David Gregory Makes a Romney Campaign Ad

On Sunday (7/15/12), Meet the Press host David Gregory caught Barack Obama in a big-time flip flop on taxes.

At least, that’s what he seems to think.

Gregory said:

What the president would like to do is extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $200,000, or $250,000, as a family, and then taxes would go up on people above that. Back in 2010, when this issue first came up, this is what President Obama said back then.

And then Gregory played this clip from Obama:

I am just listening to the consensus among people who know the economy best. And what they will say is that if you either increase taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a destimulative effect and potentially you’d see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs.

Gregory sure thinks he nailed it, telling guest Senator Dick Durbin:

If it was a bad idea to raise taxes in a down economy then, why is it a good idea to raise taxes in a down economy now?

When Durbin says this is about a tax increase on the top 2 percent, Gregory interrupts: “But, senator, he wasn’t willing to do that two years ago.”

Slam dunk, right?

Nope. The Obama plan now–to raise taxes on income about $250,000– is exactly the same as it was when Obama was speaking. They reiterated this position throughout the tax debate in 2010. In fact, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Gregory this in person on his very own show–a show where Gregory seemed to be pleading the case for raising everyone’s taxes:

GREGORY: Why don’t you have to consider additional tax hikes when you’ve got the likes of Alice Rivlin who worked for President Clinton, Republican Senator Domenici, and Chairman Bernanke saying, “Look, something’s got to give here, and tax hikes have to be on the table in this environment.”

GEITHNER: But, David, you said the important thing, which is the president is going to extend the middle-class tax cuts. But he is also going to let expire the the tax cuts that President Bush put in place for the 2 percent of the most fortunate Americans in our country. That will provide more than $1 trillion–around $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. That’s very important.

A few months later (7/25/10):

GREGORY: The Bush tax cuts set to expire, the administration’s plan is let them expire–in other words, raise taxes on wealthy Americans above 250,000, but don’t let them expire, keep them going for those $250,000 or less. Even Democrats, like the chairman of the budget Committee, says it’s a bad idea to raise taxes on wealthy Americans until you’ve got a recovery on sounder footing. Any wiggle room on that? Any prospect of change?

GEITHNER: I don’t think it’s quite a fair description of Senator Conrad’s views. But I won’t speak to them. But I’ll say what the president believes, and I believe this, is the right thing for the country, the fair thing, the responsible thing for the country now is to make sure we leave in place and preserve tax cuts that go to more than 95 percent of working Americans and complement those with a set of incentives for businesses to expand and hire. To make that possible, and to do that responsibly, I think it is fair and good policy to allow those tax cuts that only go to 2 to 3 percent of the highest earners in the country to expire as scheduled. The country can withstand that. The economy can withstand that. I think it’s good policy.

So the debate, as was pretty clear at the time, was over whether to raise taxes on the wealthy. The White House position was that this policy would not harm the economic recovery. They caved on the issue when Republicans wouldn’t budge.

But Gregory is totally misleading NBC viewers on this history, making it sound as if Obama has reversed course on tax cuts.

What’s more, he’s misleading viewers about his video evidence. It is from an appearance before Republican lawmakers. The question Obama is answering came from Rep. Paul Ryan, and it had nothing to do with letting the Bush tax cuts on top earners expire. It was about spending cuts. Here’s the transcript:

RYAN: The spending bills that you’ve signed into law, the domestic discretionary spending has been increased by 84 percent. You now want to freeze spending at this elevated beginning next year. This means that total spending in your budget would grow at 3/100ths of 1 percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now.

You’ve also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line….

So my question is, why not start freezing spending now, and would you support a line-item veto in helping us get a vote on it in the House?

Obama’s direct response to that question begins with, “Now, the reason that I’m not proposing the discretionary freeze take into effect this year…”

In other words, the question was about cutting government spending in a recession, and so was the answer. The passing mention of “tax cuts” was about the debate over allowing all of the tax cuts to expire, or just those for top earners. Obama favored the latter.

David Gregory turned this exchange, largely about stimulus spending,  into a question about tax cuts,  in order to manufacture a “gotcha.”

As journalism, this is totally misleading–and Gregory would seem to know this, unless he doesn’t pay attention to his own show. But the clip would make for an effective–and  deceptive–TV ad for the Romney campaign

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.