Jun
07
2012

NYT Tax Talk: What Does 'Politically Sensitive' Mean?

Most people think rich people should pay more in taxes. And they think the government should spend more to help revive the economy. The New York Times knows this—but still calls this discussion "politically sensitive."

Today Jonathan Weisman has a piece (6/7/12) about recent comments by Bill Clinton and former Clinton/Obama economic adviser Larry Summers. The piece primarily channels Republican claims that these Democrats want to keep tax rates low for the wealthy. But that does not appear to be what either of them actually said, and both have released statements denying the Republican spin.

Nonetheless, the article treats the Republican interpretation as the most important fact, which produces this somewhat confusing lead:

Congressional Republicans pounced Wednesday on disputed comments from Bill Clinton and a former senior Obama economic adviser, claiming that the Republican push to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts beyond the 2012 expiration date has support at the highest levels of the Democratic Party.

The next sentence, to make things even murkier, says that Democrats responded by saying that's not what either man said. But it's not hard to see where Weisman comes down: Republicans "are on the offensive," and Democrats are "on the defensive."

But perhaps the real problem comes here:

The heated exchange illustrated how politically sensitive the tax cut expiration has become amid fresh data showing the economy slowing. A majority of voters say the federal budget deficit should be tackled with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich. In an April New York Times/CBS News poll, 56 percent favored boosting the economy by spending on education and infrastructure while raising taxes on the wealthy, against 37 percent who favored cutting taxes and spending.

What? The poll Weisman's citing shows a 20 point advantage for raising taxes on the wealthy and spending more money—which seems roughly similar to other polling.  He introduces this by saying a majority favors a "mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich." That doesn't seem to make any sense.

And more broadly: What is "politically sensitive" supposed to mean? These are issues where public opinion is pretty consistently on one side of the discussion—the conventional wisdom in elite media seems often to be on the other side (spending cuts, debt panic and so on).

And this isn't the first time the Times doesn't seem to trust its own polling on these questions. Maybe that's what "politically sensitive" is supposed to mean: The public is dangerously out of step with elite opinionmakers and politicians.

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.