Kate O’Beirne once spoke words to the effect that given the liberal bias in the press, it’s a wonder Republicans ever win elections. I would add a corollary that given media bias it’s a miracle conservative ideas ever become policy. That was certainly the case with the New York Times and Washington Post coverage of Bush’s tax-cut plan last week.
Consider the headlines. The Times ran three stories with the following headlines, “Bush’s Bold, and Risky, Economic Plan,” “Plan Gives Most Benefits to Wealthy and Families,” and “States Fear Double Whammy From Tax Plan.” Five headlines in the Post read: “Analysis Finds Little Gain in Tax-Cut Plan,” “Wars Cost May Dwarf Stimulus Effect,” “Deficit Predictions Soar With Bush Stimulus Plan,” “Key GOP Senators Object to Bush Plan,” and “Tech Companies See Bush Plan on Dividends as Troublesome.” Conservatives didn’t have a very good week among those newspaper readers who don’t go much beyond the headlines.
In fact, they did rather lousy even among those readers who do. Four of the articles mentioned that most of the tax cuts go toward the wealthy, with three of them spending considerable space on it. By my rough count, either a synonym — rich, top 1 percent — or variant of the word “wealthy” is used 18 times in those articles. An article in the Times by Edmund L. Andrews states matter of factly: “The pattern of benefits are unabashedly skewed in two directions: toward the wealthy and two-parent households with lots of children.” One could be forgiven for believing that Bush only cares about families headed by millionaires. Was there acknowledgment that the “wealthy” pay most of the taxes? Sure there was, in the clause of one sentence in a article by Richard W. Stevenson, and a brief paragraph in the report by reporter Andrews.
Perhaps the most egregious case of liberal bias occurred in the Post. In an article that was worthy of, well, the New York Times, reporter John M. Berry interviewed various economists, from Democrat donor Andrew F. Brimmer, to former Clinton CBO deputy director Alice Rivlin. Lo and behold, no one Berry spoke with, save the obligatory Administration official, had anything good to say about the Bush plan. Apparently Larry Kudlow was too busy with his TV show to comment, and Martin Feldstein was not returning phone calls.
Had any of the reporters bothered talking to Mr. Kudlow, they might have been told that the recession of 2001 and the continuing lackluster growth was largely due to declining business investment. What’s needed is a plan to spur investment, like Bush’s reduction of the top marginal income-tax rate and the elimination of the tax on dividends. Yet none of the articles mentioned the economy’s investment slump.
Finally, there were the niggling little bits of liberal bias that annoy those of us who pay attention to such things. One of the articles that cited the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities failed to describe it as “liberal” — although, in what may be a minor victory, one article did modify it as such. No such slip-ups on the other side, however, as both the Heritage Foundation and the National Center for Policy Analysis were tagged as “conservative.” And there was the gratuitous distortion of the conservative position: The Bush plan was an attempt to balance political reality with “the conservative belief in tax cuts as an economic cure-all,” according to Stevenson. (Emphasis added.) Memo to reporters: check out conservative positions on cutting the Fed rate, limiting the size of government, and deregulation. (Hint: we think those help the economy too.)
All in all, a pretty good week in the press for Democrats, liberals, and other members of the class-warfare crowd. I can’t wait to see the treatment of Bush’s Medicare proposal.