do you know who make more than $250,000 a year?–by any common-sense definition of that term.

How would the debate over tax cuts change if more reporters were willing to let reality intervene in this debate?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.