The media gave President Obama credit during the campaign for promising not to raise taxes on the middle class. He was on the trail in New Hampshire when he made a "firm pledge" not to raise taxes on any family "making less than $250,000 a year."
Obama is doing his best to break that promise, but the network news media haven't bothered to report it. On Nov. 6 when he endorsed the tax increase-laden health care reform bill that the House of Representatives passed on Nov. 7, Obama violated his pledge.
While Obama had offered broad generalities supporting various health care reform bills under consideration in the House and Senate, the Nov. 6 statement was the first time he threw his weight fully behind one piece of legislation.
In that statement, Obama said the bill "meets the President's criteria for health insurance reform: it assures that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care that is there when they need it and does so without adding a dime to the deficit." But it didn't meet the requirements of his own tax pledge.
"I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase," Obama had said Sept. 12, 2008. "Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."
He and administration officials reaffirmed his commitment to not raising taxes on the middle class throughout 2009. Even White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared on April 15, 2009, that "The statement didn't come with caveats," when asked if the tax pledge applied to health care reform bills.
But according to conservative tax policy group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the House bill (H.R. 3962) is "loaded with tax hikes on families making less than $250,000 per year," including the individual mandate excise tax, employer mandate payroll tax, and tax increases on health savings accounts. On its Web site, ATR explained 6 specific provisions that would result in higher taxes for the middle class.
The Associated Press reported the breach of promise on Nov. 2, explaining that the individual insurance mandate would "impose new taxes on people who don't buy qualified health insurance, including those making less than $250,000 a year."
Yet, not a single network report between Nov. 6 and 9 called Obama out for breaking his pledge to the middle class. In fact, out of 38 health care stories or briefs on the three networks only 29 percent (11 stories) even mentioned taxes related to the health care bill.
Another tax policy expert, Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union said "unequivocally" "there's no doubt that the President's pledge not to tax the middle class would be broken in either the House or the Senate bill. It's terribly shoddy for the mainstream media to not examine the IRS's own statistics about how this would affect people in different income brackets."
Instead of talking about the tax increases that many Americans would face under this legislation, many of the reports continued to focus on the politics.
Nets emphasize political squabbles, fail to explain who would pay.
Rather that digging into the nitty-gritty of the bills provisions and consequences, the network media kept the focus on politics - shifting from proponent sound bites to opponent sound bites, but rarely providing substance.
That's exactly what Chuck Todd did on his Nov. 9 NBC "Today" report. In that report, he actually said "the politics, rather than the policy, seemed to dominate the debate" over health care. Instead of going deeper, Todd's story did the same thing. He even left out an explanation of how the "trillion-dollar price tag" would be paid for.
Rachel Martin also kept it political on Nov. 8 "Good Morning America," when she emphasized the votes for and against, the Republicans fight to "kill the bill," and Obama's "last personal push" to pass the bill. But she said nothing about what the bill would cost.
Sepp told the Business & Media Institute, "It's possible that there are political motives involved [with the networks ignoring the story], but I think some of it has to do with a failure to follow up. Perhaps a reluctance to take sides on a statistical basis. Maybe the mainstream media is so accustomed to the he said/she said debate that they don't think there is a discoverable truth here. But there is."
Even when network reporters and commentators acknowledged that the House bill would include tax increases they didn't get it quite right.
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne was discussing the health care bill on "Meet the Press" Nov. 8 when he claimed that "98 percent of small businesses are exempt from the taxes in this bill. This is a millionaire's tax, basically, the biggest tax in this bill."
But ATR's Tax Policy Director Ryan Ellis told the Business & Media Institute that he "totally ignores the much bigger tax on small businesses, the surtax."
Ellis was referring to the tax of 5.4 percent on households making more than $1 million and individuals making $500,000 which he said will actually hit many small businesses.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos also mischaracterized that surtax as "a tax increase on the rich." Ellis took issue with his phrasing saying:
"[T]the surtax is not on ‘rich guys.' The JCT [Joint Committee on Taxation] has said that $1 out of every $3 in tax revenue collected from this surtax will come from small businesses. Our research shows that 57 percent of S-corporation and partnership profits will face this surtax. The rich will hire accountants and lawyers to shelter their income from this tax."