These loopholes are legal but theyre also audacious, judged anchor Elizabeth Vargas, introducing the April 11 story about Pickens $165 million donation to his alma maters athletic department. In the story that followed about the Oklahoma State University gift, Ross called Pickens actions only apparently legal.
Rosss story bashed Pickens for using a tax deduction Congress set up to encourage Hurricane Katrina relief donations a deduction even ABC had previously encouraged its viewers to use. Ross pointed out that Congress never specified the contributions had to go to Katrina relief in order to qualify. That didnt stop him from sarcastically noting that none of Pickens $165 million went to Katrina victims, unless they were golfers in Oklahoma.
But Pickens did contribute millions of dollars to Katrina relief a fact that chief investigative correspondent Ross glaringly omitted from his story.
In fact, Pickens gave the largest donation among top U.S. philanthropists, according to the February 23 Chronicle of Philanthropy. That list includes Bill Gates and George Soros, as Maria Di Mento and Nicole Lewis reported. But Hurricane Katrina did not prompt a huge outpouring of gifts from the nations biggest donors. The biggest gift came from Mr. Pickens, who donated $7 million to the American Red Cross, mostly for Hurricane Katrina relief.
Pickens giving wasnt the only omission in Rosss story. The former IRS official ABC interviewed about the Katrina tax deduction was Marcus Owens the same source who appeared prominently in the Times story. Owens revealed in an interview with the Business & Media Institute in early March that his firm has done work for Soros.
Owens was asked follow-up questions after that Times piece appeared. He became cautious when Soros name came up, saying his law firm has done work for him in the past and Owens would prefer not to say whether it was he personally who had done that work.
Soros funded ads attacking President George W. Bush, while Pickens helped support the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that questioned Democratic candidate John Kerrys war record. Neither the Times nor ABC included Owens connection to Pickens rival Soros.
Pickens charitable giving in 2005 totaled nearly $230 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicles Caroline Preston reported that Pickens has given to more than 90 groups. The Business & Media Institute was one organization that has been a recipient of Pickens generosity.
Yet ABC, like CNN before it , criticized only wealthy taxpayers who took deductions. In February, ABC had encouraged its viewers to take the Katrina tax deduction even for donations that werent Katrina-related.
Just before The New York Times story ran in February, ABCs Good Morning America was singing the praises of the Katrina tax deduction. On the February 23 show, host Charles Gibson told viewers preparing tax returns, But before you begin, there are some important new changes in the tax code that you need to be aware of, changes that could benefit you.
ABCs financial contributor, Mellody Hobson, then said enthusiastically: Well, this is actually a terrific thing. After Katrina, the government really wanted to spur contributions to help the victims, so what they did was they said that 100 percent of any contributions you made, regardless of it was Katrina-related or not, would be tax-deductible. She added, Now, the one thing you have to do in order to get that deduction is you need to itemize your return.