Accuracy in Media

Although the Associated Press purports to be a news service, sometimes the articles it publishes read more like opinion pieces. Today, an article from the AP did just that. This “news” article was linked at the top of the Drudge Report.

The article, entitled “Super rich see federal taxes drop dramatically,” seems less dedicated to straight reporting than to the subtle promotion of progressive tax policy: taxing the “rich” more while removing tax breaks.

By the fourth paragraph of the article, the AP reporter is already asking the question: “The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes?” The reporter never clarifies exactly who the “people who make so much” are (are they the top 400 income earners? Or the top 1 percent of taxpayers? Or just the “wealthy” in general?), and he never explains how much (or how “little”) any of them pay in taxes.

But despite the vagueness of the question, the article goes on to answer it. How can “people who make so much” pay “so little” in taxes? Why, the answer is tax breaks, and the article doesn’t let you forget it.

After stating that both President Obama and “Republicans” want to “do away with tax breaks to lower the rates and to reduce government borrowing,” the reporter argues that although “More than half of the nation’s tax revenue came from the top 10 percent of earners in 2007” and “More than 44 percent came from the top 5 percent,” that “the wealthy have access to much more lucrative tax breaks than people with lower incomes.”

He goes on to write, “Obama wants the wealthy to pay so ‘the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.’”

The next 8 paragraphs of the article deal with the claims of one Eric Schoenberg, a professor at Columbia University who “inherited money” and “has a healthy portfolio from his days as an investment banker.” The article reports that Schoenberg says to “sign him up for paying higher taxes,” because he doesn’t think it’s “fair” that he only pays “1 percent of [his] income in tax.”

Notably, the AP does include two sentences of rebuttal to Schoenberg’s argument, in the form of Orrin Hatch pointing out that no one is keeping Schoenberg from paying Uncle Sam as much as he finds “fair.” However, immediately after those two sentences, the article goes back to Schoenberg: “Schoenberg said Hatch’s suggestion misses the point.”

The next paragraph quotes Schoenberg arguing that people must essentially be forced to pay taxes, because, as he says, “Are you going to let people volunteer to build the road system? Are you going to let them volunteer to pay for education?”

Of the 8 paragraphs dedicated to anecdotal evidence of a “wealthy” professor who wishes he were forced to pay more in federal income taxes, only two sentences total offer another solution. To put it into concrete numbers, the article spends 238 words on the Schoenberg anecdote. The two sentences which mention voluntary payment of extra taxes make up 25 words, or just 10.5% of the story. Remember that the 10.5% of the anecdote were ridiculed by the story’s main character, Eric Schoenberg, in the very next two paragraphs.

Further down in the article, the AP defends those with “low and medium incomes” who “escape” federal income taxes, arguing that “most of them pay other taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and retail sales taxes.” While this statement is objectively true—those with “low and medium incomes” do pay taxes other than income taxes—another truth is that the “wealthy” also pay those taxes. The wealthy are not exempt, yet the article doesn’t point this out.

“Super rich see federal taxes drop dramatically” is an article that may be unfit for the Associated Press—if the AP has any interest in portraying itself as an objective news outlet. For an article calling itself news, it sure reads like an opinion piece.

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