Sep 1 2010


How Not to Report on the Estate Tax

Under current law, after a one-year suspension, the federal estate tax rate will return to its pre-2001 level of 55 percent, with the first $1 million exempt. Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D.-Ark.) and Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) have proposed a change that would lower the rate to 35 percent and raise the exemption to $5 million. This would save millionaires $440 billion in its first decade (Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, 4/10/09), and add the same amount to the federal deficit.

How did Reuters (7/14/10) report on this massive transfer of wealth to the rich? Under the headline “Two Senators Propose Reinstating Estate Tax,” reporter Kim Dixon began her story: “Two senators, a Democrat and a Republican, have reintroduced a proposal to reinstate the estate tax, which lapsed this year amid a row among lawmakers over taxing the wealthy when they die.”

The story did go on to note what the rates would be under the Lincoln/Kyl proposal compared to

current law, but left the budget-busting math as an exercise for the reader.

For Newsweek, It’s the Stocks That Count

Newsweek’s right-wing Latin America correspondent Mac Margolis (7/12/10) praised his favorite country in the region, Colombia, as a country that deserves “lead billing” among the “new stars of the emerging markets”:

In the past eight years, the Andean nation has gone from dud to dynamo: Foreign investment has risen 250 percent. Its stock index is up 15 percent this year, and 35 percent (versus Brazil’s 14 percent) over the decade.

Since Margolis compares Colombia and Brazil, let’s take a more meaningful measure: In 2000, per capita GDP in Colombia was $6,200, and Brazil’s was $6,150 (figures adjusted for purchasing power). In 2009, the last year available, Colombia’s was $9,200, and Brazil’s was $10,200. So Brazilians started the century slightly behind Colombia in economic output and are now 11 percent ahead—regardless of how well those nations’ stock investors are doing. Colombia is also “the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between rich and poor has increased in recent years,” as the Washington Post’s Juan Forero (4/19/10) reported, citing the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America. Twenty-three percent of Colombians live in extreme poverty, versus 7 percent of Brazilians, according to the UN.

For Newsweek, it seems, it’s the investing class that matters, not the people as a whole—and certainly not the poorest people.

Film Critic Throws Stones at Stone

L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan (7/2/10), criticizing Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border, remarked in passing that “a recent piece in the New York Times pointed out numerous errors” in the film’s discussion of Latin American politics. Turan might have noted that the Times’ supposed debunking (6/26/10), by former Latin America correspondent Larry Rohter, has itself been quite thoroughly debunked (FAIR Blog, 6/28/10, 6/29/10).

But even more important when pointing out a filmmaker’s “numerous errors” is to avoid making glaring errors of one’s own, as Turan did when he recommended other documentaries similar to Stone’s: He described The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as being about “the fascinating events around [Hugo] Chávez’s rise to power”; it’s actually about the failed 2002 coup against Chávez—more than three years after Chávez “rose to power” by being elected president.

And he said Our Brand Is Crisis was about “the groundbreaking election that brought [Evo] Morales to power in Ecuador… show[ing] how American political consultants tried in vain to get Morales’ opponent into office.” Morales is really the president of Bolivia—and the film depicts the election of his predecessor, who was successfully advised by U.S. consultants in the 2002 elections.

Watching the Fate of the U.S. Constitution—in Canada

The list of First Amendment-trampling rules for
Guantánamo reporters made for dispiriting reading in a New York Times story (7/21/10)—e.g., “If information the government deems protected is inadvertently disclosed, the Pentagon can order reporters not to reveal it.” But perhaps the most discouraging part of Jeremy Peters’ article was the list of reporters who fell afoul of a rule requiring them to refrain from publishing “secrets” that have already been widely reported: “Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest and Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail in Toronto.”

Note that three of those four report for Canadian outlets. While it’s nice that our neighbors to the north are taking in an interest in our government’s ongoing efforts to find a way around the Constitution’s protections for criminal suspects, it would be much nicer if U.S. outlets found the subject a high priority. But, reported Peters: “Of the few American newspapers that still cover the commissions, the Herald is the only one that sends a reporter to
Guantánamo on a routine basis.” He quoted the Herald’s Rosenberg: “I only go down there because nobody else does—to report on a court that nobody else can see.”

The Disappearing Female Athlete

Only 1.6 percent of sports news coverage on L.A.’s three major TV network affiliates in 2009 went to women’s sports, according to a study by the Center for Feminist Research of the University of Southern California. On ESPN Sportscenter, it was 1.4 percent. And it’s getting worse, not better: Those numbers are down from about 5 percent in 1989. A major part of that drop, according to study co-author Michael Messner (, 7/6/10), is because of a drop in “insulting or trivialization or humorous sexualization of women athletes, like a nude bungee jumper or leering court reports on tennis players like Anna Kournikova or later Maria Sharapova.”