Sep
16
2009

How to Spread Misinformation

The Drudge Report (9/16/09) is featuring this headline (in scary red type):

Obama Admin: Cap And Trade Could Cost Families $1,761 A Year…

The link goes to a CBSNews.com post, which declares:

A previously unreleased analysis prepared by the U.S. Department of Treasury says the total in new taxes would be between $100 billion to $200 billion a year. At the upper end of the administration's estimate, the cost per American household would be an extra $1,761 a year.

Well,there's one problem: $1,700 is the upper estimate. The second, far more importantproblem: This was an analysis based on a plan that called for auctioning all ofthe carbon-burning permits; the bill that passed the House auctions just 15 percent of the permits, meaning that this document (FOIAed by the corporate-friendlyCompetitive Enterprise Institute) bears almost no relationship to reality.

The CBS report has an "update" at the bottom of the piece, from the kind of people CBS didn't bother to quote (preferring the likes of the Heritage Foundation and CEI, staunch critics of cap-and-trade):

Update 9/16/2009: The Environmental Defense Fund has responded to the documents' release with a statement saying, in part:

"Even if a 100 percent auction was a live legislative proposal, which it's not, that math ignores the redistribution of revenue back to consumers. It only looks at one side of the balance sheet. It would only be true if you think the Administration was going to pile all the cash on the White House lawn and set it on fire.

"The bill passed by the House sends the value of pollution permits to consumers, and it contains robust cost-containment provisions. Every credible and independent economic analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (such as those done by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Energy Information Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency) says the costs will be small and affordable — and that the U.S. economy will grow with a cap on carbon."

That is kind of like saying "IGNORE THE PRECEDING REPORT."

The Politico had a brief story on this as well by Ben Smith–not nearly as bad as CBS's– that also included a late correction:

CORRECTION: The League of Conservation Voters' Navin Nayak points out to me that the documents are a bit less than meets the eye: They refer to a version of the legislation profoundly different than the one that passed. Specifically, the original White House plan had 100 percent of emissions permits being distributed by auction; the plan that passed has just 15 percent. "Can you say 'irrelevant analysis'? It would be like pricing the healthcare bills currently in front of Congress based on a single-payer system," he writes.

He also notes that the revenue comes directly from polluters, not taxpayers, and continues (and I'm quoting him at length because my original post was sloppy):

"Why not use the CBO analysis of the house bill? Republicans seem more than happy to use CBO when it helps their case (i.e. Against some of the health care bills). But CBO said that ACES would only cost a postage stamp a day per household…in 2020."

So the scary-sounding statistic is nonsense.Nonetheless, one can expect to hear this "It will cost you $1,700!" factoid all the time.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.