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MediaWatch: October 1989

Vol. Three No. 10

Media Promote Liberal Anti-Tax Cut Position

Crying Over Capital Gains

Democratic leaders were not the only ones dismayed when the U.S. House passed a revenue spurring capital gains rate reduction similar to what President Bush promised voters. So were several major media figures.

A couple of weeks before the September 28 vote, on NBC's Meet the Press, Garrick Utley asked Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt if the Democrats' class warfare theme had any appeal. Hunt summarized the Democratic leadership's hope: "I think fairness is still a big, big issue. And if the Democrats can make the issue that the rich are getting theirs and you're not getting yours... I think it has some resonance out there." That evening on the Nightly News, the liberal rhetoric became Utley's: "The debate is not just about economics, it's about fairness."

During the September 25 CBS Evening News story, economics correspondent Ray Brady wondered: "So would this tax cut, as some charge, really add up to a free lunch for America's fat cats, pushing up the already huge federal budget deficit?" For the answer, Brady consulted Bob McIntyre of the notorious soak-the-rich lobby Citizens for Tax Justice. "A better solution, say many Democrats," Brady concluded after citing figures alleging the cut would benefit only the rich, "would be to raise rates for some high-bracket taxpayers, and then bring back the individual retirement account, the IRA where everybody gets a tax for saving money."

CBS anchor Dan Rather defined the issue on liberal terms the night it garnered House approval, using "for the wealthy" as a suffix for the capital gains cut three times: "Good evening. A political showdown vote in the U.S. House of Representatives today on economics. A vote to support President Bush's idea to cut the capital gains tax for the wealthy. Sixty-four Democrats bucked their own new House leaders, abandoned them, and joined the Republicans to support the measure. Mr. Bush says that cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy will boost the economy and create jobs. Opponents don't believe that, and they call it simply a tax giveaway for the wealthy.

Time magazine was livid, headlining its October 9 "news story": "Bill Me Later: Once Again, Washington Chooses Voodoo Economics Over Responsibility." Senior Writer George J. Church bitterly complained that "once again," Washington had "lost itself in a politically irresistible orgy of tax reduction."

Newsweek's headline, "The Class Warfare Fizzles," reflected what really happened, but reporter Eleanor Clift couldn't resist a dig at conservative economics: "Budget director Richard Darman's dream of a far-reaching deal to solve the deficit crisis is becoming a nightmare as his President leads the charge in creating a tax break rather than confront a tax increase."