NYT's Bad Front-Page Headline Falsely States: '...Most Face Lower Tax Burden Than in the Reagan '80s'

December 3rd, 2012 1:37 PM

Friday's enormous A1 New York Times story by economics reporters Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff tried to soften Americans up for tax hikes under a misleading headline: "Complaints Aside, Most Face Lower Tax Burden Than in the Reagan ’80s." They write:

But in fact, most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes -- federal, state and local -- than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

Households earning more than $200,000 benefited from the largest percentage declines in total taxation as a share of income. Middle-income households benefited, too. More than 85 percent of households with earnings above $25,000 paid less in total taxes than comparable households in 1980.

Catch those references to 1980? Reagan's tax cuts passed in 1981, but the story itself is talking about tax rates in 1980, when America was still under Jimmy Carter's tax plan. Blogger Tom Maguire made the catch:

In their ongoing effort to persuade the public to quit whinging about higher taxes the Dead Tree NY Times delivers a misleading headline for the record books:

Complaints Aside, Most Face Lower Tax Burden Than In The Reagan 80's

The text goes on to compare the total Federal, state and local tax burden in 1980 with that of 2010, which prompts a question - when did Reagan take office and launch his first round of tax cuts? 1981, yes? Surely the Times editors remember the timing of the Descent of Darkness.

So maybe a better headline would be "Taxes Lower than in the Carter Era", which would deliver a less surprising message and make a less compelling case that we are currently under-taxed.

I infer that the Times editors have realized their problem. Online, the current headline is:

Complaints Aside, Most Face Lower Tax Burden Than in 1980

Note: The current online headline fudges the issue, leaving out Reagan but adding back in the full decade of the '80s: "Tax Burden for Most Americans Is Lower Than in the 1980s."